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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?
Several people have told me how much they appreciate the opening rites for the Easter Vigil when we gather to bless the new fire and light the Paschal Candle from this fire. It is indeed a memorable and somewhat unique rite, even for us Catholics who love ritual. And as we celebrate this rite in our customary grand way, you may have noted that we again caused passing traffic to slow down. Thankfully, I know of no accidents due to curious gawking. And the fire department did not make an unexpected appearance. Yet, what a statement we make. Personally, I think it much better than the electronic signs wishing everyone a happy Easter and announcing the arrival of the Easter Bunny which have become all too popular.
The Easter Fire is actually pagan in origin. It originates in the Saxon custom of lighting fires to mark the passing of the seasons. This was done in celebration of the returning of the light at the spring equinox and the fullness of light during the summer solstice. Though not as popular it was also done occasionally in mourning for the diminishing of the light at the fall equinox and to break the depth of darkness at the time of the winter solstice.
The fire lit to mark the spring equinox was the most popular. Not only did it allow for a celebration of the end of winter and the return of the light it also had very practical implications. All the unwanted vegetation was burned in the bonfires. The resulting ashes were used as a fertilizer for the fields. Thus these spring fires symbolize light, they help with cleansing and result in increased fertility.
Christians easily “baptized” this ritual as the season of Lent and Easter clearly is about cleansing, light and fertility. The Lenten exercises are intended as a spiritual cleansing. During the Easter Vigil we celebrate Christ, the Light of the World who conquered darkness. And from the baptismal waters new Christians are born. All this is celebrated and anticipated with the Easter Fire. That is what the fire is all about.
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?
I am inspired on Holy Thursday, as I witness and experience the sacred act of washing one another's feet: All types of people of all ages—being served, and kneeling in humble service. This year, my experience at Holy Thursday Mass was compounded when I connected with Jackie—a homeless woman I have known for close to twenty years (name changed for privacy). Jackie and her fiancé sat down in the pews, and I joined them.
When I first met Jackie, she was living with her children and sister under the highway directly across the street from The Basilica. They came to The Basilica every morning. I could smell gasoline on their bodies—gasoline, seeping down from cars passing overhead on highway 94, being absorbed by their bodies and clothes.
Over these twenty years, Jackie and her family have experienced frequent homelessness. She is homeless again, and has cancer. She is in pain and afraid. As I held Jackie at Mass on Holy Thursday, she wept and repeated a question that she asks a lot lately, "What should I do, Janice? What should I do?"
As Jackie struggled with grief and despair that evening, my heart wanted to respond, “Love, Jackie. Love yourself, love your family, love your friends, love God.” Ultimately, we are all called to love. Love: so easy to say, so hard to live.
Jackie is a good woman. She has a sparkle in her eye and a contagious laugh that exposes a deep joy amid incredible suffering. Deeply committed to her family, she has witnessed tragedy since she was a child, moving to Minneapolis from the Red Lake Reservation. She knows tremendous grief, having lost several children to death on the street. She is a matriarch to a struggling family. What will happen when she is gone?
Jackie asks a question we are all to ponder this Easter Season: What are we to do? When death and betrayal can be found around us each day, what will we do? What will mark our lives, our actions, our attitudes, our choices, our thoughts, and our assumptions? What difference will it make that we have been given the gift of new life through resurrection?
As we washed one another’s feet, my experience with Jackie raised deep and difficult questions in my heart. Brought face-to-face with my own judgments, biases, and fears, I wrestled with reconciling the life I have watched Jackie live and my own actions—as well as the actions of our community.
What does love look like in our community? Our faith calls us to acts of charity and justice. We are called to hold Jackie when she is afraid. And, we are also called to advocate for more affordable housing. This may be the harder part. There are not enough shelter beds, and not enough affordable housing in our community to protect Jackie and her family. We must join the advocacy efforts of Minnesota Coalitions for the Homeless and St. Stephen’s Human Resources to provide safe and secure housing options.
Pope Francis encourages us to “Let the joyous wonder of Easter Sunday radiate through your thoughts, looks, attitudes, gestures, and words.” Let us be inspired by Jackie, and live a life of joy through charity and justice.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!
Last Sunday we gathered for the commemoration of Jesus’ solemn entry into Jerusalem. We all stood on the plaza in front of The Basilica and sang “Hosanna, Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Then we processed into the church while waving our palms. Once we were in our seats the mood shifted dramatically as we listened to the Passion Narrative and sang: “O Sacred Head Surrounded.”
After several quiet days we began the Sacred Triduum, the holiest three days of the year. The two central elements of the celebration on Holy Thursday are the Washing of the Feet and the Celebration of the Eucharist. We do both because Jesus commanded us to do so. In the Synoptic Gospels we are called to celebrate the Eucharist in memory of Him while the Gospel of John commands us to wash feet. The washing of the feet embodies our calling to serve one another as Christ did. The Celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice calls us to love one another, even unto death as Christ did.
On Good Friday our attention shifted to the cross: we adore the cross, we venerate the cross, we kiss the cross, we honor the cross because the cross is the instrument of our salvation. Because of his willingness to die for us, Jesus rose from the dead and thus forged our salvation. On Good Friday we ponder this mystery and recommit ourselves to following his example and take up our cross and even one another’s cross. The entire day was shrouded in solemn silence which was only broken during Tenebrae. After the one remaining candle which symbolizes Christ was carried out of church the church erupted in sustained noise. The organ roared while the people banged on their pews begging the light to return. And so it did..
Holy Saturday was also marked by silence, but the silence on this day is one filled with great anticipation. It is almost as if creation is holding its breath waiting for Christ to break the doors of hell and usher in the era of Salvation.
The Easter Fire and the Paschal Candle which were lit during the Easter Vigil that day symbolize that Christ is the Light of the World. All of us present, having lit our individual candles from the Christ Candle filled the darkened church with light, symbolizing that we are to share the light of Christ with the world! The bells which had been silent since Holy Thursday were rung announcing the Resurrection to the world. The cleansing water and fragrant oil used to make new Christians revived our baptismal enthusiasm. The desire and delight we saw in the eyes of those receiving communion for the first time reminded us of how privileged we are to share in the Body and Blood of Christ.
When it was all over many of us, spiritually sated with the richness of all these symbols lingered on the plaza in front of The Basilica, rejoicing in the sound of all our bells and proclaiming to one another: He is Risen. He is risen indeed!
That has been my song all night long and it is my song today. That is our song today. Let us proclaim it to one another and to the whole world. He is Risen. He is risen, indeed! He is Risen. He is risen, indeed! He is Risen. He is risen, indeed!
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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.
As Holy Week begins, I am reminded of an unforgettable experience which happened some 20 years ago. That year I had decided to celebrate the Sacred Triduum at the motherhouse of a religious community. Having arrived early I spent some quiet time in the monastery chapel in preparation for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. From my chair in the back row, I watched the sisters arrive for the service. Most of them were elderly. They used wheelchairs, walkers or another sister’s arm to make their way into the chapel.
The service was simple, yet very beautiful. At the time of the washing of the feet, the priest explained that we were going to wash one another’s feet. As a liturgical purist, I was simply mortified at the thought. What could this mean? Why were we straying from the custom of the priest washing the feet of twelve men symbolizing Christ washing the feet of the apostles?
I swallowed my liturgical pride and tried to enter into the experience. As I was pondering all this, I noticed a sister being helped to the front of the chapel. When she arrived at the row of wheelchairs, she was helped to her knees in front of one of her sisters. Gently and with great difficulty, she took the slippers off her sister’s gnarled feet. A bowl with water was brought to them. She placed her sister’s feet in the water and tenderly washed them. Then she dried them and kissed them. I felt tears running down my cheeks. These feet, which had walked in the service of the church for more than seventy years, were tenderly washed by these hands, which had served the church for more than sixty years. I quickly slipped off my shoes and waited in line to have my feet washed so I could wash someone else’s feet.
Witnessing this I finally grasped why Jesus told us to wash one another’s feet. The washing of the feet is not a superfluous ritual gesture or a simple reenactment of what Jesus did 2000 years ago. Rather it is an efficacious ritual rehearsal of what all of us are called to do every day of our life: to serve one another as he served us.
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?
The Stations of the Cross have always been very meaningful to me. My earliest memory of the Stations goes back to my childhood. On Good Friday the whole town came together for a communal celebration. Different neighborhoods were responsible for the creation of each one of the fourteen stations. Following incense, cross and candles, clergy and religious, we processed from Station to Station singing songs and praying the Sorrowful Mysteries. Some people carried a candle, others flowers to leave at one of the stations, while a few carried a cross. This experience touched me deeply and it is forever engrained in my memory.
I have always been particularly drawn to Station V: Jesus was Helped by Simon of Cyrene. Simon intrigued me. Who was he? Why was he forced to help Jesus? Did he do it willingly or begrudgingly? What happened to him after they reached Golgotha?
The Scriptures are very brief in their description of this occurrence. They just reference in one verse (Matthew 27: 32, Mark 15: 21, Luke 23: 26) that Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry the cross behind Jesus. Mark expands just a bit by adding that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.
Some scholars suggest that the Rufus mentioned in Romans 16:13 was the son of Simon. Others hold that Mark’s mention of Alexander and Rufus implies that they were well-known in the early Christian community.
Simon who was from Cyrene was a visitor to Jerusalem whose curiosity was probably peeked by all the goings-on? He may have watched Jesus fall before he was pressed into helping him, buttressing the weight of the cross.
As a child I did not identify with Peter or even John, my patron saint. I wanted to be like Simon. He was my hero. He was the perfect helper when Jesus was in the greatest of needs.
Little did I know that in my youthful enthusiasm I had touched on the essence of Christianity. In the same way as Simon helped Jesus bear his cross, we are called to alleviate the pain and struggles of our sisters and brothers. We are called to help those who suffer, in their need.
Simon is still my hero, though I may have outgrown my youthful enthusiasm. Eagerness to follow Jesus and to imitate Simon comes and goes. Sometimes I do it willingly and out of conviction, other times begrudgingly and out of a sense of obligation. Like most of us, saints included we experience times of deep faith as well as moment of profound doubts. Yet, like Simon was pressed into helping Jesus, by virtue of our baptism we are pressed into helping others. This is our calling. It is our mission.
Next time you celebrate Stations of the Cross, I invite you to imagine yourself in the different people who accompany Jesus on the way to the cross. Who do you identify with the most? Maybe you identify most with Peter, or Veronica, or John, or Mary? This exercise may give you some new insight into your own spiritual identity.