Monthly Archives: May 2015

A Community of Believers

The church is a community of believers–that’s the way the Acts of the Apostles, which we’re reading after Easter, describes it. We look so often at church leaders, like Peter and Paul, and we miss the crucial part ordinary believers play. They’re more than passive spectators.

Some time ago visiting a parish, the director of religious education was getting the young people ready for confirmation and first communion. “The parents are the ones who make these things stick,” she said. “If they don’t bring the young people to church; if they don’t think it’s important, neither will they. You can have the best preparation program around, but if parents don’t back it up with their own example, the young people wont be back.”

Families and friends still turn out for First Communions, I notice. Good they do. But in some way the community– families, friends, all of us– have to communicate our belief that sacraments are important signs of the presence of the Risen Christ.

We’re a community of believers.

6th Sunday of Easter: God’s At Work In Our World

 To listen to today’s homily select the audio below:

If any of you are watching the bible series “AD: The Gospel Continues” on television Sunday nights on NBC, you know that a Roman centurion named Cornelius has a big role in it so far. He’s the tough Roman soldier in charge of Roman troops in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified and afterwards. The television series shows how violent those times were; Cornelius is responsible for much of it.

The series is fictionalized and goes beyond historical sources and the New Testament narratives. For example, the New Testament and others sources don’t say that Cornelius was the centurion on Calvary when Jesus was crucified, as the series does, or that he and Pontius Pilate had a major role in the early brutal attempts to crush the new Christian movement. Yet the series does get the violence right –those were brutal times.

In our first reading today we have the New Testament account of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. It’s from St. Luke’s long account of the conversion of the Roman soldier by the Apostle Peter, in Chapters 10 and 11 of the Acts of the Apostles. Cornelius is not in Jerusalem, but 80 miles away in Caesarea Maritima, a Roman seaport where Pontius Pilate and his Roman legions were regularly based.

Luke’s account sees Cornelius as an important gentile convert to Christianity; he describes him as “ a centurion of the Cohort called the Italica, devout and God-fearing along with his whole household, who used to give alms generously* to the Jewish people and pray to God constantly.” Doesn’t seem at all like the tough Roman enforcer in “AD”, does he?

I think Luke describes him that way because he’s trying to show that God can change a tough Roman centurion into someone who’s devout and God-fearing and generous and prayerful. Peter’s afraid to go near him, let alone eat a meal with him, and so an angel has to tell him that God is working in Cornelius. Peter then goes to Caesarea, baptizes Cornelius and his family and welcomes them into the community of believers.

In the New Testament, disciples like Peter seem to continually underestimate the power of God, whether it’s God’s power to raise Jesus from the dead or God’s power to change a sinful world of tough people and unjust structures. It’s a temptation the disciples fall into. It’s a temptation we fall into. We can underestimate God’s power and God’s plans. We can make our vision, our life, our church too small.

God is working to build his kingdom. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we say. We need to accept the big dimensions of that prayer.

Give us a church that is bold

The Risen Jesus encourages us to be bold. At the Last Supper Jesus said to his confused and uncertain disciples, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14,12-14)
The disciples that night were at a loss as Jesus said he was leaving and going to the Father. They saw themselves powerless without him.

Yet the Risen Christ empowered them to do the works he did. “By what power and by what name have you done this?” the leaders ask Peter and John after they cured the crippled man sitting at the gate of the temple. “It was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed,” they answer. (Acts 4,1-12)

The disciples who denied him and fled to hide behind locked doors suddenly were bold and fearless, not relying on themselves but on the power promised by Jesus.

Does his gift and promise stop with them, or can we also hope to do the works that he did?
Lord, give us a church that’s bold.

Creation Redeemed

 

creation
Pope Francis is soon to issue an important encyclical on the environment. Some say that’s none of the church’s business, but creation is the church’s business, In his great treatise “On the Incarnation of the Word ” St. Athanasius says Jesus Christ came to save it.

“The Word of God, incorporeal, incorruptible and immaterial, entered our world. Yet it was not as if he had been remote from it up to that time. For there is no part of the world that was ever without his presence; together with his Father, he continually filled all things and places.

“ Out of his loving-kindness for us he came to us, and we see this in the way he revealed himself openly to us. Taking pity on our weakness, and moved by our corruption, he could not stand aside and see death have the mastery over us; he did not want creation to perish and his Father’s work in fashioning humanity to be in vain. He therefore took to himself a body, no different from our own, for he did not wish simply to be in a body or only to be seen.

“ If he had wanted simply to be seen, he could indeed have taken another, and nobler, body. Instead, he took our body in its reality.”

Jesus Christ, the Word of God, entered into the world of real time and place, Athanasius says.  The world was not a stage he used, to be dismantled and thrown away.  it was a reality he embraced and redeemed. “He is the Word through whom you made the universe; the Savior you sent to  redeem us.” “He became flesh and dwelt among us.”

God’s plan of salvation, then, was not restricted to human beings: “he did not want creation to perish and his Father’s work of fashioning humanity to be in vain.”

5th Sunday of Easter: I am the Vine

 

The other day a priest in my community, Father Theophane Cooney, CP, gave me a short instruction that he gives to people about reading the scriptures; it’s based on an old method called in latin “lectio divina” or “sacred reading.” I put his instruction on my blog yesterday and a surprising number of people read it, so I’d like to share it with you today as we read from the Gospel of John.

What is Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading)?

It is a spiritual, rather than academic, reading of the Bible. It enables the reader to get to know Jesus in a more personal way, through reading, above all through listening.
It is to experience a personal meeting of an intimate kind with the God who loves you and comes to meet you in the sacred reading. You should not feel obliged to read a complete passage, you are there to listen. God can say an awful lot in a few words.
Avoid opening the scriptures at random: choose rather the Sunday gospel, for example.

Preparation

Time: set aside 10 or 15 minutes when you will be free from interruptions.
Place: somewhere free of interruptions, no telephone, no television, no computer.
1. Take some moments to calm down.
2. Invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Pray to be enlightened with an inspiration that may inspire your life.
3. Read calmly, very slowly, the biblical text. Read it again. Take the time to listen to the Lord and the message he wishes to share with you from this reading. Don’t expect blinding revelations. God is teaching you to listen and seek him in silence.
4. Meditate: ask yourself–“What does this word of God, which I have read carefully say to me.”
5. Pray. Speak to the Lord who has spoken to you in the text you have reflected on. Let your attitude be that of the Virgin Mary: “Be it done onto me according to your word.”
6. Contemplate in silence. Remain fascinated and impressed as you calmly allow the word of God to inspire you as though it were the heat of the sun.
7. Act. Make a commitment that springs from this encounter with the Lord. Inspired and filled with the word of God you return to daily life with a renewed attitude.
If you are faithful to this practice, your life will begin to change. The word of God will lead you to a change of attitudes, values and feelings. Love the word of God. Study it and allow it to form your personality.

This Sunday’s gospel’s a good gospel for practicing the lectio divina. Do you remember how it begins? “Jesus said to his disciples.” Who are his disciples? Aren’t they us? Jesus said these words when he was with his disciples at the Last Supper. Isn’t he with us now?

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower…I am the vine and you are the branches. Can God be so close that we are branches on the vine? “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remain on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” “Remain in me,” Jesus tells us. “I remain in you,” he tells us. “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.”
If we cut ourselves off from our God, we become lifeless branches.

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
If we remain in Jesus, we have life and bear fruit, and listen to his promise: “Ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.”

You can see how these words bring us into the presence of the Lord, how fascinating they are, how they bring close to God and God close to us.

“If you are faithful to this practice, your life will begin to change. The word of God will lead you to a change of attitudes, values and feelings. Love the word of God. Study it and allow it to form your personality.”

The Promises of Christ

In the Last Supper Discourse of St. John”s Gospel, which we’re reading at this point in the Easter season,
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him,
“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.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus promises his disciples over and over that he will stay with them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says to them.

Though he speaks to his disciples in the supper room the night before he dies, he speaks as the Risen Lord, which means his presence extends, not just to the moment, but to time and space far beyond this. Those who believe in him will follow him into another realm where he prepares a place for them. “You have faith in God, have faith also in me. In my father’s house there are many dwelling places.”

From his father’s house, he promises to return. “I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”

The Easter season is filled with the promises of Christ, all of them summarized in the Mass we celebrate. We remember the Christ of the supper room, but he is the Risen Christ. He cares for us now, but he prepares a place for us then. And he will come to take us to himself, to his Father’s house, and we will dwell there forever.