“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
After Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, after the Last Supper, after his arrest, after being sentenced to death, in the very moment that he died on the cross, two significant things happen in Mark's Gospel. First, "the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom" (Mark 15:38). What is this veil and what is its significance? The veil of the sanctuary separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. The Holy of Holies was regarded as the closest approximation of God's presence here on earth. Out of respect no one was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies except for the high priest, and even he could only enter once a year, on the feast of Yom Kippur. Now the veil was gone.READ MORE
What does it mean when we “take something to heart”? When we take something to heart we recognize its significance and take it seriously. We make it a part of our lives, our very selves. We change the way we act. The covenant that has been featured in the readings from the Old Testament over the last few weeks enters a new dimension in Jeremiah. No longer is the covenant written on stone or paper; it is now written “upon their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). In writing it upon their hearts, God has given the people the power to be faithful to the covenant. Before this, God had to take people by the hand to lead them. But now God’s people have this power within them. This power is God’s grace. This is the new covenant. Jesus, who proclaimed the new and eternal covenant at the Last Supper, provided an example of how this power can be exercised. Though troubled, he remained obedient to his Father’s will even unto death. God’s Chosen People had not been able to remain steadfast on their own. But now God gives us the grace we need to take our baptismal promises to heart and to remain faithful to the covenant.
What have you taken to heart that has changed the way you act?READ MORE
Nothing can contain the love God bears for humanity. We see this in today’s readings, from the time of the restoration of Jerusalem to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In Second Chronicles, God repeatedly showed compassion to the Chosen People but Judah rejected all attempts at reconciliation. Eventually Jerusalem fell to foreign powers. But seventy years after the destruction of the temple, Cyrus, another foreign ruler, directed its rebuilding. In the eyes of the faithful, God had relented and forgiven them. God’s graciousness had won out over punishment. In the Gospel, John writes that God’s love for “the world” is so strong that God’s own Son was given to us so that all would have the opportunity for eternal life. In his Angelus address of March 15, 2015, Pope Francis called this passage the summary of the whole Gospel, God’s free and boundless love expressing the whole of faith and theology. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians glories in this generosity and in fact is written as if the ultimate gift has already been given, saying God “raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). Love unbounded, indeed.
How can you extend that love of God to others?READ MORE
Our ways are not God’s ways. Our perspective is not God’s perspective. In the Gospel, Jesus drives the money changers and animal dealers out of the temple. It would appear that he was upset about all this commerce in this most holy place. But there was a legitimacy to the practice. The faithful who came to the temple needed to pay the temple tax and make sacrifices in accordance with the law. They needed to exchange their Roman money for coins without Caesar's image. They often needed to obtain animals to sacrifice when it was impractical to bring their own. But this is human logic. Jesus hints at His perspective when he says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). The time of fulfillment is now. The temple in Jerusalem pales in importance to the temple of Christ’s body. The temple building—the paramount sign of God’s presence—is replaced by Jesus himself. There is no need for animal sacrifice when Jesus will make the ultimate sacrifice. But this was lost on the authorities. Paul echoes this when he points out that worshiping one who suffers and dies makes no sense from a human perspective. But from God’s perspective, this sacrifice, freely made, will save the world.
What does your life look like from God’s perspective?READ MORE
The story of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his only child is a troubling one. What kind of God asks someone to do this? And what kind of father would be willing to obey such a monstrous command? But to concentrate on this aspect of the story would be to miss the point: to hold Abraham up as the ultimate example of obedience and faith. And what better way to prove his faith than to take it to an extreme? So "God put Abraham to the test" (Genesis 22:1). Abraham had been told that he would be blessed with innumerable descendants, but he cannot fathom now how this is going to all work out. He doesn't know how and he doesn't know why. But he trusts in God and he obeys. It is no accident that this passage is read during Lent, for it is echoed in God's own Son being allowed to die. Jesus will agonize in the hours before he is arrested, asking to be spared, but eventually trusting in God and obeying his Father's will. It enables Paul (and us) to trust the promise of salvation, for "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31-32).
When have you needed to have faith without knowing the plan?READ MORE
The covenant God makes with humanity is a major theme throughout Lent this year, especially in the readings from the Old Testament. In today's Old Testament reading, God establishes a covenant with Noah, his descendants, and in fact with every living creature on the ark. The covenant is a solemn promise. God promises that the devastating waters of a flood will never again cover the earth. God cares for humanity too much. Despite the fact that the people turn away from God again and again throughout the rest of the Old Testament, no second flood ever covers the earth. Many centuries later, Jesus offers himself as the new covenant. In the Gospel, the same Spirit that had just descended upon Jesus at his baptism now drives him out into the desert to be tempted by the devil. The forty days of rain for Noah are paralleled with forty days in the desert for Jesus. The writer of First Peter puts it all together. Noah and his family "were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now" (1 Peter 3:20-21). By baptism we are baptized into the whole package: the covenant with God, the suffering and death of Jesus, and the promise of eternal life.
What can you do to honor the covenant that God has made with you?READ MORE
“If you wish, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). The leper in today’s Gospel challenges Jesus to heal him. But he phrases his request in such a way that implies that he wants more than just to be cured. He wants to be “made clean.” The first reading from Leviticus shines a light on the association of leprosy with uncleanliness. Lepers needed to stay out of town and warn everyone of their condition, calling out : “Unclean, unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45). Disease was linked to sin and so the afflicted were banished from the community, not only for fear contagion but also because they were thought to be imperfect, morally as well as physically. So this leper wanted Jesus not only to heal him but also to accept him back into the community. Jesus accepts the leper’s challenge. He reaches out and touches him, willing to become unclean himself. He heals him and he makes him clean, directing him to show himself to the priests for reacceptance. Just as disease was linked to sin, health was linked to holiness. By his touch, Jesus made the leper healthy, whole, and holy.
Are you willing to show the compassion of Jesus and reach out to those considered unclean?READ MORE
Job lost hope. In the portion of the story preceding today's first reading, Job's children die, everything he owns is lost, and he is stricken with a horrible disease. He despairs because his suffering never ends. He is reduced to wailing about his misery: "My days. . come to an end without hope" (Job 7:6). He cannot understand why God seems to have abandoned him. In Mark, on the other hand, the people of Capernaum are filled with hope. Indeed, "the whole town was gathered at the door" where Jesus stayed, hoping to be cured of diseases or demonic possession (Mark 1:33). Whatever miseries they had had to endure up until this point were overshadowed by the news of this healer. Jesus made the people free of illness, free of demons, free of despair. Paul speaks of freedom in his letter to the Corinthians. He has been called to preach the gospel and he is compelled to do this, but he is free in how to offer it. He has decided to bring the Good News to as many as possible: Gentiles and Jews, slaves and free, the strong, the weak, those who can offer recompense, and those who cannot. He will bring hope to those who despair.
What gives you hope in the midst of suffering?READ MORE