Church Leaders

Keep Peter and the rest of the apostles in mind when thinking about church leadership. In today’s reading at Mass from the Acts of the Apostles Peter recalls his experience in Joppa, at the house of Simon the Tanner. Joppa, remember, was the seaport where Jonah began his perilous journey into the gentile world.

After Pentecost, the church seems to do nicely in Jerusalem and Judea as Peter and the others proclaim the resurrection of Jesus, perform miracles and bravely withstand persecution by Jewish leadership. The gospel is proclaimed even in Samaria and Galilee. Near Joppa, Peter heals Aeneas, a paralyzed man in bed for eight years and raises Tabitha from the dead. (Acts 9,31-43)

Then, the tired apostle goes to sleep on the roof of Simon the Tanner’s house in Joppa overlooking the vast sea, where he has a disturbing vision. Instead his usual  kosher food  a gentile banquet is poured out before him, and reacting like a typical Jew Peter pushes it away.  Three times the vision invites the puzzled apostle to eat before vanishing.

Then, messengers appear at the door from Cornelius, a gentile soldier stationed in Caesaria Maritima, the main Roman headquarters some miles up the coast, asking Peter to come and speak about “the things that had happened.” It’s the gentile banquet that Peter is invited to attend in his dream.

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but every nation is acceptable to him,” Peter says he goes to Caesaria and instructs Cornelius and all his household and then baptizes them.

Yet, did Peter truly understood all the consequences of his visit to Cornelius? Was the simple fisherman, who spoke Aramaic with a Galilean accent, who felt the pull of home and family and the nets of his fishing boat, ever comfortable in a gentile world? Later, he traveled to Antioch in Syria and then to Rome, where he was killed in the Neronian persecution in the 60’s. Was he ever as confident in a gentile world as he was in his own? Did he ever understand the gentile banquet?

Portraits of Peter in Rome usually portray him firmly in charge of the church, holding the keys of authority tightly in hand. Clearly, he is a rock.

I saw another image of Peter years ago in the Cloisters Museum in New York. He’s softer, reflective, more experienced, not completely sure of himself. There’s a consciousness of failure in his face. He seems to be listening for the voice of the Shepherd hoping to hear it.

Church leaders never fully understand the mysterious ship they’re called to steer. They have to listen for the Shepherd’s voice.

Readings: 4th Week of Easter

Readings: 4th Week of Easter

The gospel readings for this week at Mass continue the theme of the Good Shepherd. (Monday, Tuesday) and then begin the Farewell Discourse of Jesus to his disciples. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday} The readings from Acts of the Apostles describe the opening of mission to the gentiles with the baptism of Cornelius by Peter. (Monday to Saturday) The Good Shepherd boldly leads his followers to other peoples and places.

Wednesday is the feast of Mark the Evangelist.

April 23 Acts 11, 1-18
John 10, 1-10
April 24 Acts 11, 19-26
John 10, 22-30
April 25 1 Peter 5, 5-14
St. Mark Mark 16, 15-20
April 26 Acts 13, 13-25
John 13, 16-20
April 27 Acts 13, 26-33
John 14, 1-6
April 28 Acts 13, 44-52
John 14, 7-14

A Note to a Dear Friend (and you are one of them)

Contemplative Philosophy

thomas-couture-soap-bubbles-1859Thomas Couture, “Soap Bubbles” (1859) The Met

A Note to a Dear Friend (and you are one of them),

You know that I never will be able to give enough thanks and praise to our Good God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for all the blessings He has made manifest thru you: your thoughts, your words, your actions, your prayers—the intention of your heart—but most of all, His Divine Presence in you, with you, and working thru you.

No pure intention goes unanswered.

I have received so much.

My family has become so rich.

Praise be to God for His obedience in you—for allowing yourself to be an instrument in His mighty, powerful, faithful, and always present hand.

Thank you for your sacrifice.

Thank you for placing it upon the altar.

Thank you for participating in the sufferings of Jesus.

Thank you for offering up.

Thank you for…

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Creation Rises Too

Listen to Irenaeus, the 4th century Bishop of Lyons, France, as he speaks of the power of God: “God’s power is shown most perfectly in weakness.” We will be raised, but creation will experience the mystery of Christ’s resurrection too.

Sunday is Earth Day throughout the world.

The slip of a vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays only to be raised up again and multiplied by the Spirit of God who sustains all things. The Wisdom of God places these things at the service of human beings and when they receive God’s word they become the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ.

In the same way our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father. Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature in immortality and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility, for God’s power is shown most perfectly in weakness.

Paul’s Conversion


The dramatic conversion of Paul is recalled in today’s  first reading at Mass from the Acts of the Apostles. Luke describes this event three times, acknowledging Paul’s special  role in the spread of the church from Jerusalem to Rome.

Yet, Luke sees Paul’s conversion and ministry as a work of God, who uses the apostle for his own divine purposes. It’s not Paul’s genius or imagination that achieved so much. God’s grace brought him to the ground on his way to Damascus and sent him on his mission.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Jesus says to him. Their meeting caused Paul to be convinced that faith is a gift that justifies us and that the church is the body of Christ. He did not come to those beliefs on his own.

Paul’s great conversion story in Acts introduces a succession of stories recalling the conversion of the gentiles. Though Paul has a prominent part in these stories, he is still an agent whom God sends and constantly empowers.

The Acts of the Apostles is not just a description of the past;  it’s a template for the church of every age. Personalities like Paul and human factors play a part in her growth, but the church’s advance is not principally through human power, reason, or imagination. The power of God’s Spirit guides and supports it through time.

We need to pray and welcome it.