Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 21, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

John 3:7b-15

Jesus said to Nicodemus: “‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to him, ‘How can this happen?”

Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: In the reading, Jesus says, “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.” The gospel of John commences with the theme of, “Word,” a theme that the evangelist in myriad ways weaves throughout the gospel. Jesus is the Word of the Father, the self-expression of the Father, the whole communication of Godself to humanity. The word we receive from Jesus is the Word of the Father. So, today, let us strive to attend what word this Word doth bring, that like Anselm, whose feast we celebrate today, we may seek to make complete our joy in the promise of Truth.

Saint of the day: Anselm of Canterbury was born of Italian nobility in 1033 at Aosta, Piedmont, Italy. After a childhood devoted to piety and study, Anselm wanted to enter religious life, but his father prevented it, and Anselm became rather worldly for several years. Upon his mother’s death, Anselm argued with his father, fled to France, and became a Benedictine monk in Normandy. He studied under and succeeded Lanfranc as abbot.

Anselm became the Archbishop of Canterbury. A theological writer and great scholar, he a counselor to William the Conqueror. He opposed slavery and obtained English legislation prohibiting the sale of men. He fought King William Rufus’s encroachment on ecclesiastical rights and the independence of the Church, and was exiled. He resolved theological doubts of the Italo-Greek bishops at Council of Bari in 1098. He strongly supported celibate clergy. King Henry I invited him to return to England, but they disputed over investitures, and Anselm was exiled again to return in 1106. He is one of the great philosophers and theologians of the middle ages and Catholic students of philosophy and theology continue to study his arguments to this day. He died April 21, 1109 at Canterbury, England; his body is believed to be in the cathedral church at Canterbury.

Spiritual reading: O God, let me know you and love you so that I may find joy in you; and if I cannot do so fully in this life, let me at least make some progress every day, until at last that knowledge, love, and joy come to me in all their plenitude. While I am here on earth let me know you fully; let my love for you grow deeper here, so that there I may love you fully. On earth then I shall have great joy in hope, and in heaven complete joy in the fulfillment of my hope.

O, Lord, through your Son, you command us, no, you counsel us to ask, and you promise that you will hear us so that our joy may be complete. Give me then what you promise to give through your Truth. You, O God, are faithful; grant that I may receive my request, so that my joy may be complete. (Anselm of Canterbury)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 20, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

John 3:1-8

There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: The readings from the gospels in the season of Easter will let us move generally in order through the gospel of John, from this passage close to the gospel’s start through later chapters of the gospel. In this passage we have today, a member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus, impressed by the signs that Jesus works, comes to Jesus to learn more about his teaching. Jesus explains that God’s spiritual gifts come at the initiative of the Spirit, who moves, like the wind blows, where the Spirit wills. (The word for wind in Hebrew is exactly the same word used for spirit.) We cannot anticipate the movements of the Spirit, just as we cannot anticipate the movements of the wind, so we should ever endeavor to maintain an openness to the Spirit’s spontaneity in all the areas of our lives.

Saint of the day: John Payne was born in England and converted to Catholicism. He studied at Douai, France in 1574 and was ordained a priest on April 7, 1576. He returned to Ingatestone, Essex, England, ministering to covert Catholics and bringing many back to the Church. He worked with Saint Cuthbert Mayne and was arrested for his work in 1577. As a result, he was exiled to Douai in 1579. He returned to England in 1581 to resume his work. Betrayed by John Eliot, a known murderer who made a career of denouncing Catholics and priests for bounty, he was arrested in Warwickshire, tortured several times, accused of plotting to kill the queen based solely on Eliot’s testimony, and executed. He is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered on April 2, 1582 at Chelmsford, England.

Spiritual reading: Finally, about being united with God’s will: I don’t mean that you should specially formulate this in words frequently but rather just develop a habitual awareness and conviction that you are completely in His hands and His love is taking care of you in everything, that you need have no special worries about anything, past present or future, as long as you are sincerely trying to do what He seems to ask of you.

And of course by that I mean simply what is called for by the obvious needs of the moment, duties of state, people you meet, events to cope with, sicknesses, mistakes, and so on. “When hungry eat, when tired sleep.” (The Hidden Ground of Love by Thomas Merton)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 19, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

John 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Reflection on the gospel reading: It has struck me for quite a long time that the most powerful testimony to the resurrection is the contrast between how the apostles behaved before and after it. The scriptures make clear over and again that before the resurrection occurred, while Jesus went about his ministry, the apostles often, at best, simply didn’t understand, and at worst, proposed plans that were directly contrary to what Jesus was doing. But when push came to shove, when the Lord’s opponents came to take him away and execute him, they all scattered. In the courtyard at the high priest’s house, a servant girl challenges Peter, and he trembles at the suggestion that he knew Jesus. The gospels do not portray the apostles as courageous visionaries.

In the gospel passage from today’s readings at Mass, we learn that on the first day of the week, the apostles were slouched on the floor, heads bent between their knees, terrified that someone would come to the door to challenge them because of their association with the crucified one. During the day, they had heard wondrous news that Mary Magdalene had seen the Lord, but they nonetheless were afraid.

Suddenly, Jesus appears in their midst. A detail in the narrative offers us an insight that there was something different about Jesus: a locked door could not bar his entrance. Even so, the narrative hastens to assure us this was not the apparition of a ghost since the Lord in this passage makes unambiguous to the apostles the physical nature of what has transpired.

One of the Eleven, Thomas, is not with the disciples when the Lord appears; he refuses to credit the disciples’ testimony and goes so far as to say that unless he can probe the Lord’s wounded side with his hand, he will not believe. A week later, the apostles are assembled again in the Upper Room, and this time, Thomas is among them. Jesus appears again and offers to Thomas the opportunity to test his wounds. This time, Thomas actually moves far beyond his earlier position of intransigent doubt. Only one time in the gospels does anyone to Jesus’ face call him, “God,” and it is Thomas, who had doubted, who does it when in his expression of awe and wonder, he says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”

If you ask for evidence about the resurrection, consider this. Almost to a man, all the disciples who crouched in the Upper Room, the door pulled fast shut and locked against intruders, left everyone and everything they had to travel far and wide to announce what they had seen and heard. And when the challenges to them became so grave that they faced execution, they did not turn their backs on the Lord, as they had at the crucifixion, but embraced death to testify to what they knew to be true.

Sometimes, religious fanatics as a group willingly embrace death for something the group holds. We have incidents like Waco and Jonestown to attest to such phenomena (although many at Waco and Jonestown actually went quite unwillingly.) But the apostles, as they each died for the Lord, did so in different places and and at different times. Their willingness to lay down their lives for what they had experienced was not a social situation but an individual decision in the midst of unique circumstances where the choice for each of them was either to embrace death for their Lord or reject the Lord in the moment as they once had rejected him on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

I see no rational reason for what they did except that, with Mary Magdalene, they were able to say as they one by one went to their deaths, “I have seen the Lord.”

Spiritual reading: The Beloved is dwelling in this soul in a unique way. She should relinquish all thought of resting and let go of any craving for personal honor or recognition. If the soul is so deeply with God, then she should not think so much about herself. She will be exclusively concerned with finding ways to please him and showing how much she loves him.

This, my friends, is the purpose of prayer. This is the reason for the spiritual marriage. Good works are born from this. Good works. (Interior Castles by Teresa of Avila)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Uncategorized by Mike on April 18, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 16:9-15

When Jesus had risen, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.

After this he appeared in another form to two of them walking along on their way to the country. They returned and told the others; but they did not believe them either.

But later, as the Eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised. He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Many commentators believe the gospel we read today likely came from the hand of someone other than the person who wrote the gospel of Mark. This passage synopsizes resurrection accounts found in the gospels of Luke and John. The dominant theme in the narrative is doubt, but the Lord ultimately overcomes this doubt through his appearances. One of the dilemmas of the human condition is to believe in a moment of joy that we always will feel joy and believe in a moment of despair that we always will feel despair. For this reason, we should develop minds that remember that all things are passing, and when doubt overcomes us, we can trust that Jesus, who loves us, will not leave us alone, but that, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, he will give us again a calm assurance in his continuing presence.

Saint of the day: Pedro de San Jose Betancur was born on May 16, 1619 in the Canary Islands as a poor shepherd. He devoted his time with the flocks to prayer. At age 31, he journeyed to Guatemala City in hopes of a job away from the sheep. Befriended by the Jesuits and Franciscans of the area, he enrolled in the Jesuit College of San Borgia in hopes of becoming a priest. However, with little background education he was unable to master the material and withdrew. He then took private vows, and became a Franciscan tertiary, taking the name Peter of Saint Joseph.

Three years later he opened Our Lady of Bethlehem, a hospital for the convalescent poor. Soon after there was a shelter for the homeless, schools for the poor, and an oratory. Not to neglect the rich of Guatemala City, Pedro walked through their part of town, ringing a bell, begging support for the poor, and inviting the wealthy to repent. Other men were drawn to Pedro’s work, and they formed the foundation of the Bethlehemite Congregation or Hospitalers Bethlehemite.

Pedro built chapels and shrines in the poor sections of the city, and promoted the ministry of intercessory prayer among those who had nothing except their time. He is sometimes credited with originating the Christmas Eve posadas procession in which people representing Mary and Joseph seek a night’s lodging from their neighbors. The custom soon spread to Mexico and other Central American countries. Legend says that petitioners need only tap gently on Peter’s stone tomb in order to have their prayers fulfilled. Stone tablets scratched with thank-you notes are often left on the tomb afterwards. He died April 25, 1667 at Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Spiritual reading: From all such thoughtless people and their gossip, deliver me, Lord, for I do not want to fall into their hands nor do as they do.

Let my lips speak only what is true and honest and keep my tongue from all sly speech. What I am unwilling to tolerate in others I must, by all means, avoid doing myself. (The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 17, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

John 21:1-14

Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.

Reflection on the gospel reading: There is no passage in the gospels that I love more than the account of the appearance by the resurrected Lord to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. The narrative brims over with details that make it come alive in my imagination. Today’s gospel contains the first part of the account.

The apostles know the Lord has been resurrected, but they are unsure about what to do next. There is in this passage Peter’s sense of expectancy and uncertainty, his knowledge that great things are afoot coupled with his hesitation about what to do next, a doubt that expresses itself in going to do the thing Peter knows best how to do: Peter’s default position, to go fishing. The failure to catch any fish during the course of a night of trying heightens the apostles’ sense of the tentativeness of their position. When dawn comes, a passerby, like so many generations of onlookers watching fishermen ply their trade, offers a little advice, “Try the net on the other side.” They follow his advice, and the huge catch of fish leads the beloved disciple to a moment of recognition: “It is the Lord.” Peter loses himself in excitement and counter-intuitively throws his clothes on to jump in the lake and swim to the shore to see the Lord. When he arrives, Jesus has prepared a meal for his disciples. There is a fire on the shore with fish cooking on it and bread: the resurrected Lord takes trouble to be of service to his friends. And then there is the hint of a Eucharistic action when the Lord takes bread and gives it to the disciples. The presence of the fish he distributes also recalls for us the feeding of the multitudes.

Today, as we go about our day in the presence of the resurrected Lord, let us be prepared to recognize our Lord in the kindly stranger who appears to us. And as this Kindly Stranger steers fish into our nets, however this comes to be, let us be as open as Peter was to be surprised by joy.

Spiritual reading: Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. (Martin Luther)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 16, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 24:35-48

The disciples of Jesus recounted what had taken place along the way, and how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of bread.

While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.

He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: The passage we have here continues the narrative we read yesterday. The disciples who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem to tell their companions what it is that they have seen and heard: how they walked and talked with Jesus and how he revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread.

There are good and wonderful Christians who live the gospel in amazing ways who have concluded that the resurrection is some kind of ordinary symbol that reflects the awakening of Jesus’ spirit in the lives of his disciples, that the resurrection has nothing to do with the body of Jesus. For these good and faithful Christians, Jesus’ body on Easter Day apparently still lay amouldering in the grave while the apostles picked themselves up off the ground, dusted themselves off, and decided to get on with it.

This gospel passage is Luke’s unambiguous response to such thoughts. Not only is the resurrection not an ordinary symbol, Luke unequivocally assures us that neither is the resurrection the apparition of a ghost.

This narrative tells us several things about the nature of the resurrection. As the disciples from Emmaus are recounting their story, Jesus unexpectedly appears in the midst of the small assembly. Yes, this account tells us that Jesus is different than he was: there is something about his resurrected person that enables him to enter rooms without walking through a door, but unlike any ordinary symbol or the appearance of a ghost, the resurrected Jesus can present his physical wounds for exploration by human hands and, like any woman or man of flesh and blood, take food into his mouth to eat.

Luke in today’s gospel reading makes an unequivocal point: the resurrection is about the body; it is about the whole person. The spirits of the first disciples certainly are revived in the resurrection of Jesus, but this and the other resurrection narratives hasten to assure us that there is something more here: something that is physical but something that also is changed and new.

Saint of the day: Born in 1844 in Lourdes, France, Bernadette Soubirous was the oldest of six children in a very poor family headed by Francois and Louise Casterot. She was hired out as a servant from age 12 to 14 and served as a shepherdess. On February 11, 1858, around the time of her first Communion, she received a vision of the Virgin. She received 18 more visions in the next 5 months; in one vision, she was led to a spring of healing waters. She moved into a house with the sisters of Nevers at Lourdes where she lived, worked, and learned to read and write. The sisters cared for the sick and indigent, and Bernadette was both of these, sick and indigent. When Bernadette was age 22, the sisters admitted her into their order. Always sick and often mistreated by her superiors, she died on April 16, 1879 in Nevers, France. A prayer for Mary’s aid was on her lips as she slipped away.

Spiritual reading: Nothing is anything more to me; everything is nothing to me, but Jesus: neither things nor persons, neither ideas nor emotions, neither honor nor sufferings. Jesus is for me honor, delight, heart, and soul. (St. Bernadette of Lourdes)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 15, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 24:13-35

That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his Body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.

As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the Eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Reflection on the gospel: The gospel passage from today’s lectionary affords us a chance to revisit one of the truly great narratives of the scriptures. In just a relatively brief passage, Luke reviews for us the kernel of Christian life.

Luke employs a literary conceit throughout his gospel to make a central theological point: where the other gospels have Jesus throughout his ministry moving back and forth between Jerusalem and Galilee, Luke’s gospel has Jesus on a continuous single journey toward Jerusalem. For Luke, Jesus’ entire ministry is prelude and progress toward the single goal of what happens at Jerusalem in the Lord’s suffering, death, and glorification at Passover.

In today’s passage, the two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem, that is, they are walking away from the entire goal of Jesus’ mission. But in an immense irony, they meet Jesus on the road, even though they do not recognize him. This “stranger,” Jesus, explains to them all the scriptures that foretold how the Messiah would have to suffer before he entered his glory. At the conclusion of the journey, Jesus makes as if he will go on, but the disciples invite him to spend the night with them. During supper, Jesus breaks bread and blesses it, and the disciples recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

How often in our lives do we walk away from Jesus only to encounter the Lord in some stranger we had not factored into our equations? How often do we find the Lord because we offer hospitality to someone we meet on the road? And when we break open the scriptures and break bread at our sharing in the Eucharist, is not our Lord there to be found?

Spiritual reading: For by the sacrifice of his own body he did two things: he put an end to the law of death which barred our way; and he made a new beginning of life for us, by giving us the hope of resurrection. (On the Incarnation by Athanasius)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 14, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

John 20:11-18

Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and then reported what he had told her.

Reflection on the gospel reading: The accounts of the resurrection in John’s gospel continuously contrast three groups of people:

1. There are those who have seen the resurrected Lord with their own eyes and believe because of the evidence of their senses.

2. There are those who have not seen the resurrected Lord with their own eyes but all-the-same believe.

3. And there are those who have neither seen nor believe.

In today’s gospel, Mary begins her trek to the tomb in the third category: she has not seen the Lord, and she does not believe. But by the end of the passage, she has seen and she believes. At this point, she carries the message about her experience back to the disciples who then, based on Mary’s testimony, become members of either the second or the third categories. Thus it was that on the first day of the resurrection, the whole pattern of the spread of the Christian message was born.

The gospel we read today was written about 70 years after the death and resurrection of the Lord; some scholars have speculated that at that time, there probably were about 7,500 Christians in the world who celebrated the mystery they had received in about 50 different communities, most of which were in the eastern portion of the Roman empire. If those assumptions are correct, there were an average of 140 members in each of the Christian communities that existed in 100. Now, 70 years after the Paschal events, it is phenomenally improbable that there were even a dozen people left alive in the world who had seen the risen Lord; in other words, it is highly likely that far less than 0.002 percent of the very small number of believers who lived in 100 had seen the Lord in the way that Mary Magdalene saw him on that first day of the week. But there were still a good many people left who, though they themselves had not seen the resurrected Lord, knew someone who had seen the resurrected Lord.

When the evangelist wrote the Gospel of John, Jesus’ admonition at John 20:29, “Blessed are the ones who have not seen and have believed,” was an important observation for a tiny community with aspirations to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. Indeed, we almost might as easily apply Jesus’ words not to the incredible faith in the resurrection but instead to the incredible faith that so tiny a community’s message would overcome so many hurdles to spread to the four corners of the earth. Does it not seem likely that so profound a faith in the power of the message to overcome so many daunting hurdles had resulted from the power of the witness of the men and women who announced to the Christians who lived in 100, “I have seen the Lord.” In other words, the testimony those first Christians bore was compelling indeed and gave rise to a powerful faith in the destiny of the religion of the second, third, and fourth generations of Christians.

The same message still has power. We do not know the result of what it is that we do. We must do what we feel called to do confident that what Gamaliel said two millenniums ago rings as true today as it did when he first spoke the words, If our purpose is of human origins, it will fail. But if it is of God, no one will be able to stop us.

Spiritual reading: But now the power of Easter has burst upon us with the resurrection of Christ. Now we find in ourselves a strength which is not our own, and which is freely given to us whenever we need it, raising us above the Law, giving us a new law which is hidden in Christ: the law of His merciful love for us. Now we no longer strive to be good because we have to, because it is a duty, but because our joy is to please Him who has given all His love to us!

Now our life is full of meaning! … To understand Easter and live it, we must renounce our dread of newness and of freedom! (Seasons of Celebration by Thomas Merton )

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 13, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 28:8-15

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce the news to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had happened. The chief priests assembled with the elders and took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.’ And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present day.

Reflection on the gospel reading: This passage from the gospel places Mary Magdalene at the tomb on the first morning of the week. All four gospel accounts put Mary Magdalene at the scene, though the synoptic gospels have her in the company of other women, and John’s gospel puts her there alone. We see an element in this narrative that we see over and again throughout the resurrection accounts, that when the resurrected Jesus encounters the women, he tells them, “Be not afraid.” This is an admonition that bears repeating. Our brains are hardwired for survival, and fear is a very basic and particularly strong response in our emotional repertoire. It’s wholly able to short circuit anything we’re doing as the neural mechanisms hijack our higher functions to ensure we remain safe and sound in our persons and psyches. The gospel asks us to take risks, to believe things that make our lives inconvenient, risk embarrassment for the name of Jesus, take care of others before we see to our own needs, and even prefer the faith to our own lives should a situation demand it. The gospel is often inconvenient, and it sometimes is a fearful burden. The resurrected Jesus offers himself as proof that we need not be afraid, that we can go about our lives with its many inconveniences confident that the outcome already is known, knowing that even if suffering is implicit in the passage toward the end, the final frame in our stories already is evident in the pattern of Christ’s own suffering, death, and resurrection.

Spiritual reading: Faith in the resurrection of Christ never misleads us, and hope in our own resurrection never deceives us, because God the Father both restored our Lord to life and will restore us to life too by virtue of his power. (Homily on the Gospels by Bede the Venerable)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on April 12, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

John 20:1-9

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.

They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen, even as he said! Alleluia! Happy Easter to you!

I always have loved best the resurrection accounts in the Gospel of John. There is something immediate and present in them, something of, “I was right there, and this is what it was like.” The account we have in this morning’s gospel compares and contrasts the respective experiences and reactions of Peter and the beloved disciples to the empty tomb. When Peter enters the tomb this morning, he experiences a loss: the body of the Lord is missing. He experiences a loss because he sees the empty tomb through the prism of his grief. But as a counterpoint, when the beloved disciple enters the tomb, he sees and believes, because he perceives the empty tomb not through the prism of his grief but through the prism of his love for Jesus.

The Lord whom we now celebrate in the Easter narratives is the living Lord who is the same now as he was on the first day of resurrection. The Lord whom we know through our communities, our prayer, the word, and our service is the resurrected Lord: we are entering familiar turf. Let us then strive to love the Lord, for blessed are we, just like the beloved disciple that first Easter morning, who have not seen yet believe, because we see the empty tomb through the prism of our love for Jesus.

Easter: The main sources which directly attest the fact of Christ’s Resurrection are the four gospels and the Epistles of Paul. Easter morning is so rich in incident, and so crowded with interested persons, that its complete history presents a rather complicated tableau. It is not surprising, therefore, that the partial accounts contained in each of the four gospels appear at first sight hard to harmonize. But whatever exegetic view as to the visit to the sepulcher by the women and the appearance of the angels we may defend, we cannot deny the evangelists’ agreement as to the fact that the risen Jesus appeared to one or more persons.

According to Matthew, he appeared to the holy women, and again on a mountain in Galilee; according to longer versions of Mark, he was seen by Mary Magdalen, by the two disciples at Emmaus, and the Eleven before he ascended into heaven; according to Luke, he walked with the disciples to Emmaus and appeared to Peter and to the assembled disciples in Jerusalem; according to John, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalen, to the ten Apostles on Easter Sunday, to the Eleven a week later, and to the seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. Paul (1 Cor 14:3-8) enumerates another series of apparitions of Jesus after his Resurrection; he was seen by Cephas, by the Eleven, by more than 500 brethren, many of whom were still alive at the time of the Apostle’s writing, by James, by all the Apostles, and lastly by Paul himself.

Briefly, therefore, the fact of Christ’s Resurrection is attested by more than 500 eyewitnesses, whose experience, simplicity, and uprightness of life rendered them incapable of inventing such a fable, who lived at a time when any attempt to deceive could have been easily discovered, who had nothing in this life to gain, but everything to lose by their testimony, whose moral courage exhibited in their apostolic life can be explained only by their intimate conviction of the objective truth of their message. Again the fact of Christ’s Resurrection is attested by the eloquent silence of the Synagogue which had done everything to prevent deception, which could have easily discovered deception, if there had been any, which opposed only sleeping witnesses to the testimony of the Apostles, which did not punish the alleged carelessness of the official guard, and which could not answer the testimony of the Apostles except by threatening them “that they speak no more in this name to any man” (Acts 4:17). Finally, the thousands, both Jews and Gentiles, who believed the testimony of the apostles in spite of all the disadvantages following from such a belief, in short the origin of the Church, requires for its explanation the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection, for the rise of the Church without the Resurrection would have been a greater miracle than the Resurrection itself.

Spiritual reading: Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day;

you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one: let no one go away hungry. (Easter Homily by John Crysostom)