A Church that Heals?

peter healing
A number of the readings from Acts of the Apostles in the 1st week of Easter (Wednesday to Saturday) are about the cure of the crippled man. Acts 5,12-15 (Sunday 2nd wk) summarizes the healing and cures worked by the apostles, some of them in Solomon’s portico in the temple, a place bound to draw attention. People from Jerusalem and distant villages begin to bring them their sick, so even the “shadow of Peter” as he passed by would cure them.

Healing plays an important part in the witness of the early church. Is it still a part of the church’s witness today? Do we leave too much to modern medicine, drugs, treatments? Is there still a part for prayer, spiritual healing, physical healing in our church? Certainly bringing Communion to the sick is important, but how about healing through prayer? Is this something we’re neglecting today?

The Acts of the Apostles is a template for looking at our church today and questioning its fidelity to Christ.

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Learning from the Apostles

We read continually from the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season. Luke reminds us in this book, as he does in his gospel, that it took time for the disciples to understand what the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus meant. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus are not the only ones slow to understand. All of them were.

Peter, who preaches to the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, certainly was. He speaks on Pentecost, forty days after the Passover on which Jesus died and rose from the dead. The days immediately following easter, he was speechless; it took awhile for him to learn and be enlightened about what this great mystery meant.

It’s the same with us. Each year the Lord refreshes our faith in the resurrection, but it’s not something done in a day. Like the disciples, we need time to take it in, and so we have an easter season of forty days.

The Acts of the Apostles also say the disciples were slow to understand the mission they were called to carry out. That’s because it’s God’s plan, not theirs, a plan that outruns human understanding. A new age had come, the age of the Holy Spirit, and they didn’t understand it.

The Holy Spirit moves beyond the church’s understanding of its mission. “The mission is willed, initiated, impelled and guided by God through the Holy Spirit. God moves ahead of the other characters. At a human level, Luke shows how difficult it is for the church to keep up with God’s action, follow God’s initiative, understand the precedents being established.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles)

We see things with human eyes and understanding. “You judge things as human beings do, not as God does,” Jesus says to Peter elsewhere in the gospel.

Like the others, Peter is slow to understand God’s plan, even after Jesus rises from the dead. He doesn’t know why he must go to Caesaria Maritima to baptize the gentile Cornelius and his household. (Acts 10,1-49) It’s something completely unexpected. Only gradually will he embrace the mission to the gentiles and its implications. The other disciples are like him. God’s plan unfolds but they are hardly aware of it.

One thing they all learned quickly, though, as is evident in the Acts of the Apostles. Like Jesus, they would experience the mystery of his cross, and in that experience they would find wisdom.

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This is the Day

Most people think that Easter is over, but we celebrate Easter for more than one day. For 50 days we celebrate the Easter season, from the Easter vigil till the feast of Pentecost. Over and over in that time we pray: “This is the day the Lord has made.”

The reason we celebrate Easter over this long period is because it takes time to grasp a mystery like this. It’s hard to take it in. It’s beyond us. Jesus spent 40 days with his apostles helping them understand. We see them struggling with this mystery in the gospels we read all this week. In these days we believe the Lord helps us as we try to understand.

We can see it today in Mary Magdalene searching for the One she thought was taken away, then finding him and wanting to hold him, then being told by Jesus “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go tell my brothers, ‘ I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Jesus had taken on a new existence. He does not return to his ordinary life, as she knew him. He has changed and become the first to enter a new life and a new world. He is “the first fruits” of those who die; others will follow him. Mary is told to go tell the others.

It will take Mary more than a day to grasp this and it takes us more than a day to grasp it too.

In one of his sermons Cardinal Newman has a beautiful meditation on the Day when God did his greatest work.
“Let us rejoice in the Day that He has made… the Day of His Power. This is Easter Day. Let us say this again and again to ourselves with fear and great joy. As children say to themselves, ‘This is the spring,’ or ‘This is the sea,’ trying to grasp the thought, and not let it go; as travellers in a foreign land say, ‘This is that great city,’ or ‘This is that famous building,’ knowing it has a long history through centuries, and vexed with themselves that they know so little about it; so let us say, This is the Day of Days, the Royal Day, the Lord’s Day.

“This is the Day on which Christ arose from the dead; the Day which brought us salvation. It is a Day which has made us greater than we know. It is our Day of rest, the true Sabbath. Christ entered into His rest, and so do we. It brings us, in figure, through the grave and gate of death to our season of refreshment in Abraham’s bosom. We have had enough of weariness, and dreariness, and listlessness…

“May we grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, season after season, year after year, till He takes to Himself, first one, then another, in the order He thinks fit, to be separated from each other for a little while, to be united together for ever, in the kingdom of His Father and our Father, His God and our God.”
John Henry Newman, “Difficulty of Realizing Sacred Privileges,”

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The Easter Season

The Easter season is a seven week period that begins with the Easter vigil and concludes on the feast of Pentecost. For most Catholic parishes, it’s a time for First Communion of children, but the season has a larger purpose than that. It’s time for the whole community to be renewed in its faith in the Risen Christ.

“Blessed are they who have not seen, but believe,” Jesus said to his Apostle Thomas, a key figure in the Easter season. John’s gospel recalling the Risen Christ meeting Thomas is read on all three cycles for the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Jesus’ words to Thomas summarize this season: he blesses those who have not seen him.

We have not seen him as his apostles and other eye-witnesses have, but we’re blessed with faith, which is a way of knowing Jesus through sacraments and signs and, most importantly, through loving one another. Relying on the witness of his disciples, we know the Risen Christ in the church and its sacraments, particularly in the Eucharist, and in life around us.

Our faith needs strengthening, however, because our world questions this way of knowing the mysteries of God and Jesus Christ. Besides, we ourselves find it hard to give our minds to great mysteries like this; so many other things and thoughts hold our attention. The Easter season brings a renewing grace to us.

Weekday Readings: Octave of Easter

Monday: Acts 2:14,22-23; Matthew 28,8-15
Tuesday: Acts 2, 36-41; John 20,11-18
Wednesday: Acts 3,1-19; Luke 24, 13-35
Thursday: Acts 3,11-36 Luke 24, 35-48
Friday Acts 4,1-12 John 21,1-14
Saturday Acts 4, 13-21 Mark 16,9-15

The weekday readings at Mass for the next 7 weeks of the Easter season come mainly from the Acts of the Apostles and the gospel of John. This is a good time to read the introductions to these books in the NABRE.

The Acts of the Apostles, the second part of St. Luke’s work, describes how salvation promised to Israel and accomplished by Jesus now extends to the Gentile world under the guidance of the Holy Sprit. The same book by which we understand how the church developed in the beginning and can help us see how it develops today.

Luke shows the growth of the church from its Jewish Christian origins in Jerusalem to a series of Christian communities that point to Rome, the capital of the civilized world. As our church today continues to become a global church, what can we learn from Acts to help us understand and contribute to its growth in the world today?

The gospels for the octave of Easter are resurrection accounts from all four gospels. Written about 70 AD and after, they are later descriptions of the resurrection of Jesus. Earlier short statements about the resurrection– from the letters of Paul, for example– report the utter amazement of the first witnesses as they met the Risen Jesus and the difficulty they had describing him. He is beyond any experience his first disciples had or knew of.

The evangelists adapt the story of the Risen Jesus to the situation of the churches they’re writing for, which explains the differences in their accounts. They can also teach us about our own church and times. The gospels reveal what we can know about the resurrection, what it calls us to do and what we can hope for.

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Following the Risen Christ

“Do not cling to me.” Jesus says to Mary Magdalen in the Easter gospel. His words seem dismissive, but they’re not.

His resurrection was not the same as the resurrection of Lazarus his friend. When Lazarus came from the tomb they took the winding sheets from his body and saw immediately he was the same Lazarus they knew before. No doubt his sisters, Martha and Mary, embraced him and brought him home where he took up his life as he lived it before.

Living again, Lazarus did what he always did; he spoke, he ate, he thought as before. On the fateful week Jesus died, he sat at table with him and all recognized him as Lazarus who had died and came from the dark tomb after four days.

Eventually, he died again, as we all must do.

But when Jesus rose from the dead, he took on a new existence. He did not return to his ordinary life and he cannot die again. He was changed and became the first to enter a new life, a new world. He is “the first fruits” of those who die, scripture says; we are meant to follow him.

He goes before us. “Stop holding on to me,” he tells Mary, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go tell my brothers, ‘ I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

He does not dismiss Mary; he invites her to follow him.She does not follow him alone; she tells others he is going forward to his God and their God.

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Easter Sunday

Lent 1
John 20,1-9
Besides Peter, Mary Magdalene is a key witness to the resurrection of Jesus. Her story is told in John’s gospel which speaks of their meeting in the garden. For the rest of her years Mary would remember those moments by the tomb.
In the morning darkness she came weeping for the one she thought lost forever. She heard him call her name, “Mary”. She turned to see him alive and the garden became paradise.

Like a new Eve she was sent by Jesus to bring news of life to all the living. She was his apostle to the apostles. The belief of Christians in the resurrection of Jesus rests in part on this woman’s word. Today the church questions her:
“Tell us, Mary, what did you see on the way?
’I saw the tomb of the now living Christ.
I saw the glory of Christ, now risen.
I saw angels who gave witness;
the cloths, too, which once covered head and limbs.
Christ my hope had indeed arisen.
He will go before his own into Galilee.’”

The Easter mystery brightens the vision of Christians ever since. Here Paul of the Cross reflects on its wonder:
“O True God, what will our hearts be like when we swim in that infinite sea of sweetness! What will it be like when we are all transformed by love in God, and we will be happy with that infinite goodness with which our God is happy! We will sing in eternity the divine mercies, the triumphs of the Immaculate Lamb and of Mary, our most holy Mother! What will it be when we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and when with all the saints we sing Alleluia! When we are united to God more than iron is united to fire, for without ceasing to be iron, it seems all fire, so we are transformed into God that the soul will be completely divinized. Oh, when will that day come! When, when will death come to break the wall of this prison!”
(Letter 162)

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the Lord has this been done,
it is wonderful in our eyes. Ps 118

Spanish

Domingo de Pascua Florida
Juan 20, 1-9

Igualmente que Pedro, María Magdalena es testigo clave de la Resurrección de Jesús. Su historia es relatada en el Evangelio de Juan que habla de su encuentro en el jardín. Por el resto de su vida María recordaría esos momentos al lado de la tumba. En la obscuridad del amanecer ella vino sollozando por El que creía perdido para siempre. Ella lo oyó llamando su nombre, “María.” Se volteó y al verlo vivo el jardín se convirtió en paraíso.

Como una nueva Eva ella fué enviada por Jesús para traer noticias de Vida a todos los que viven. Ella fué su apóstol a los apóstoles. La creencia de los cristianos en la Resurrección de Jesús se basa parcialmente en la palabra de esta mujer. Hoy nuestra iglesia le pregunta:
” ¿ Dinos, María, qué vistes en el camino?
‘ Yo ví la tumba del Cristo vivo.
Yo ví la gloria del Cristo levantado.
Ví ángeles que dieron testimonio;
los lienzos, también, que cubrieron su cara y su cuerpo.
Cristo mi esperanza en verdad resucitó.’
Él va ir frente a los suyos en Galilea.’ “

El misterio del día de Pascua ha iluminado las almas cristianas desde entonces. Aquí, Pablo de la Cruz reflexiona sobre esta maravilla:

” O Verdadero Dios, cómo serán nuestros corazones cuando nademos en ese mar infinito de dulzura! Cómo será cuando todos somos transformados por el amor en Dios, y seremos felices con esa infinita bondad con la que nuestro Dios es feliz! Cantaremos en la eternidad las mercedes divinas, los triunfos del Cordero Inmaculado y de María nuestra más Santa Madre! Cómo será cuando cantamos ‘ Santo, Santo, Santo,’ y cuando con todos los santos cantamos Aleluya! Cuando estamos unidos a Dios más que lo que el hierro se puede unir con el fuego, que todo parece fuego, y así somos transformados en Dios y el alma será completamente divinizada. O, cuándo llegue ese día! Cuándo, cuándo, vendrá la muerte a romper las paredes de esta prisión! “

Den gracias al Señor, porque él es bueno,
porque su merced es eterna.
La piedra que los constructores despreciaron
se ha convertido en la piedra principal.
Esto lo ha hecho el Señor
y estamos maravillados (Salmo 118).
Amén.

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Something Strange is Happening

DSC00118
From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

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