April 30, 2016 – Saturday in the 5th Week of Easter

Saint for the day: Pius V (1504-1572)

Scripture readings for today’s liturgy:

    Acts 16:1-10     –     Psalm 100     –     John 15:18-21

Note: Dominican Parishes are able to use the scriptures for St. Pius V feast day (one of our Dominicans who made a great name for himself) but I’ll use the above scriptures of the day and see of I can tie it in to his life.

 “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If the world hates you realize that it hated me first.’” (the opening of today’s Holy Gospel according to St. John)

 The quote above doesn’t sound like a very good “incentive slogan” for the early Church and we might be prone to say, “you better get yourself a new public relations person if you want to be successful.” That’s the way the world thinks. But Jesus has already said that He has His origins in another world – the world that was/is created by this God who was willing to send His only Son to save it form being overcome by darkness. Jesus calls us out of the darkness of this world and into His wonderful light and then turns around and warns us that we will suffer – just as He did – in our quest to keep that light burning brightly.

If these words from today’s Holy Scriptures aren’t enough to catch our attention just look at the lives of any of the great “saints” to see that they got their “halo” by following Jesus. And this “following” needs to be turned around some so that we can understand that it begins at the foot of the cross where we encounter the real Jesus. Most of us get this equation backwards and think that we need to start doing the works of Jesus – feeding, saving, healing – in order to become like Him.

If we read the Holy Scripture correctly we can see that the Church didn’t begin to grow until after the crucifixion, death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

This is not the way “Madison Avenue” would start a successful business adventure. And that’s just the point! If we try to approach Jesus and follow Him by this world’s standards we will never find the true Light and only struggle in darkness. Start at Calvary at the foot of the Cross; pass through the ultimate darkness of a tomb and into the real Light of Christ. It’s only then that you will begin to notice that people around you are fed, saved and healed.

However, the early Church had some ways to go in its efforts to be faithful to the lead of Jesus Christ. Along the way various factions took sway and there was serious concerns that things needed to be straightened out. Pius V, who was pope in the mid 1500’s, was, in many ways, very much like our current Pope Francis and was instrumental in getting things sorted out and giving us a renewed church in his own time. It should be obvious to most of us, that, left to our own, we tend to drift away from the core of Jesus’ message and need, always, to be drawn back to the center. Even in my own time we needed a Second Vatican Council to pull us back to living the essence of what it means to follow Jesus. And now, our beloved Pope Francis, is still calling us to take seriously the admonitions of the early church which still need to be followed. And you can bet that he will be hated by some for trying to keep our Church honest and true to Jesus’ commands. In many ways we have to hear Jesus speaking to us in this day and age the words of today’s Communion Antiphon: “Father, I pray for them, that they may be one in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me, says the Lord, Alleluia.” (John 17:20-21)  Saint Pius V pray for us. Amen!

April 25, 2016 – Monday in the 5th Week of Easter

Saint for the day: Mark, Evangelist (1st century)

God's Rainbow

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

1 Peter 5:5-14    –    Psalm 89    –    -Mark 16:15-20

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

These words, the opening of today’s Gospel, are very much a part of our Easter celebrations. In fact, if I have done my research properly, the feast of St. Mark always falls within the Easter time of celebration. So, he is an important symbol for us to carry out this same task, especially since he was not one of the Apostles and experienced some difficulties with St. Paul somewhere along the way. So, these are two reasons for me to have some hope for myself since I, too, fit those two characteristics. Just because we say “yes to Jesus” doesn’t necessarily mean that we will have it “all together” or not have to suffer some setbacks while we’re on our journey to the Kingdom.

There was a time, earlier in my religious life, that I had a “run in” with my superior over an impending assignment and I was actually given an ultimatum: “either go there and exercise some kind of ministry … or else… The “or else” was to painful for me to repeat here in this reflection and wouldn’t serve any purpose for this reflection today.

In the end, I went to that new assignment which turned out to be the wonderful beginning of a totally new phase of my religious life and I was able to do new ministries that I never dreamed possible. As I look back – even though I’m not sure that I would credit my superior with bringing that about – I can see that God can still write straight with crooked lines.

Even though St. Mark had his “run in” with Paul, God was still able to bring about the spread of the Gospel through him and we are richer for his gift of preaching and proclaiming the Resurrected Lord. The “bottom line” that I would suggest with this example is to have some level of trust that the Holy Spirit can work wonders in our lives if we are able to trust that God will never give us more than we can handle. Sometimes we just have to re-adjust our sights in order to see beyond the “clouds of doom” where the rainbow of God’s promise begins to appear. What is it that they say? “When all you seem to be given is lemons don’t cry about it. Make lemonade! Amen!

April 24, 2016 – 5th Sunday of Easter

Saint for the day:Fidelis of Sigmaringen (1577-1622)

foot washing

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Acts 14:21-27     –     Psalm 145    –     John 13:31 – 35

There’s a common saying in English: “One picture is worth a thousand words” and that might be another way of quoting Jesus’ words from today’s Holy Gospel: “Love one another as I have loved you.” The early Church had many faith-filled and dynamic preachers but the words alone weren’t all there was to their presentations. They also “put their money where their mouth was” and lived the life and walked the walk so much so that people could see that what they were preaching about they also lived.

The starting point of their success as preachers seems to be based on words from St. Thomas Aquinas, “You can’t give what you do not have!” The early apostles and disciples had encountered the real Jesus as they watched Him and often saw the miracles of healing and feeding the crowds that followed him. But it’s most important for us to understand that of all the things they saw him do and accomplish, none were as important as what they saw him do at the Last Supper when He got down on his knees and washed their feet – giving them a new commandment: “to love each other as I have loved you.” This seems to be our “bottom line” where we are shown what it means to be a true follower of Jesus: one who seeks to serve rather than be served. And this is His “new commandment: to love each other as I have loved you!”  But we need to translate that statement and put it in language that we can better understand. That’s why I put this “new commandment” in language that He really meant: “… wash each other’s feet as I have washed yours.”   So, there you have it: more than enough in today’s Liturgy for us to chew on. But be sure to swallow or it won’t do you any good!   Amen!

 

April 23, 2016 – Saturday in the 4th Week of Easter

Saint for the day: George (died c. 303)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Acts 13:44-52    –    Psalm 98    –    John 14:7-14

Come Holy Spirit

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”

All of the Holy Scripture readings that we are hearing in these “Easter Days” straddle the post resurrection growth of the early Christian Community and the “Last Discourse” of Jesus at the Last Supper. So, we’re hearing about the disciples going out to proclaim Jesus as Savior of the World up against Gospels that point out that they didn’t quite grasp what He was telling them. We are given these Holy Scripture readings because we are so like those early followers of Jesus: kind of aware what He is trying to tell us but still confused about how to go about our missionary challenge.

That’s where the “Holy Spirit Prayer” that I quoted at the beginning of today’s reflection comes in. It’s the Holy Spirit that’s like petrol that fuels our ability to go out and proclaim that Jesus is Lord. This promise of the Holy Spirit takes us all the way back to the very beginning of the Bible when we read in Genesis, that the Holy Spirit was the force that brought order out of the chaos and also blew the breath of life into the first human beings. Now, millions of years after that creation scene we are still in need of the Holy Spirit’s Power to re-create us and burn within us the fire of God’s love. It’s no accident that the image of the Holy Spirit is given to us as breath which we cannot see but are still very much aware of. It reminds me of the story of Elijah at Mt. Horeb (1st Kings 19:8ff) where he is looking for the presence of God who promises to pass by. He hears and feels the great wind, but God was not in the storm. Then the earth quakes: but God is not in the earthquake And He wasn’t in the fire either. It’s when Elijah steps out and senses the still, gentle breeze that he recognizes God’s presence.

That should tell us something about encountering God’s presence in our lives. It’s not always in the spectacular signs but in that still, gentle breath of God’s Spirit that we, too, are recreated. Now, go back and reverently pray that Holy Spirit Prayer and allow it to gently breath its re-creating life in you. Amen!

April 22, 2016 – Friday in the 4th Week of Easter

Saint for the day: Abdiesus (died: 342)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Acts 13:26-33    –    Psalm 2    –    John 14:1-6

on the road

“Thomas said to Jesus, ‘Master, we do not know where you are going: how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’” (the ending of today’s Holy Gospel)

 Today, we get another chance to use the “bookend theme” with the quote above and the beginning of today’s Holy Gospel: “Let not your hearts be troubled…” The bonus is that you can put these two quotes at either end and you will still have some profound meaning. My friend, Fr. Richard Rohr says that the term “fear not” (or some variation of it) appears 366 times in the Bible. That one for each day of the year including Leap Year! That fact in itself should give all of us encouragement.

Jesus knew that the “journey theme” – a mainstay of the Gospelswould be a hard one for many of us. Just think for a moment about your own travels and how anxious you can get as you plan to step out of your comfort zone to begin a journey. Then let these two phrases give you confidence: “Don’t be afraid! I am the way, the truth and the life!”  In a very practical way, I have this “journey theme” on my mind since I will be celebrating a pilgrimage to Spain, France and Italy this summer. This trip is part of our celebrations honoring the 800th Anniversary of the foundation of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). We will follow in the footsteps of St. Dominic from his birth place to many of the early foundations of communities friars and also of nuns. 

Today’s Gospel also tells us that “there are many dwelling places in my Father’s House” implying that even if we start to get anxious there’s a place for us to stay and rest for awhile – just like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It was in that setting that the disciples where then able to say, “Were not our hearts burning within as He spoke to us?” And, lest we forget: this all happened in the context of the Eucharist – our Bread of Life! The Eucharist – the very presence of God to us – gives us food and courage to continue our journey. Amen!

April 21, 2016 – Thursday in the 4th Week of Easter

Saint for the day: Anselm (1033-1109)

foot washing

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Acts 13:13-25    –    Psalm 89    –    John 13:16-20

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (John 13:20)

With these above words from the end of today’s Holy Gospel – along with the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles – we might title today’s Liturgy, “Connecting in and sending on!”

It was always important for the early Church to see that what they were preaching was not just some new, fandangle theory but one that was deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition and history. That’s why they stayed connected to the synagogues whenever they went out preaching. They even brought up the shortcomings of the “chosen people of God” and reminded them “with uplifted arm he led them out, and for about forty years he put up with them in the desert.” (Acts 13:17) I love that image: “He put up with them in the desert!” We all know the story because it plays out in our own lives as we try to make our way through the “deserts” of our own making.

Then, today’s Holy Gospel puts it back in focus by starting out with the line, “When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet…” This is where Jesus surprises the disciples by telling them that they have to begin their ministry in service to one another. They might have expected Him to give them a short course in “scriptural exhortation” and instead He tells them they have to wash feet!

I couldn’t help but think back to the time my dad, who was getting more and more crippled up with arthritis, asked me if I would clip his fingernails. He didn’t have enough dexterity in his hands to do even that simple act. I was happy to help him with this and even suggested that I clip his toenails while I was at it. He protested that he wouldn’t ask anyone to have to deal with his dirty, crippled up feet but I persisted and did it because I thought this is what God asks all of us to do: be in service and help to one another. As I was doing this I just imagined what Jesus’ feet might have looked like after he had made his tortuous journey to Calvary. All of us would like to be remembered for the great and glorious things we said or did in our lives. Yet, in the end God is going to ask us, “when I was – here fill in the blanks – you did (or didn’t) take care of me!” And we’ll ask, “When did we see you … and help you?” Or turn away from you?” (see Matthew 25:35ff)

If we really want to connect in with Jesus and be faithful followers today’s Holy Gospel tells us where to begin: in helping those who have no one else to help them. We’ve just recently been hearing about the “Good Shepherd” and how His sheep know him and hear his voice and they follow him. I think it behooves us to hear, again, what it means to be in close fellowship with Jesus: Three little words: hear his voice; known to Him; willing to follow. That’s all it takes: listening to the voice of God; being in close relationship through prayer and sacraments; and willing to follow Him wherever He leads. And along the way we might have to wash some dirty feet! Amen!

April 20, 2016 – Wednesday in the 4th Week of Easter

Saint for the day: Conrad of Parzham (1818-1894)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

    Acts 12:24 – 13:5    –    Psalm 67    –    John 12:44-5

clouds

“Jesus says, ‘I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.’” (from today’s Holy Gospel according to St. John.)

I have to chuckle when I read the above words as I sit in the dark of our little house chapel early in the morning before the sun has even thought about shinning. But it’s amazing how quickly my eyes adjust to this darkness and in no time I’m able to see even in the apparent darkness.

I have the light that shines out from our tabernacle that really is enough to see everything in the room. Two candles on the altar; a votive light at the statue of Mary; and the light from my computer screen

From all of this, I have to come to the conclusion that believing in Jesus as the light of the world can be a reality if I only come up to Him – even from behind – and “touch the hem of his brilliance!”

It’s then, in the spark of that light that I am able to begin to see what the Lord calls me to. In these Easter Days when we’re reading about the rapid growth of the early Church we don’t just read it as a history project but, rather, as a model of what each one of us is called to do: “Go out into all the world and proclaim this ‘Good News’ that Jesus has brought light into a world that only knew darkness.”

At our baptisms each one of us was given a candle. A tiny sign of our commissioning to spread that “Light of Christ.” Isn’t there an old song that went, “… if everyone lit just one little candle what a bright world it would be?” Then, just to keep us honest, we’re reminded, “blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make our candle any brighter!”

I can’t help but be reminded of semester that I spent in Israel back in 1983. There were so many adventures that we were able to experience that it’s hard for me to sort through and isolate the most important. However, one of the more spectacular events was our climb up Mt. Sinai which began at 3:30 in the morning! We were told to not depend on our flashlights, but to let our eyes adjust to the ambient light. I was very surprised at how quickly I was able to adjust to walking in only like light of half a moon! What was most incredible was our making it to the top where we were actually able to look down on the clouds! We were high enough that we could understand how the ancients really did believe that they were at the gate of Heaven.

 In the end, we all had to admit that darkness can be a means to a good end if we seek to fine-tune our vision so that we are able to see where and how the Lord is leading us. And that brings us right back to square one where we, like the early believers, are sent outon the way to bring light into a darkened world. Amen!

April 19, 2016 – Tuesday in the 4th Week of Easter

Saint for the day:Alphege (954-1012)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Acts 11:19-26    –    Psalm 87    –    John 10:22-30

lights

 “The feast of the Dedication was taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter.”

 These words that we hear at the opening of today’s Holy Gospel are like the words of a playwright:   deep and filled with an element of suspense: “… and it was winter!”

 Most of us have an understanding of winter. It’s a cold, dark time when there isn’t much growth in the natural world around us. In many places where snow is part of the winter scene it is also a time of quiet beauty. The dirt and grim of our regular world gets coated in a white blanket like a costume that hides the imperfections and irregular characteristics of our lives. Winter: a chance for the world to rest and re-group.

But it was also the Feast of the Dedication: the “Festival of Lights” and the people want to know, “… are you going to keep us in suspense? ‘Tell us plainly: are you the Christ?”

 In typical “Johannine fashion” the Gospel writer is giving us a whole string of opposites: winter when there is little growth against the phenomenal growth of the early Church; the ‘Festival of Lights’ up against Jesus, “the light of the world.”

“How long are you going to keep us in suspense?” Up against: “I told you and you do not believe!”

The beauty of the Holy Scriptures – both Old and New Testaments – is that they are ever present. Even when they are telling us of events of the past they are also bringing it home and into the reality of our day in and day out lives. We can steal the words from Ecclesiastes: “There is a season for everything under the earth: a time for birth; and a time for death …”  And, just like the early Christian community who had to come to grips with their past, familiar cycle of things, we, too, must allow the cycle of birth and death; light and darkness; certainty and doubt to come out from under their cover of darkness to follow Jesus, the Light of the World.

Jesus didn’t just wave His hand over the troubles of the world of His time but showed them how He would always be with them – even in the midst of their doubts. We’re still in the Easter Season and the “Feast of Pentecost” is still down the road. But it will come! Then, filled with the Holy Spirit we’ll have some thirty, plus weeks of growth and nurturing taking us full circle and … back, again to the First Sunday of Advent.

Will we “get it right this year?” Maybe not this time. And that’s he beauty of our Church: we always get another chance! Amen!

April 18, 2016 – Monday in the 4th Week of Easter

Saint for the day: Apollonius the Apologist (died 185)

good shepherd

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Acts 11:1-18    –    Psalm 42    –    John 10:1-10

“Jesus said to them, ‘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 came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”(John 10: 7ff)

In this Monday in the 4th Week of Easter we continue with the Good Shepherd theme from yesterday’s Liturgy so it must be important for us to hear some more of that aspect of how Jesus draws believers in to the life that only He can give. When the Holy Gospel tells us, “all who came before me are thieves and robbers…” we have to be sure that we are following a “be-here now” messiah and not some “fly-by-night would-be preacher. When Simon Peter and the others get to the man’s house all they did was to tell the man how the Holy Spirit came down upon them when they prayed and the same thing happened to this gentile in his own home. The importance of this passage is the fact that the disciples realized that they weren’t just being blessed in order to feel good about themselves but were actually beginning the evangelistic phase of the new Church which is energized in the act of going out to others. Today’s Holy Gospel continues with the same theme as yesterday with the continuation of the sheepfold and the shepherd images. The importance of staying with this theme reminds us of the real definition of “sheepfold.” The “sheepfold” gave the flock protection during the darkness of night and the “sheepgate” made sure that only those recognized as belonging to the fold got in and were guaranteed protection. If we jump to a “bottom line” we should be able to see that we have to have some level of awareness of Jesus in our life in order to prosper and not die needlessly. What is it that brings us into that level of recognizing Jesus and being recognized by Him? We have to have some awareness of being a part of the life of Jesus that begins with prayer and is sustained by our desire to follow Jesus and be a part of the life that only He can give. Ritual prayer is certainly important but it has to be supported by a more constant seeking of oneness with Jesus/God in every aspect of our lives. Amen!