Perseverance. This is what the disciples needed when spreading the Good News around the Roman Empire in the face of persecution and hardship. This is what the early converts needed as they learned about Jesus Christ and lived out their new faith. This is what we all need in following the new commandment Jesus gives his disciples in the Gospel today. Perseverance. Once the exhortation ends and everyone returns home to their day-to-day responsibilities, that euphonric feeling fades away. So after Paul and Barnabas landed at Perga and traveled through Pamphylia and Pisidia and visited the cities of Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, they retraced their steps exactly and “returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,...then traveled through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia” (Acts 14:21, 24). Why bother? With the whole world to convert, why go back exactly the same way? Perhaps because they realized that their message was inspirational, but difficult. “Love one another.” Sure. “As I have loved you.” Uh-oh. Jesus’ love is a sacrificial love, culminating in the ultimate sacrifice. To love others this way—to put others first– is more difficult, more unpleasant, more exhausting than it seemed when Paul and Barnabas first spoke so fervently about it. We need perseverance.
When do you find it difficult to persevere in living out your faith?READ MORE
Today’s readings are quite dramatic, one featuring religious authorities who opposed the apostles Paul and Barnabas “with violent abuse,” another highlighting a crowd of people who had lived through the persecution of the early church. However, the lasting impression in each of the readings is one of tender comfort and hopeful reassurance. The church of the first century thrived with intense growth but also met with frequent persecution. As Christianity broke away from Judaism, both religious and state authorities targeted proselytizers of the new faith. Paul and Barnabas felt the wrath of the authorities and were expelled from Antioch in Pisidia. Yet as this passage ends they and the early Christians “were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). They were not filled with anger and resentment, or even fear and despair, but with hope and joy, for they knew God was with them. The Roman state offered no religious liberty to its subjects. Christians could be killed for rejecting the pagan faith of the Romans. Yet they were assured in their faith that “God (would) wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17), for Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:28).
How do you feel the consolation of your faith during times of hardship?READ MORE
What makes us worthy of what we have? We look at people who have fame, wealth, and success and wonder if they are really worthy of these blessings. In Revelation, angels and elders cry out, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12). Clearly, Christ is worthy of all these attributes, for he suffered and died to bring salvation to the whole world. In Acts, however, the rewards for worthiness are much different. Peter and the apostles, condemned by the Sanhedrin for preaching the gospel, rejoice at having been “found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the (Lord’s) name” (Acts 5:41). To be condemned by the Sanhedrin, as Jesus was, is an honor. But before Peter got to this point, before he caught the netful of fish with the risen Lord, he did something quite dishonorable in the eyes of the Lord. On the night Jesus was arrested, Peter denied Jesus three times. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives Peter three opportunities to repent, to undo his denials, to acknowledge his love for Jesus. After each affirmative answer, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, tells Peter to care for his sheep. Worthy is Peter to shepherd the flock, the church.
How are you worthy in the eyes of the Lord?READ MORE
It’s hard to beat eyewitness testimony, especially testimony from multiple eyewitnesses, and people whom you can trust, to boot. It was not enough for Thomas, though. He needed to see. He needed to touch. So the following week he makes sure to be there. Jesus, returning to the Twelve, does not reprimand Thomas; in fact, he invites him to prove it to himself. But then he praises those who believe without seeing, without witnessing firsthand, without being able to prove it. These are the “great numbers of men and women” in the first reading, who come to believe when they see the faith and hear the testimony of disciples like Peter (Acts 5:14). These are the ones who will hear Johns’ visions from Revelation, which Jesus insisted he write down. These are also the people seated around you today, men and women, young and old, who gather in Jesus’ name each week. Though it may be two thousand years later, we too are the ones for whom the testimony of the disciples, the evangelists, the visionaries, and the letter writes was meant. Now, in turn, we are those witnesses—witnessing to our faith in the risen Lord, here and now, when we gather in this sacrament, in his Body and Blood, in Word and Eucharist.
How can you bear witness to others?READ MORE
Resurrection changes everything. It stunned the disciples. Mary Magdalene, Peter, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the other apostles—they were all surprised, “for they did not understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). Keep in mind that Jesus’ disciples did not write letters, or testimonies, or Gospels until years later. What we hear today was written well after they had encountered the risen Lord in one way or another. It was also after they realized that Jesus had prepared them for his resurrection well before they had come to Jerusalem. That first Easter morning, they were not expecting this. This mission that appeared to have ended in failure had been turned upside down. The tomb was empty. Jesus could not be contained in this place for the deceased. He had defeated death. He lives! And because he lives, we who have been baptized into his death live as well. This is why Paul tells the Colossians to seek what is above. This is why Paul tells the Corinthians to throw out the old yeast and bake a fresh batch of dough. Jesus is new yeast and we are new dough. With Christ in us, we shall rise as well. This is our Easter hope. This is our Easter joy.
How does the Easter message change the way you live your life?READ MORE
He had to have heard him. Even on the cross, his last breath just hours away, Jesus heard the criminal next to him when he addressed him, so he must have heard him when he’d said to the other criminal, “We have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes” (Luke 23:41). He makes no pretense of innocence. He makes no excuse for his sentence, so his crime must have been particularly heinous. But now, hours away from death himself, he addresses Jesus with one thing, one thing only: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (23:42). Jesus, who throughout his Passion had acted with boundless compassion (“compassion” literally meaning “to suffer”), praying that Peter’s faith not fail (22:32), praying that disciples not suffer (22:40), healing the high priest’s servant’s ear (22:51), comforting the women who accompanied him (23:28), and asking forgiveness of those who condemned him (23:24), now assures this criminal, this criminal whom he has heard admit that he was condemned justly and sentenced appropriately, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (23:43). What consolation it must give us to know the extent of Jesus’ compassion.
Follow the example of Jesus, how can you be compassionate even while you are suffering?READ MORE
The people who gathered in the temple area that day expected to witness a stoning. The woman had been caught in adultery, so according to Moses, she deserved to be stoned. But instead they end up witnessing a dramatic act of redemption. Jesus outwits the authorities who want to trap him. When no one is left to condemn the woman, Jesus forgives her, releases her, and tell her to sin no more. She had expected to be killed, but instead she is set free. She has been brought back to life. Brought back to life like the Israelites, out of bondage and into the promised land in Moses’ time. Brought out of exile and back home, in Isaiah’s era. Brought back to life like Saint Paul, who had persecuted Christians, but now was “taken possession of by Christ” (Philippians 3:12). We come here today as sinful people. If we were judged by the worst we have done or failed to do, would we not be condemned? Yet we too are touched by God’s grace. In God’s care, in Christ’s hands, we sinners, like the adulterous woman, like the Chosen People, like Saint Paul, are redeemed. We are brought back to life.
Do Jesus’ words give you pause when you are about to cast stones?READ MORE