Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

The Feast of Peter and Paul

The church of Rome considers Peter and Paul, who came to the city and preached and died  there during the persecution by Nero in the early 60s, her founders. Their burial places are marked by great churches, St. Peter at the Vatican and St. Paul Outside the Walls.

They could not be more unlike: Paul, the educated Pharisee from Tarsus was a latecomer  to Christianity but like a runner raced from place to place in the Roman world to plant the faith. In the end, he believed God would give him “a crown of righteousness”  for his efforts.

Peter,  the fisherman from Galilee, was named by Jesus  the Rock on whom he would build his church. Denying Jesus three times, he was called by Jesus  three times  to shepherd the flock. Warily, he went to baptize a Roman soldier, Cornelius, in Caesaria; then he went to the gentile cities of Antioch and Rome to tell of the One he had seen with his own eyes.

The church today prays for Paul’s zealous faith to bring the gospel to the world and for Peter’s deep love for Jesus Christ which he proved by his preaching and death.

Commenting on Jesus’  threefold call to Peter. St. Augustine says it conquered the apostle’s “self-assurance.”

“Quite rightly, too, did the Lord after his resurrection entrust his sheep to Peter to be fed. Not that he alone  was fit to feed the Lord’s sheep, but when Christ speaks to one, he calls us to be one. And he first speaks to Peter, because Peter is the first among the apostles.

“Do not be sad, Peter. Answer once, answer again, answer a third time. Let confession conquer three times with love, because your self-assurance was conquered three times by fear. What you had bound three times must be loosed three times. Loose through love what you had bound through fear. And for all that, the Lord once, and again, and a third time, entrusted his sheep to Peter.”

“Today we celebrate the  the passion of two apostles. These two  were as one; although they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, Paul followed. We are celebrating a feast day consecrated for us by the blood of the apostles. Let us love their faith, their lives, their labors, their sufferings, their confession of faith, their preaching.”

“May your church in all things

follow the teaching of those

through whom she has received

the beginning of right religion.”

Saints Philip and James

We celebrate a feast of the apostles each month. Why? “Every family wants to find out how it began. We go back to the apostles because they were at the beginning of our church,” the early Christian writer Tertullian says. Today. May 3rd, we have two apostles together, Philip and James.

They’re celebrated together because their relics were placed side by side in the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Rome, when it was built in the 6th century. Philip was called by Jesus to follow him the day after he called Andrew and Peter, St. John’s gospel says. James, who is also called James the Less to distinguish him from James, the brother of John, was a cousin of Jesus who later became head of the church in Jerusalem and was martyred there in the year 62.

On a feast of an apostle you expect to hear one or more of his heroic acts or wise sayings, but in today’s reading from St. John’s gospel for the feast of these saints we hear instead an apostle’s clumsy question. During his Farewell Discourse, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.”

“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Philip says to Jesus, which brings an exasperated response from the Lord:

“Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.”

The gospels continually picture Jesus’ apostles as slow, uncertain, fearful–even ready to betray him. Philip isn’t the only one who can’t fathom the message or person of Jesus.

Called by Jesus, they’re human. Their humanness and slowness makes us realize where the power of our church comes from. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us be the glory!” The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ.

The End is Only a Beginning

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We begin reading the Farewell Discourse from John’s gospel along with the Acts of the Apostles this 4th week of Easter. Facing their loss of Jesus the disciples seem helpless as he says farewell. “I have a lot to say to you, but you cannot bear it now,” he says. The Lord recognizes their paralysis.

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, on the other hand, Paul and his companions are not helpless at all. They’re boldly on their way to places that may not seem impressive to us now, but were impressive places then: Psidian Antioch, Philippi, Athens, Corinth. Three were important Roman colonies, strategic cities on the Roman grid, steps on the road to Rome itself. Athens, of course, was a key intellectual center of the empire, though maybe a little down-trodden when Paul got there.

Paul welcomed people into his growing ministry. Meeting Lydia, the trader in purple dyes at the river, he baptizes her and her household. How many did she bring to the gospel? Priscilla and Acquila, the two Jews that Claudius expelled from Rome during the Jewish riots of AD 42, became his trusted partners.

Maybe it’s good that we read these two scriptures together.

The Acts of the Apostles tell of a church confidently on its way to the ends of the earth to fulfill its mission.

The Farewell Discourse, on the other hand, says that sometimes a church can be paralyzed in its thinking and acting. But the Lord is the shepherd of both. What seems like the end can be only a beginning.

Is Christianity Dying? Acts 11,19-26

The past  helps us understand the present.  Acts 11, 19-26, our reading at Mass today,  describes emissaries of the church of Jerusalem arriving at Antioch in Syria, where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.” The emissaries were from Jerusalem, the center of Christian power after the resurrection of Jesus, where the Holy Spirit came upon crowds in tongues of fire.

Now, the Jerusalem church blessed  a new church, which in turn brought the faith to other places through apostles like Paul and Barnabas.

Who would have predicted what would happen to these powerful churches in future years? Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Antioch continued to be a flourishing Christian stronghold for a few hundred years until Moslem invaders in the 7th century gradually made it a Moslem city.

Visit Antioch today, now part of modern Turkey, and you will see few signs of its Christian past. Paul and Barnabas once walked its streets; St. John Chrysostom and teachers like him were famous  throughout the world. Now, only scattered Christian relics remain, largely in the city’s museums.

As Christian churches and other religious institutions close in our part of the world now, as religious communities decline, we wonder: Are we Jerusalem and Antioch today?

The church shares the mystery of Jesus Christ, it dies and rises again, but it grows through it all.

 

The Bread of Life

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All four gospels say that Jesus fed a great crowd near the Sea of Galilee by multiplying a few loaves of bread and some fish. It’s an important miracle.

John’s account (John 6), read at Mass on weekdays from the Friday of the 2nd week of Easter until Saturday of the 3rd week of Easter, indicates the miracle takes place during the feast of Passover. Like the Passover feast, the miracle and the teaching that follows occur over a number of days.

The Passover feast commemorated the Manna God sent from heaven to sustain the Jews on their journey to the promised land. Jesus claims to be the “true bread,” the “living bread” that comes down from heaven.

Jesus is a commanding presence during the miracle and the days that follow in John’s account. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” he asks Philip as crowds come to him. He then directs the crowd to sit down, feeds them with the bread and fish, and says what should be done with the fragments left over. Unlike the other gospel accounts that give the disciples a active role in the miracle John’s account gives them a small role. Philip and the other disciples are tested during the miracle and the teaching that follows it.

As they embark on the Sea of Galilee to return to Capernaum after the miracle, a sudden storm occurs and Jesus’ rebukes the wind and the sea, the forces of nature, so that the disciples reach the other shore. He has divine power.

The crowds to whom Jesus speaks at Capernaum after the miracle are also tested as well as his disciples. They want to make him king after a plentiful meal and only look for a steady hand out instead of “the true bread come down from heaven.” Their faith is limited and imperfect after the miracle. They miss the meaning of the sign.

The disciples also are tested; some walk with him no more.

The miracle of the loaves and the fish remind us that Jesus is Lord and we are people of limited faith. We only see so far. The Risen Lord leads us to the other shore. He is the Bread of Life. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life,” Peter says to Jesus at the end of John’s account. And so do we.

Lamp for a Dark Place

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The sky over the boardwalk at Spring Lake, New Jersey, is sometimes swept with colors before nightfall. Then, a lamp is the only light till dawn.

The sun will rise again and the great Sun will also rise again, Augustine says. Then  “lamps will no longer be needed. When that day is at hand, the prophet will not be read to us, the book of the Apostle will not be opened, we shall not require the testimony of John, we shall have no need of the Gospel itself. Therefore all Scriptures will be taken away from us, those Scriptures which in the night of this world burned like lamps so that we might not remain in darkness.”

Darkness is temporary; we are meant for light.

“I implore you to love with me and, by believing, to run with me; let us long for our heavenly country, let us sigh for our heavenly home, let us truly feel that here we are strangers. What shall we then see? Let the gospel tell us: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. You will come to the fountain, with whose dew you have already been sprinkled.

“Instead of the ray of light which was sent through slanting and winding ways into the heart of your darkness, you will see the light itself in all its purity and brightness. It is to see and experience this light that you are now being cleansed. Dearly beloved, John himself says, we are the sons of God, and it has not yet been disclosed what we shall be; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

“I feel that your spirits are being raised up with mine to the heavens above; but the body which is corruptible weighs down the soul, and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind. I am about to lay aside this book, and you are soon going away, each to his own business. It has been good for us to share the common light, good to have enjoyed ourselves, good to have been glad together. When we part from one another, let us not depart from him.”

Light in Darkness

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The Easter readings tell us  Jesus Christ is the light of the world, who shines in our darkness. Mary comes to the tomb while it’s still dark. The dark of evening comes as the disciples hide in the Upper Room. The disciples fish all night, in the dark, and catch nothing. Then, Light comes.

Listen to Maximus of Turin’s reflections on Jesus Christ, “Light from Light.”

“Yes, we have the light of Christ, but it is a light that shines in darkness.  The light of Christ is an endless day that knows no night. Christ is this day, says the Apostle; such is the meaning of his words: Night is almost over; day is at hand. He tells us that night is almost over, not that it is about to fall… This is why John the evangelist says: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overpower it.

And so, my brothers and sisters, each of us ought surely to rejoice on this holy day. Let no one, conscious of his sinfulness, withdraw from our common celebration, nor let anyone be kept away from our public prayer by the burden of his guilt. Sinner he may indeed be, but he must not despair of pardon on this day which is so highly privileged; for if a thief could receive the grace of paradise, how could a Christian be refused forgiveness?”

I like watching the light come in the morning. It always comes, sometimes muted, sometimes bright and clear, but it always comes.

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