John the Soaring Eagle
God gave John the Apostle a long life, 80 years plus, to be a witness to the risen Jesus and what that means for us. There were two phases to that life: his early years during which he came to spend his days in the company of Jesus walking throughout Palestine and secondly the majority of his life, his post Easter years, sharing with others Christ’s life within him. This is how he put it in the opening the powerful verses of his First Letter (1 John 1:1-4).
Something which has existed since the beginning,
which we have heard,
which we have seen with our own eyes,
which we have watched
and touched with our own hands,
the Word of life — this is our theme.
That life was made visible;
we saw it and are giving our testimony,
declaring to you the eternal life,
which was present to the Father and has been revealed to us.
We are declaring to you what we have seen and heard,
so that you too may share our life.
Our life is shared with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
We are writing this to you so that our joy may be complete.
Here we have a man who shared Christ’s life before and after the resurrection. John, as he does in his Gospel as well, calls Jesus the Word of Life who existed before the world began and became present to us so that we share his life. That is the purpose of his coming among us. His life is eternal life —which can only originate from God the Father and that same Father has let us know that life through his Word made man. The amazing thing, as John aptly says, is that we have actually heard the Word of God speak; we actually saw him with our eyes; we have had the chance to watch him and have seen how he lived; we have touched him during the time we walked in his company. Jesus made John a witness to his presence and given the task to declare to us what he saw and heard for the purpose of our coming to share his life, too. When we share the life of the risen Lord we are joined together with others who share eternal life. Sharing that life means sharing the life Jesus shares with his heavenly Father — a life we genuinely seek with all our hearts because it is a joyful life of everlasting happiness. This shared life is the communion and fellowship that John had, not just by himself alone, but with the body of Christ, his Church. Easter life means being joined with other believers who are joined intimately with the living Father, Son and Spirit. This is why we miss the Eucharist so much. We miss the communion of life which only the Word of God can give. I am the way, the truth and the life [John said this in his Gospel 14:6]. John experienced this first hand and so do we in the Eucharist. Jesus is really present within us. This is the presence we bring to the community at Mass and place upon the altar.
John, Brother of James
The Beloved Disciple
Lived long enough to reach the depths of the Mystery of Christ
Author of the Gospel, the Letters, the Apocalypse
Source of our knowledge of Easter and beyond
Revealer of the Eucharistic Christ
John the Apostle, Evangelist, Beloved Disciple
Gift from the Lord for our understanding of Easter
For those who follow the Church’s pattern of scripture readings at Mass during Easter time I am sure you have noticed that there is a predominance of passages from the Apostle John — his Gospel, his Letters, his Book of Revelation. So as we accompany the cavalcade of saints these days we admire and imitate these holy ones who welcomed the risen Christ into their lives and now share to the fullest the eternal redemption he has won for all of us.
So for a few days anyway we wish to include a closer look at John, the Apostle, who evangelized the Church from the beginning through his life, his preaching and his writings.
John’s life and ministry was not the same as the other Apostles. He was one of the first ones called by Jesus. He stayed close to him for the years of preparation as they walked together throughout Palestine. He was faithful to Christ to the very end by standing beneath the cross and participated from day one in the events of Easter. He was right there all the time and as close to the situation as anyone.
His writings have taken the Church to depths in the faith heretofore unknown. Even a cursorily reading of them lets us know we are hearing from someone who had insights into Christ and his life beyond reporting the everyday events of Jesus’ life and work. With John we somehow soar to the heights of heaven. This accounts for John’s Gospel being symbolized by an eagle.
At this point let me point out that this is true not only of his Gospel which contains a more extensive look into the reality of Jesus, a noticeably different approach from the first three Gospels. If we wish to get to the heart of the matter we need to add John’s writings to our sources to come to know Christ Jesus. But I do not want you to forget the other writings. The Letters, upon our reading of them, lead us to say Ah, that’s what it is all about. The Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) sets our hearts on the world to come as we live in this world and celebrate the heavenly liturgies here.
So get to know John better during these Easter days. It will go far in our renewal to which God is calling us during these “desert days of contemplation.”
John, Brother of James
The Beloved Disciple
Lived long enough to reach the depths of the Mystery of Christ
Author of the Gospel, the Letters, the Apocalypse
Source of our knowledge of Easter and beyond
Revealer of the Eucharistic Christ
Thank God for Cornelius
The name Cornelius may not ring a bell for you. He did, however, play an important role in the early Church in the days and months following the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He caused a stir among the Christians of Jewish origin when God gave him a vision of having Peter come to his house (Acts 10-11). God also gave a vision to Peter, some miles away, relative to not being afraid to eat foods unclean by Jewish standards. The two visions were synchronized by God. Peter and Cornelius got together at the house of Cornelius and Peter put it all together for us according to God’s wishes.
But I am getting ahead of my story…
If you are not familiar the meeting of Peter and Cornelius, please read Acts of Apostles, Chapters 10-11. It will hold your attention. Not ordinary at all.
Cornelius was a high ranking Roman soldier – a centurion, many soldiers at this command. He had been deployed to Caesarea in Palestine, city of the official headquarters of the Roman governor, e.g. Pontius Pilate. Perhaps he had accompanied the governor on occasion to Jerusalem. But his contact with the Jewish people was probably right there in Caesarea and frequented the synagogue there. The word of God had come to him through his Jewish contacts. He is described as God-fearing and a man o prayer. Since the scriptures give the time he was praying he evidently had a regimen (due to his military training) of prayer life — Jewish prayer life. Too, he probably was familiar with the Jewish history which help him to understand Peter’s description of Jesus as the anointed one of God through the Holy Spirit and that Jesus had the power of doing good and healing because God was with him. These are all Old Testament revelations. Finally that the Father in heaven raised Jesus from the dead and made him the “judge”, the model and standard of holy living. Peter speaks to Cornelius about the prophets and the mercy and pardon and forgiveness of sin. Just maybe the Jewish faith meant so much to this Roman Centurion whose occupation was brutal and merciless. When Cornelius heard this word of God he embraced it and opened up to the God’s gift of the Spirit and was baptized for forgiveness sake.
This scenario strikes home for us who have been blessed with the scriptures and word of God most, if not all of our lives. We hear God calling us to respond to him in faith and obedience as well. This is our Easter, too. But to me the most amazing lesson from this account (which we have tried to flesh out) is the Easter Holy Spirit. Already during this Season the existence and work of the Holy Spirit has been held out to us more than we ever realized in all the Easters we have celebrated.
To what end does the risen Lord now give us his saving word about being baptized in the Spirit? Go back to Peter and Cornelius. The Prince of the Apostles lets us in on what happened to him in the days following the resurrection of Christ. He tells us two things to remember.
When Peter arrived and Cornelius told him of his vision simultaneous with the vision Peter had, Peter saw the connection and said: I now really understand that God has no favorites, but that anybody any nationality who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
Secondly, upon seeing the Holy Spirit come down upon Cornelius and his household, Peter remarked: Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?
If you remember these two quotations of Peter, you will never forget Cornelius.
SAMPLE OF HOME PRAYER FOR FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
[Before entering into the sample Sunday prayers, you may wish to familiarize yourself with the scripture commentary which is provided on this homepage in the Blog, just beneath this opening Tweet, on the right.
Today’s homily is a quasi homily because the ideal homily takes much of its meaning from its actual setting in a “live” liturgy in which the Holy Spirit is at work uniting the body of Christ. This communion together is part of the reality of a homily within the action of the liturgy itself. It is offered here to bind together your small group of prayer on this Lord’s Day. The scripture commentary is meant to give some background to what God is saying and doing at this particular time.]
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Peace be with you.
PENTENTIAL RITE to let the Lord prepare our hearts for pure worship
Lord Jesus, You have baptized us to live forever — Have mercy
Lord Jesus, You sent your everlasting Spirit of mercy upon us— Have mercy
Lord Jesus, You are the Shepherd who feed us daily — Have mercy
Let us pray:
Lord, you have shown your limitless power as our God who lives forever by raising your Son from the dead. Exercise your Shepherd’s love by leading us to the companionship of your flock filled with heavenly joy, so that the world may come to believe that Christ our Shepherd has gone before us stoutheartedly and with resolve to take to himself his flock who humbles themselves before him.
Listen to the sacred scriptures:
[Go to the Today’s Readings section below on this webpage and the commentary in the Blog.]
Silent Reflection and/or share comments.
Homily Written for the Web —May it enhance your prayer and worship of God this day.
TOWARD OF HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
It feels funny to be preaching about the Good Shepherd to an empty church. To live up to my God-given role as pastor/shepherd of God’s people here at Saint Gabriel’s I need to speak to the flock. So I do it in this virtual way over the Internet. I ask that you keep in mind that what I write here is to be the living word of God to be received by living believers who will give a living response to the Good Shepherd speaking to you. Consider it “live.”
If Christ Jesus is the Shepherd, there must be a flock. A shepherd without a flock raises the question whether Jesus the Good Shepherd is “out of work” due to the health emergency afflicting our society. As I have said so many times our faith and our faith life has not stopped during this suspension of our regular Sunday Mass. Nor has Jesus temporarily ceased from leading us and nourishing us and guiding us in worship of the Father.
So we also ask when Jesus became our Shepherd. Was it as he walk from city and village in Palestine? We are tempted to long for those days of old. We know and believe that Jesus the Christ is our Shepherd here and now. God answers our question by directing his Church to celebrate our Shepherd as part of the Easter Season as we are doing today. Our Shepherd is an Easter Shepherd — the risen Lord. So how do we touch and encounter Christ our risen Shepherd on these Sundays when we are unable to be present at Mass in person? We do what we are doing right now by reading and meditating on this “printed homily” as we look forward to the time, hopefully soon, of gathering at God’s call with other believers to praise him for giving a Shepherd who guides and feeds us every day of our lives.
The present situation highlights another practice we have of reminding ourselves of our baptismal status by blessing ourselves with baptismal water as we enter church. This custom from the early centuries takes us back to liturgies of the Church as she celebrated the welcome of new members through baptism. They said or sang Psalm 23 — The Lord is my shepherd. Go to your bibles or easily click on the link on our homepage for the Scripture of Today and in mind and heart join other Catholics throughout the world in praising God with this psalm.
Pay attention to these three lines:
Beside restful waters he leads me
You anoint my head with oi
You spread the table before me
The early Church recognized Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist in this psalm — the Sacraments of Initiation. Adult baptism for us today puts these three Sacraments together. Their inner connection tells us who we are:
1) made one with Christ the risen Shepherd and welcomed into his flock; 2) anointed with his Spirit as Saint Peter did on the First Pentecost; 3) looking forward when God in answer to our prayers brings us together at the table of the Lord, to encounter him in his risen glory which he wants to share with us for all the days of my life.
This is true worship of God.
We long for the Eucharistic assembly when God brings us together and we together worship him. One of the deep lessons we have learned through contemplation of the Eucharistic presence of Christ in us is that our worship must match our daily lives immersed in risen Christ. This makes our Mass a sign to the world that the Lord loves his flock and leads us to unending communion with him. Today keep in mind that in our particular situation we have young brothers and sisters of ours who were scheduled to make their First Communion this day. When we return to Mass let us resolve to do something special for them. We can assist them by handing on to them the habitual practice of joining the Good Shepherd at his Eucharist. I suggest that we give them not only good example but make an extra effort to welcome them to church and show them a good experience of the Church as Christ’s community of merciful love.
If we live the Eucharist in our daily lives, our participation in Mass will be more pleasing to God.
Blessed be God! Blessed be his Easter people!
CREED: I believe in God the Father almighty…
We conclude with this prayer together:
Let us pray
for the pastors, the shepherds of the Church, here and elsewhere,
that the pastoral love Christ be in them every moment.
for flock of Christ, here in Cincinnati, that we be able to gather again
in the joy of being Christ’s flock
for those who have died in recent weeks, that they meet the Good Shepherd
whom they followed in this life,
for those searching for vaccines and ways of caring for the sick,
for those who have the virus and are unaware of it
for those who in one way or another take care of our essential needs
for those out of work that the Lord soon remedy their situation
for family and friends who have been supportive during these trying times
In Jesus’ name we pray for ever and ever. Amen.
Our Father, who art in heaven…
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
[See the ARCHIVES at the bottom of the BLOG page]
the Risen Lord
Following up from yesterday (see Archives) before we take leave of Saint Paul and the Risen Christ we should make note of his extensive teaching on the Eucharist, e.g. we use his phrase in the Mass frequently: When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again (see 1 Corinthians 11:26). Saint Paul has left us liturgical hymns and phrases that we use today.
In this light I offer a particular passage from him relative to the faith community sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ. This dovetails with our series on the return of the Mass, for which we long (see Blogs in Archives). Saint Paul actually is trying to correct a faulty practice of going to Communion without the proper dispositions. It is from Chapter 11 of his First Letter to the Corinthians (also cited above). To keep this in context and draw the real meaning of it I recommend that you read the whole Chapter. Here is part:
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Briefly, there is a connection between our receiving Communion at Mass and the death of the Lord — For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Christ died for unity sake and so prayed at the Last Supper — that we be gathered together in the peace and love of the Covenant. Christ gave his life for us out of the faithful covenant love in his heart. Therefore participating in the Eucharist presupposes that we have that love in our hearts for the brethren and that love shows in our everyday life. If we hold hatred or revenge within us for others we do not have the love needed to receive Communion. Saint Paul goes on to teach and correct such behavior at the liturgy:
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.
There has to be harmony between the body of Christ on the altar which we celebrate and the body of Christ, the Church, which is the faith community. That is what the Apostle teaches by saying discerning the body of Christ which we are — which we are to love with the same love of Christ who was crucified for us.
Out of this should come a greater understanding that the Christ dwelling within us, within the whole congregation, and the Christ in the Sacred Species are one and the same. And when we respond Amen to the host and chalice we are saying Yes to Christ’s real presence within us and within the others at Mass as well as his real presence on the altar. That is why the bread is broken because the whole congregation is involved. Christ feeds the multitude this way.
Saint Paul understood this. Thanks be to God who gave him that wisdom for our benefit.
the Risen Christ
Several times now it has occurred to me that God’s choice for the time of the year to afflict us with the pandemic was the best choice. He chose us to undergo these trials during Lent and Easter. This has forced us to pray according to this holy season of the Church year. So under his inspiration we have found ourselves looking more deeply into the persons of the first century A.D. and how they handled the events of their times in the light of the risen Christ.
Saint Paul, though given the title of apostle because of being sent to evangelize, was not one of the original Twelve. He did serve the Lord in the early years after having been converted from his persecuting the Church to a great promoter of Christ and his body the Church. The transformation of course could only have happened by the Spirit of the risen Christ. So Paul’s fierce dedication to destroying the Church turned 180 degrees to unstoppable devotion to bringing Christ to the world.
So let us follow his path to Christ and his mission from the scripture account in the Mass readings today — which you can find under the Scripture links later on this webpage — with special relation to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
It begins by Paul going to the “opposition” of Jesus, the Jewish high priest, who labored under the false notion that killing Jesus would put an end to the “destructive” teaching he was propounding. The leaders found a fellow-thinker in Paul and readily authorized him in a written letter to eliminate those who followed Jesus’ teaching. They still pursued the same path of nullifying the work of Christ. (They did not follow the advice of Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher, who had pointed out that if Jesus and his work was came from God they could not stop it.)
So Paul and his companions made the long journey to the north to Damascus — by my calculations at least 80 miles. They had horses. It is difficult for us estimate the number of days it took. This shows their dedication to their project — the intense hatred for the “Christians” (they were not named that yet). They got stopped outside the city by a flash of light that made Paul fall off his horse. While on the ground there came a voice (think of the word of God) Why, why are you persecuting me? Paul was puzzled and ask the question in return Who are you, sir? I guess riding a horse a long distance gives you time to think and seeing a rather large city like Damascus ahead he was wondering what sort of people he would encounter. He probably did not have much contact with the residents of Damascus. So he had that running through his mind and probably wondered whether it was all worth it. So that is why the first word of God to Paul was Why, Why are you doing this. So Paul’s next step was to ask where is this voice coming from. Now remember Paul was an observant Jew, well acquainted with the scriptures. Did he know of any previous time when a strange voice came accompanied by a flash of light? Perhaps Paul recalled the light of God leading his people on their journey in the desert (Exodus 13:21-22) or the lightning and thunder of Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:16-35) or Psalm 27 the Lord is my light and my salvation. So Paul asks Who are you? perhaps questioning whether God was speaking to him. He got the reply from Jesus himself: I am the Jesus, whom you are persecuting. First, if Jesus is speaking he must be alive, raised from the dead. His friends pulled him up from the ground. This vision must have something to do with was lie ahead in Damascus. His friends took him to what was a predetermined location on Straight Street. Paul in fasting and prayer and awaited God’s answer.
Evidently word got around fast that Paul was in town and true to his previous harassment of Christians he was up to no good. Paul’s answer to his prayer to God came by Ananias arriving at the house who treated Paul with kindness and love as a fellow in the Covenant. God had reassured Ananias that he had chosen Paul to spread the good news of the risen Christ to Gentiles, kings and children of Israel. Through the laying on of hands Ananias gave Paul his sight — both bodily and spiritually. Paul was baptized. As such Paul was welcomed into the Christian community and shared in the Eucharist — the breaking of bread. Later on Paul tells of these gatherings, e.g. Acts 20:7-12.
The God who through the Spirit had raised Jesus from the dead was in the midst of his people continuing to work saving his people as he did of old and at the same time revealing his Son as alive and risen. So Paul from that time on was never separated from the Christ of glory nor ever separated from the body of Christ, the Church.
[Be sure to check out additional articles whose links are on the BLOG page]
What’s there to prevent me from being baptized?
Philip the Deacon (not to be confused with Philip the Apostle) is a biblical figure we find in the Acts of the Apostles Chapters 6 and 8. He especially stands out during the unfolding of the Easter Mystery and the spread of the faith in those early years. He is one of the original “deacons”, the Seven, who bridge the differences between Christians of Jewish culture and Christians of Greek culture. Stephen, the first martyr of whom we spoke earlier was also one of the Seven. Because of the persecution that arose against Stephen some fled the city of Jerusalem. Philip was directed from heaven to go towards Egypt and Ethiopia. Along the road he met a court official, an Ethiopian eunuch, traveling in his chariot and reading from the Book of Isaiah in Greek (the citation is that version which was used in Egypt and in other parts of the Roman Empire — Greek was the official world language — and was known and used widely in the early Church). The eunuch wanted someone to explain the passage to him. Philip joined him in the chariot (bumpy ride) and showed him God’s Good News fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The man asked for baptism, then and there (brief RCIA). Right after the baptism Philip went on his way and the eunuch saw him no more. Philip headed north toward his home in Caesarea — the headquarters at the time of the Roman Governor. His journey would take him into Samaritan territory, where the scripture says he preached the Good News of Jesus in very town.
Philip is called an “evangelist” although we have no record of his writing. This proves that before the disciples wrote anything they talked to others about Jesus the Christ. Not only does the preaching of the Good News (Gospel) but the admission of what motivated their going out to all the world with the Gospel. It was persecution which help spread the Good News. This may give us a greater assurance during this pandemic that God can reveal his goodness during this crisis, e.g. our turning to the scriptures.
[Check out some of the previous articles — links on the BLOG page]
one of the Seven Deacons
As heavenly Easter food the Church gives us two successively days (Monday and Tuesday of this week) of his word about Saint Stephen, the first martyr of Christ’s people (d. 34 A.D.). The entire readings can be located easily from the scripture links on this home page. The website of our bishops make it possible to find both days readings.
Here, though, are some important verses (in reverse order):
The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and said aloud, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And with these words he fell asleep. Saul approved of the killing.
The members of the Sanhedrin all looked intently at Stephen, and his face appeared to them like the face of an angel.
Then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, some from Cyrene and Alexandria who were members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, and others from Cilicia and Asia. They found they could not stand up against him because of his wisdom, and the Spirit that prompted what he said.
Saint Luke is considered the author of this account in the Acts of the Apostles. The concluding lines of each day’s readings gives us a clue as his purpose in doing so: Stephen had a face of an angel and Saul (Paul) was there when Stephen was stoned to death. Stephen is a messenger (angel) for members of the Church — today and in the past. Secondly, Paul the “Apostle” received mercy at the intercession of Jesus. Stephen’s martyrdom indicates why he is a saint.
If we substituted Jesus’ name in place of Stephen’s it would fit almost perfectly. Stephen was a few years younger than Jesus and was stoned to death about a year or two after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The similarity between Stephen and Jesus was done purposefully by Luke and that is why Stephen is called an angel or messenger sent by God to the Church at all time.
It is well to remember that Luke was a fellow traveler and missionary along with Paul at times. I am sure Paul was his mentor. That, too, is why Luke would tell about Paul because he knew the people thought of Paul as a preacher and defender of Jesus. And, what is more, he held up Paul as a penitent sinner forgiven by Christ — a real turn-a-round through the gift of God and faith in Christ Jesus. Stephen uses the exact words of Jesus on the cross as forgiving those who crucified him (out of ignorance).
The opposition accused Stephen exactly as they accused Jesus, namely, he was changing the Law of Moses. Actually, they were upset that Jesus was calling into question not the Law of Moses but the man made laws of their religious practice. It is interesting that in the “official trial” they had to find false witnesses to testify against Stephen. Sound familiar?
So in comparing Stephen to Jesus we find Stephen dying with the same words on his lips as his Lord but this time he addresses his prayer to the risen Christ: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
We in our day cannot forget that Stephen became a believer and follower in the image of Christ — even to the point of dying as he placed his life in hands of the Jesus of risen glory. With the renewal of our Easter faith going on we will do well to ponder what that final prayer of Stephen meant in the light of Jesus dying and having been raised from the dead to enter into heavenly glory. Only then can we use the prayer ourselves.
The Icon of Victory [there is a link on the Blog Page] might help us picture what we are asking for.