It is Isaiah who wrote, “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name” (Isaiah 49:1), but it just as easily could have been John the Baptist. He was also called before birth to serve the Lord. The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son who would “be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb...to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Luke 1:15-17).READ MORE
What wonders the Lord can do! A tender shoot from a cedar becomes the tallest tree on the mountain. Seed scattered on the earth yields fruit of its own accord. A tiny mustard seed grows into a huge shrub. What’s more, in each case the fruit of God’s work extends its blessings to others. The majestic cedar in Ezekiel’s story provides shade and shelter for every kind of bird. The sower of the seed harvests the fruit of the untended plants. The mustard plant yields pods filled with seeds that add flavor to food. But these are all parables. Each image used by Ezekiel and Mark describes something else. Because the Israelites were in exile at that time, Ezekiel needed them to trust that God had not abandoned them. The tender shoot from the crown of the old tree suggests a future king from the linage of David, himself the youngest son of Jesse. The two parables of Jesus in today’s passage from Mark explicitly connect the stories to the kingdom of God. Like the fledgling Christian community in the time of Mark and Paul, the kingdom of God starts out tiny and seemingly insignificant. But if a small shoot can grow into a majestic cedar, if a tiny mustard seed can grow into a large plant, if a microscopic sperm and egg can grow into a human person, so much so can the kingdom of God be built up into a whole world as one.
How can you help build up the kingdom of God in the world?READ MORE
Some awfully strong accusations are made of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “He is out of his mind,” “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” “He has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:21, 22, 30). The accusers fail to understand where Jesus was getting the power to drive out demons, misattributing it to Satan, the prince of demons. Jesus explains how this is impossible, but then he turns it around by making an extremely harsh pronouncement: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness” (Mark 3:29). Why is it that this blasphemy, alone among all others, is unforgivable? Perhaps it is because it turns good and evil upside down. It says that what is good and holy is driven by evil. No, it is not an evil spirit, but the opposite, the Holy Spirit, that is “possessing” Jesus as he acts according to his Father’s will. So it is for us when we allow the Holy Spirit to act through us. As Jesus tells the crowd, of all the people who were gathered around him—relatives, scribes, neighbors, his own disciples—the ones who can truly be considered his family are those who do the will of God. Those who do the will of God are manifesting the Holy Spirit, for it is the Spirit who is driving them.
Are there times when you misconstrue the work of the Spirit, too readily dismissing something as misguided or wrong?READ MORE
Covenants in ancient times, whether between individuals or tribes, were often sealed with the blood of animals. Why? Because blood was equated with life. In Exodus, after agreeing to remain faithful to God and the commandments, the people perform a ritual that includes animal sacrifice. Moses sprinkles the altar and then the people with the blood of young bulls. What seems to us today to be disgusting was for the ancient Israelites a sharing of life. Blood was life. By sprinkling both the altar and the people with blood, Moses showed that God and the people were united in life. In the new covenant, the blood is not the blood of goats and calves, but the blood of Jesus himself. Life is not just life here on earth, but eternal life with God. Sacrifice becomes redemptive. When Jesus transformed the Passover meal into the first Eucharist, he anticipated his redemptive act to come, looking forward to being able to “drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). Today, as the Eucharist is celebrated around the world, we all continue to share in this life-giving covenant between God and humanity.
Does the Eucharist help you realize the covenant God made with us?READ MORE
The phenomenon of the Holy Trinity is perhaps the deepest mystery of our faith. One God, but three persons? Limited by human concepts, we can only attempt to understand the mystery. God is truly one, but God is not solitary. God is in relationship, and always has been. The intimate relationship of Father and Son and Spirit is an essential part of the identity of God. The reading from Deuteronomy alludes to another triple relationship: that of God, the Chosen People, and the Promised Land. Moses reminds the people of God’s awesome deeds, done specifically for the people God chose. Paul makes the connection that if we are sisters and brothers in Christ, we are then also children of God. We have received a “Spirit of adoption,” the Holy Spirit bearing witness to our relationship with God (Romans 8:15). Then in Matthew we have the clearest expression of the Trinity, in Jesus’ instructions to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Since the Spirit comes upon us in baptism and stays with us, Jesus is able to reassure the apostles (and us), “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
Can you identify the presence of God in the course of your life?READ MORE
The coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the first Pentecost they celebrated after Jesus’ death and resurrection was a historical event, to be sure, but it is also an event that occurs again and again over thousands of years. The continual movement of the Spirit is apparent in the setting of that first Pentecost. The apostles clustered inside a room, doors locked, hiding from authorities. After the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, people from all over Jerusalem could hear them proclaiming their faith. Obviously, the doors and windows were open now! Like the wind, the force of the Holy Spirit could not be contained. Indeed, the fact that they were able to speak in foreign tongues, in the native languages of all people in Jerusalem no matter how far they had traveled, clarifies the mission of the disciples to spread their faith to all the known world. The Holy Spirit has reversed the effects of Babel. In Genesis, the boastful tower builders scattered to all corners of the earth once God had confused their speech. After the gift of the Holy Spirit, people from every country and of every culture gathered together to hear a message that transcended language. The Holy Spirit has no boundaries.
How is the Holy Spirit moving in your life?READ MORE
The Ascension marks a turning point for the disciples. This is the last time that they will see Jesus in the flesh. For years they had turned to him for guidance and direction. Jesus was right there to instruct them, to counsel them, and sometimes, to reprove them. In fact, Mark’s account Jesus directs his disciples immediately before ascending to the Father: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Now they have to take the lead. As the angels who make an appearance in the first reading say to them, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky? (Acts 1:11). They couldn’t just stand around and wait for the Second Coming. They needed to act. They were called to teach, or preach, or prophesy, or evangelize, each according to his or her talents, all “for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). The Ascension, then, was the moment of transition. The church, the people of God, the Body of Christ, commissioned by Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit, though still in its infancy, was now the visible presence of God’s work here on earth. At this point the church’s mission truly begins.
How can you assist the work of the Church today?READ MORE
Love one another.” We hear this directive at the beginning of the second reading (1 John 4:7) and then again at the end of the Gospel (John 15:17). The Greek word that John uses again and again is agápe, the selfless, unconditional love that God has for the world and that Jesus has for his disciples. Jesus provided the ultimate example of self-sacrificing love on the cross, but we are also challenged to exercise agápe, love that puts others before ourselves, love that knows no boundaries. In the first reading, Peter takes this challenge, visiting Cornelius, a newly converted Roman centurion. Just as Peter is telling the group that God shows no partiality, God , as if one cue, sends the Holy Spirit down upon all who had come to listen to Peter testify in Jesus’ name. That same Holy Spirit can help us be faithful to what God asks of us. This fidelity to loving God and one another means that we will remain in that love, that it will be a part of our character, our being. In this way we can “bear fruit that will remain” (John 15:16), as Peter did in the first reading, as we are called to do today.
Who do you know that is most in need of that love, the love God has shown to us?READ MORE
“Remain in me,” Jesus tells his disciples repeatedly in the Gospel, and you “will bear much fruit” (John 15:4-5). He is the vine; his disciples, the branches. The vine and the branches work together to extend and expand over a large area and to bear fruit in abundance. All this is done under the guidance of the vine grower, God the Father, who prunes the vine to increase the amount of fruit it will bear. What a rich metaphor! But none of this will happen unless we remain in Jesus as Jesus remains in us. John explores this further in his first letter: “Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them” (1 John 3:24). This is how we bear fruit. When we love God and one another by showing that love through our actions “in deed and in truth,” Jesus remains in us and we in him (1 John 3:18). A wonderful example of this is found in the work of Saint Paul, still called Saul in the first reading. His work to build up the Church in the Gentile world has borne fruit now for two thousands years.
How can you bear fruit, and in so doing, witness to the presence of Jesus?READ MORE
From the stone that the builders rejected to the parable of the Good Shepherd, we hear some very familiar passages from scripture today. Peter starts us off, testifying before the Sanhedrin regarding a cure he performed the previous day. He tells the authorities that it was actually Jesus Christ who effected the cure; Peter was merely acting in his name. He turns the tables on the authorities: the one you condemned to death was raised from the dead and continues to bring life and healing to those who believe. Peter cites Psalm 118, which we sing today: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation holding the building together. He is also the Good Shepherd, holding the flock together. When Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead,” he may be referring to Gentiles or other outsiders (John 10:16). But he also be referring to future generations of believers, including us. He knows us and lays down his life for us, just as he did for Peter and the other apostles.
How is Jesus the cornerstone of your life? How is he the Good Shepherd?READ MORE
Appearing to the apostles after the Resurrection, Jesus reminded them that scripture said the Messiah would rise from the dead and that repentance would be preached in his name to all the nations. Jesus had fulfilled the first part. Now the apostles need to fulfill the second. One of the disciples in that room would have been Peter. Peter accepts this call and we hear him in the first reading admonishing the people of Jerusalem for denying Jesus in front of the authorities. How can he of all people say this, since he himself denied Jesus three times that fateful night? But Peter repented and has been forgiven. Now he wants to extend this forgiveness to the people. Consider that his audience may have included some who were actually part of that crowd on Good Friday. It may even have included one of the people who accused Peter of knowing Jesus. But Peter excuses them, for his purpose is to lead them to repent and be converted. We are all sinners, in need of repentance and conversion of heart. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, to which Peter and all the disciples can attest, then certainly God can redeem those who have sinned.
Can you forgive someone who has hurt you or someone you love?READ MORE
You may not have realized it last week, but Easter Gospel did not feature the risen Lord. Last week, the disciples were afraid and disturbed when they saw the empty tomb. They could not comprehend what had happened. They did not understand “rising from the dead.” The crucifixion they’d understood. They had witnessed it. But no one had seen the burial cloths thrown off. No one had seen the stone rolled away. No one had seen Jesus emerge. No one had seen the risen Christ. Until now. Now Jesus came into their midst, brought the Holy Spirit, and commissioned them to preach the Good News. Now, once again, they can be witnesses. Now their testimony can tell the whole story. The Messiah’s life did not end in an ignominious death. It did not end at all. Now they can testify that Jesus joined them whenever they gathered together. Now they can witness to the Holy Spirit, whom he’d promised before he died. This community of believers, once barricaded behind locked doors, has been transformed to one that grew as it preached the Good News and lived “of one heart and mind” (Acts 4:32).
Can you be a witness as well, through the eyes of faith?READ MORE
Alleluia! He has risen. Alleluia! He has conquered death. Alleluia! He has brought salvation to the world. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Today we welcome Alleluia! back to our vocabulary. We sing it, we shout it, we proclaim it. Throw open the doors and windows! This is too big to be contained. The veil of the sanctuary, torn in half when Jesus died on the cross, is a sign of this, for the sanctuary could no longer contain it. The stone that was rolled away from the entrance to the tomb is, too, for the tomb could not longer contain it. The new life that Jesus brought about through his death and resurrection is too great to be closed up. It needs to escape into that open, bursting forth for all to share. Last night, the Church around the world welcomed its newest members. Today we renew our own baptismal promises, recalling the day that we became members of the Church. As members of the Church, we are called to spread the Good News, as the apostles did after Jesus’ death and resurrection. We do not just shout and sing Alleluia! to ourselves. We celebrate the redemption Jesus won with everyone. Alleluia indeed!
How will you share this Easter joy today and throughout the year?READ MORE