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).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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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