In the gospel of Matthew, we have Matthew’s version of the Ascension. The eleven disciples are invited to meet Jesus on the mountain. Matthew tells us that when the disciples and Jesus meet, some of the disciples worshipped Jesus and some of the disciples doubted that it was even him. Think about that folks – some doubted that it was him. We, are then told that the disciples (the worshippers and the doubters), are given a mission by Jesus. Jesus shares with them his authority and asks them to make disciples of people from all nations baptizing them and teaching them to obey the commands of Jesus. Before disappearing from their sight Jesus reminds them that he will be with them until the end of the age.
As we read sacred scripture today it is important to remember that the same author wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. These two books need to be read together because they are one story. In our text from the Acts of the Apostles we are reminded that the gospel follows the life of Jesus from his birth to his resurrection – the Acts of the Apostles begins to trace the disciples of Jesus from the Resurrection to the early foundation of the Christian community. Today we pick up the story of Jesus as he meets with the disciples and reminds them to remain in Jerusalem and to wait for the coming of the Spirit. He then disappears from their sight. Their eyes are fixed on the Jesus they knew and it is the angels who remind them that their work is here – their focus ought to be here and not on the past.
Our second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Ephesus. Paul prays that the early Christians welcome the Spirit of Jesus and allow the power of the Spirit to be unleashed in their lives. Paul reminds the Ephesians that Jesus has received the fullness of God’s power and not only that, Jesus has been made the head of all believers, the Church.
As I prayed with the texts a couple of things struck me:
The Church has a duty to preach salvation to all. The Gospel message is not reserved to a small group of the elect or privileged but is destined for everyone. There is anguish in the Church of Christ because there are exhausted crowds like sheep without a shepherd who hunger for the liberating word of God that offers hope and life. The word of God must be spoken, shared, proclaimed and lived.”
This is the mission – the work of all of us and not just the deacons, priests and bishops. This mission is given to us by Christ.
4. We have been gifted with the Holy Spirit – the Spirit is at work in us, doing all sorts of good things. This is God’s promise and gift.
5. We are not alone – Even though Jesus has returned to the Father we are not alone and the mission that is ours is not ours alone – it has been given to us by Jesus and he will stand by us. How? In and through the presence of the Spirit.
So how might these scriptures touch us?
The time we are living in right now is a fearful time – we are concerned about Covid-19 – concerned about our financial future – concerned about the well-being of our earth/dangers of climate change – we are concerned about when our lives will return to normal – we are curious/concerned about what that normal will be – we are concerned about when we will be able to gather, to celebrate our faith and to receive the Body of Christ.
We have many concerns – into the midst of our concerns Jesus comes and says:
My friends, God is still at work in our world right here and right now. We might feel confused and unsure about our faith and how strong it is. While we have no clue as to what tomorrow will be like, we can do something about today. Jesus is calling us to do something today! We cannot change the past and we cannot look into the future and know what will be. We are invited to trust that God is at work in us today. We are not alone. Because of Christ we can do the impossible, the unthinkable, that which scares us, takes us out of our comfort zone.
This week I invite you to sit with the knowledge that Jesus needs you – the Spirit is alive in you, as near as your breath - you will not be abandoned - ever.
If perchance you feel alone, pause and take time to listen as Jesus says to you, “I am with you always until the end of the age!”
And then tell yourself, “I am never alone, Jesus is with me until the end of the age!” As you hear those words, believe in your goodness and believe in your desire to please God in all things! Believe in the God who loves you!
Have you ever said to someone, “Well, why didn’t you say that?” Sometimes details matter – the little things we say and do. Sometimes a word, a phrase or a sentence, a touch, a look, a gesture can change everything. That is the case today in the gospel of St. John.
We read, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
This line can be used to beat people up or it can be used to encourage. Some people read this line and they suggest if you sin you are not keeping the Lord’s commandments and therefore you will not receive the Spirit of God. God does not love us if and when we get things right. God loves us!
The sense of this text according to scripture scholars is this: it is an invitation, an exhortation to love. Everything is about to change – Jesus is about to die and he is speaking to his disciples just before his death. Jesus wants to deepen within them the connection between love and following the law. Loving someone and obeying the Law are not mutually exclusive. Love is the one thing that will sustain them as leaves them. Loving one another can change everything. They are not going to be alone. Even if he is not going to be present to them in the same way.
The deeper my love the greater my respect for the other. The Spirit is being sent by Jesus, by the Father to remain with us, not just for a day, until the end of the pandemic; the Spirit is with us forever. The closer we are to Jesus the greater our ability to recognize the presence of Jesus/the call of Jesus. This gospel story stresses the desire of Jesus to remain with his disciples, to encourage and support and teach them. The death of Jesus will not mean that the disciples are forgotten or abandoned. The love and respect that God has for us, is called forth from us. We are invited to do for God what God does for us.
In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear how there are many disciples, followers of Jesus but they have not received the Holy Spirit. We are told the Apostles send Peter and John to them to pray over them and to bestow upon them the Spirit. The Apostles want them to know they are NOT alone.
In his letter to the Christian community, Peter invites the early Christians to trust in the power of the Spirit at work in them. Peter reminds them that living a good life frees up space for the Spirit to work. We can hear the call of the Spirit if we are not preoccupied with what we want to have happen for our own selves - we recognize more readily the call and the work of the Spirit in the world.
So what has that got to do with us.
The Spirit is in us, at work. We may not consciously see what the Spirit is doing but Jesus assures us that WE ARE NOT ALONE. Perhaps we don’t see the work of the Spirit but the Spirit is real nonetheless. This calls forth from us TRUST. We are invited to trust that God is with us and that regardless of what happens God will hold us.
This TRUST opens us up and enables us to serve one another because that is what Jesus has done. There is a relationship between love and good deeds. We know that we have faith when we forget about ourselves and reach out to care for the other. A sign of faith is to put the other first. Our behavior our choices can stifle the work and the voice of the Spirit or they can set the Spirt loose in the world. When I am constantly attending to my own needs, my own concerns, my own dreams, my own desires there is no room for the other and there is no room for God.
We know we are on the path to wholeness and to life when we care for ourselves AND when we reach out to help others. Holding this tension of care for self and care for the other is our daily work.
Perhaps this week we can unlock the power of the Spirit in our world by reaching out to someone to let them know they are loved. I issue you an invitation – this week – each day do something that reminds another person that they matter. Touch the lives of seven people with goodness, with small, selfless acts of love. When we do that, the world will know that God is real, that God dwells in us and that we dwell in God.
We are not alone. God is alive just as Jesus promised. The Spirit is in us!
Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2020
The words of John’s gospel that I just read are comforting on so many different levels. I want to take a closer look at this text and our life experience and the connections that seem to be present when I prayed with this text this week. We are in the fifth week of Easter. We have been hearing stories of Jesus and his encounters with the disciples after the resurrection. Today our gospel reading takes us back to Holy Thursday, the Passover Meal, the Last Supper.
The context of this gospel reading is simple – the disciples have gathered to celebrate the Passover with Jesus. Jesus has just been warmly welcomed by the people of Jerusalem. They have waved palm branches and celebrated his miracles and now Jesus and the disciples are gathered for the meal. Jesus has communicated to the disciples that his death is at hand. We don’t hear the disciples comforting Jesus, we hear rather Jesus comforting them. The source of his strength is not the knowledge that everything is going to be ‘nice’ – that he will be saved from suffering and death. The source of his strength is his relationship with God – the confidence that he has that he is loved by God – a love that is so strong that even suffering and death has no power to eliminate it. Jesus knows he is loved and that God will take care of things – somehow – even if he does not know how. He has full confidence in God.
It is precisely this confidence that enables him to speak to his disciples and say – do not let your hearts be troubled – trust in God and trust in me. God loves you and whatever takes place cannot overwhelm or dismiss that love. Jesus reminds the disciples that he is about to die – but his death will lead him to be reunited with God and from that place alongside God he will prepare a place for those whom he loves. When it is their turn to die, Jesus will come and take them to their eternal resting place in heaven.
This is way too much for the disciples (Thomas and Philip) and they protest – we don’t know where you are going and we don’t know how to get there and we don’t know the ‘Father’. The thing is they don’t have to know where they are going – they just have to stay close to Jesus and everything will be fine. What they don’t realize is that they already know where they are going – they simply cannot believe that it is true.
Friends, relationships are important – love relationships are important. While we need to work, make breakfast and do the laundry, make money, service the car, plant the garden, take care of the livestock – all of these ordinary tasks are meaningless unless they create, sustain and nurture our relationships with each other and with God. It is our relationships that help us to cope with life – they make good moments great, they make difficult moments bearable and they give us the courage to keep on putting one foot in front of the other.
In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how some people are being neglected – pushed to the edges. The marvelous thing is that the community says, ‘this is not right, we need to do something about it!’ And so, several people are chosen and prayed over, they emerge to help the Christian community take care of those who were neglected.
In the second reading, Peter tells the early Christians that God is at work among them – building up a community, a spiritual house. Each of them is a spiritual living stone in the building up of the house. Peter reminds them that each of them is important. He reminds them that they are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”
So often we can feel as if we are being left behind, excluded, taken for granted, ignored. We can feel as if we are invisible. Sometimes all those things are true – they are not just feelings – they are really happening – we are in fact being left behind. When they do happen, it is critical that we do two things:
1. Call to mind who we are in God’s eyes
Over and over Sacred Scripture reminds us that we are valued. Today, Jesus says to each of the disciples, ‘Do not let your heart be troubled. I am going to prepare a place for you. I will come and get you when your life is over and I will take you to your place.’ When we doubt that, when it feels like it is not possible Jesus comes back and says, ‘stay close to me,’ the end is clear. Jesus says, ‘I will come and get you.’
2. Do whatever we can to speak up for those who are being left behind.In the first two readings we are reminded we have a mission – leave no one behind. We are good at belittling people, mocking people, bullying people, we have done that as individuals, as communities, as countries and as Church and we still do it. We punish and we exclude people who are different from us. The thing is, Jesus and the early Christian leaders, Paul and Peter and others say, ‘no that is not right - you are to take care of each other. You, all of you together are living stones and you make up a spiritual house. Each of you matters. Without you the house looks different/incomplete. You belong to God – you cannot dismiss each other, punish each other or neglect each other.
Today is Mother’s Day and those of us who have mother’s here shower them with blessings. Those of us who have mothers in heaven we remember them. Those of us who have mothers who have been less than kind and helpful, we grieve, we lament the fact that we did not/do not have a mother who loved us and blessed us.
I began by saying relationships are important – our relationships with each other and our relationship with God. Today, let us remember what God thinks of us. Let us remember those who need us and let us strive to bring life – faith hope and love to all whom we meet. We can do nasty things, spread fake news, belittle others and create hatred or we can create and nurture love.
When this liturgy is over – reach out and share a blessing to the women, the mothers in your life who have nourished you – give thanks for the gift of life and share with them a blessing. When this liturgy is over, spend some time by yourself, calling to mind how God sees you. Hear Jesus say to you once again – ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust in me. I am going to prepare a place for you. I will come back and get you.’
Folks, whether we feel loved and welcomed or disliked, excluded and rejected, God’s opinion of us counts. Let us pay attention to what God says. We are chosen and important. Let us stand and let us live in the knowledge that we are loved. Let us in turn create and encourage life in and through all we say and all we do, beginning in our home with our mothers/those women who have loved us as mothers! Let us extend that life to our community, our Church and our world! Christ is risen, he truly is risen! Alleluia, Alleluia. Do not let your hearts be troubled.
I want to start my homily today by taking a closer look at the Gospel of John. Jesus continues to develop the idea that he is the Shepherd. As I prayed with the scriptures this week two things stood out in the gospel – Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep (all the sheep) – the second is that he is the gate to the sheepfold – the path for life leads through him! We need to make our way into and through Jesus to eternal life.
Today, in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles Peter, inspired by the Spirit reminds the crowds that they have sinned – they have killed an innocent man – that same man that they killed has forgiven them and is calling them to life – to be free of their sin and to taste the fullness of life. Jesus himself will show them what real life looks like.
In his letter to the early Christian community Peter reminds the Christians that if they want life they need to do as Jesus has done. Jesus has set an example – suffering for the well-being of others – forgiving others before they ask and trusting in the goodness of God.
The thrust of the readings today is that we follow Jesus. Why? Because he is goodness, he is kindness!
In my years as a priest I have heard lots of confessions – I have listened to people who have struggled with relationships – I have listened to parents and grandparents who are at odds with their children and grandchildren and vice versa. While I can sit back and say to this person or that person you should have done this or that or you should not have done this or that, what strikes me is that in the heart and mind of each person, they were doing what they were doing at that particular time because they thought it was the best thing for them. Someone on the outside could easily see that it was not a good thing to do – but they thought it was.
As Christians, as Catholics it is our desire to encourage people to follow Jesus – to get to know God – to be members of the Church! We want others to know what we know about our God. Sometimes we go about it in a way that is helpful to people and sometimes we go about it in a way that actually drives people away!
I am sure that at some point in your life you have met a Catholic/a Christian who was simply wonderful and kind and generous and you thought to your self – I would like to be like that person. I am sure that at some point in your life you have met a Catholic/a Christian who was mean spirited, hypocritical and unforgiving and you thought to yourself – I hope I am never like that.
Today, we have in Sacred Scripture, an image of Jesus who cares, who forgives, who calls to us, who leads us, who suffers for us and who offers life to people who have been less than kind. We have an image of a Shepherd who cares for all of us.
We who have gathered here are followers of Jesus. We do what Jesus does. When people encounter us do they encounter someone who loves, who forgives, who calls, who leads and who offers life? We are not perfect – we may not be there yet. We are however, growing and becoming more and more like Christ! That is a great thing folks! We are making progress and becoming more like Christ!
This week as we ponder this image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd we ask ourselves – what do I need to do so that people see me as a Good Shepherd? What changes do I need to make so that people will stop and say, “Hey, I would like to be like you!” What actions, what choices will lead us to become more like Jesus?
Do I need to seek healing? Do I need to learn more about Jesus? Do I need to pray? Do I need to practice patience/kindness/gentleness or generosity? Do I need to forgive myself? Do I need to set my wants aside and look out for the needs of others?
I don’t know what you need to do to become more like Jesus at this moment, so I cannot tell you what to do! But you know what you need to do and if you don’t stop and think about it for a bit! I know what I need to work at to become a little more like Jesus. I encourage you to pick one or two things that you can do this week so that when you encounter others – in your household, in your extended family, in your workplace or out and about, they have a positive experience, an experience that leaves them saying – wow that is a kind person.
You and I know that if someone is kind to us we tend to listen and to pay attention. We are attracted to kindness! We want to be around kind people. We do not want to be around, mean, cranky, hurtful people.
Goodness and kindness might not be enough for some people – but for most of us it is everything - it is certainly enough for Jesus! In this time of COVID-19 when there is illness, mistrust, grief, fear and frustration – let us practice goodness and kindness. As Catholics, as Christians let us be known for our kindness and generosity. When people ask us, “Why are you so kind?” Let us not be afraid to answer, “Jesus is kind. He loves me! I am trying to be like Jesus!”
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI