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.
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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.
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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.
SAMPLE OF HOME PRAYER FOR THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Peace be with you.
PENITENTIAL RITE to let the Lord prepare our hearts for pure worship
Lord Jesus, Word of life — Have mercy
Lord Jesus, whose forgiving love never dies— Have mercy
Lord Jesus, you feed us with your Spirit — Have mercy
Let us pray:
O Lord, our God, you are eternally happy for us. Let we, your own people, look forward in joy and hope today as we did in our younger days when you first chose us, so that our happiness this day of Easter, knowing our status as adopted sons and daughters of yours has been restored in the resurrection of your Son, helps us move forward in life with the unshakeable hope of eternal happiness which you have promised and are keeping this day.
Listen to the sacred scriptures:
[Go to the Today’s Readings section below on this web page.]
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 THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
The disciples going to Emmaus on that First Easter are typical of us and that is why God speaks to us today of them and has done so for his people for almost 2000 years. What ties us to them is the same Eucharist with the same risen Lord. But there is more to it. A rereading and a rereading again and again will bring the many elements home for us. Today we look at one segment of the faith story that, I believe, will open our eyes to our life in Christ just as he open their eyes years ago.
Let us review briefly the sequence of events. The two disciples, long followers of Jesus, were losing hope so they left the group and headed back home. A stranger joined them on their journey and engaged in conversation with them. They told him what was in their hearts and how dejected they were. He egged them on to give the whole story. They thought they did but the stranger chimed in and chided them for not understanding the events of the day in the light of the God’s word, spoken to the Jewish community for centuries. Taken back by this they still followed their Jewish hospitality and invited him to stay with them as the sun was going down. This hospitality included supper and continued conversation with him. The stranger surprises them again by breaking bread in the very familiar way of Jesus of Nazareth. By this they recognized that it was same Jesus, who they were told was raised from the dead by the Father. He disappeared and they make the unusual journey at that time of day to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus to the other disciples.
It is easy to recognize the Eucharistic references in what happened. And the first Christians would have seen the connection also. What you may have missed is that, just as at Mass, there is God’s word and Sacrament in that order. In the minds of the disciples it took the second part to help them realize the first part. This is what I want you to pay attention to. In our terms, the real presence of Jesus under the forms of Bread and Wine make us aware more of the real presence of Christ in God’s word. So the great tradition of the Catholic Church that what we have at the table of the Lord is the real Body and Blood of Christ. At the table of the Word we also have the same real Christ. He is really present in both and we venerate and reverence what he says just as we reverence the spiritual nourishment he gives us in going to Communion. This is an excellent example of God working in us by word and deed together. The disciples of Emmaus at the breaking of bread realized that what the Stranger was saying was true and they were rightfully chided by him for their ignorance. On the other hand the Divine Stranger was teaching them about the Messiah and his mission to suffer. So the Jesus, whose Body and Blood they shared, was truly the Messiah/Christ and his Body and Blood was the fulfillment of God’s promise from of old that he would be with his people forever — death could not stop it. The sacred food is Covenant food from the one Table of the Lord from which they were served the word of God and the Sacrament.
So this very day we are being called by God to be more aware of the greatness of what we do at Mass. It has become more acute because of the restrictions placed on us in loving concern for others during this pandemic. But just as the hope of the disciples of Emmaus was restored by their encounter with the risen Christ, so is our hope of returning the Table of the Lord together with the body of Christ, the Church. So when we go to Mass again we shall go with the understanding of the scriptures which the Divine Stranger will provide and with the deeper faith in Christ’s Body and Blood as the renewal of the Covenant. It’s coming soon, we will find out this week.
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 Church here in Cincinanti, looking forward to the lifting of the restrictions.
for our bishops, near and far, to feed the flock of Christ with his word
for those of their death beds and those who take care of them
for those developing remedies for the virus
for first responders and all those caring for the sick in medical facilities and at home
for those who in one way or another take care of our essential needs
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
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Saint Mark and the Resurrection
and the lion
There is the Gospel of Mark and there is Mark the Gospel Writer and Preacher of the Gospel. We probably think first of the Gospel he has handed on to us. The Church’s observance of his Feast today and scripture readings put an emphasis on his preaching and his working with other leaders in the Church — Peter, Paul and Barnabas. We wish here to focus on him as a believer, a person in communion with Christ. Remember the written Gospel is an offshoot or the live preaching which the Apostles and evangelists carried out. So Mark lived the faith before he wrote it.
Since we have concentrated so much on his written form of the Gospel we categorize him as living 20 years or so after Jesus’ death and resurrection, sitting at a table with pen in hand. Oh, by the way, the lion appears in the photo above because Mark’s written Gospel begins with “a voice in the desert” like a roaring lion and “God’s kingship is at hand” like the lion king of the jungle. But for us today we ask whether we can see any connection between the man Mark and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Was he involved in it in those early days? Did the resurrection have any effect on Mark’s life? There is some speculation here, yet what we know of Mark’s later life he believed and taught that the risen Christ is here with us. Did he know from personal experience?
The problem is that Mark’s name does not appear in the Gospels. We first hear his name in the Acts of the Apostles 12:12 when Peter was miraculously freed from jail he went the house of Mark’s mother, later Mark travels on mission with Paul and Barnabas. But back in the Gospel of Mark there is an unnamed young man who could very well Mark himself (Mark 14:51-52). The young man was in the Garden of Gethsemane with the group of disciples when Jesus was arrested. The soldiers tried to apprehend this young man but he escaped letting go of his simple garment as the soldiers grabbed him leaving them with a piece of linen in their hands. This somewhat strange description, some brush away as symbolic of the linen cloth in which the body of Jesus was wrapped when placed in the tomb. I believe it was Mark’s own factual account of what happened to him personally. If this so, then Mark was with Jesus at the time of the crucifixion and because the disciples used the house of his mother as a gathering place he probably was in the company of Jesus’ friends, maybe even at the Last Supper (contrary to Da Vinci’s painting). For some reason the “young man” followed Jesus to Gethsemane right after the Passover Supper. Mark, then, shared in the ups and downs of those first days and hours of crucifixion and resurrection. He experienced firsthand the resurrection of the Christ. Coupled with Peter’s preaching Mark was well qualified to write his Gospel.
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Gamaliel, Scholar of the Law
One member of the Sanhedrin, however, a Pharisee called Gamaliel, who was a teacher of the Law respected by the whole people, stood up and asked to have the men taken outside for a time. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin, ‘Men of Israel, be careful how you deal with these people. Some time ago there arose Theudas. He claimed to be someone important, and collected about four hundred followers; but when he was killed, all his followers scattered and that was the end of them. And then there was Judas the Galilean, at the time of the census, who attracted crowds of supporters; but he was killed too, and all his followers dispersed. What I suggest, therefore, is that you leave these men alone and let them go. If this enterprise, this movement of theirs, is of human origin it will break up of its own accord; but if it does in fact come from God you will be unable to destroy them. Take care not to find yourselves fighting against God.’ His advice was accepted; and they had the apostles called in, gave orders for them to be flogged, warned them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. And so they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, glad to have had the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name. Every day they went on ceaselessly teaching and proclaiming the good news of Christ Jesus, both in the temple and in private houses. (Acts 5:34-42)
In keeping with our pattern of studying the men and women in the scripture accounts of Jesus’ resurrection we have come to a person whom I have admired for years. He is little known to us — mentioned only twice in the New Testament. As far as we know he never called himself Christian. But he had much to do in the establishment of the early Christian community. He was known outside Bible circles and evidently well known in his own time. Beside the reference given above Saint Paul listed him as his teacher (somewhat like telling what college he attended — the “Harvard” of his day) in Acts 22:3. His name is Gamaliel.
The advice given by Gamaliel in the above passage sheds light on what a learned Jew of Jesus’ time can teach us Christians about the Covenant and the God of the Covenant. It seems that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea followed Jesus, too, because they saw how he exemplified the Covenant and the practice thereof. This can make us pay more attention to the “Jewishness” of Jesus. Gamaliel, deeply knowledgeable and faithfully dedicated to the God of the Covenant in summary gave this recommendation based on faith: If God is not behind the work of Jesus his followers and his movement will dissipate when he dies; if God is behind the work of Jesus his death will not stop his followers nor the movement he began. Therefore, since we have not determined yet whether this comes from God we should give the followers of Jesus room to prove themselves as faithful to the Covenant. Therefore he advised the Jewish Council to be leniate to them, otherwise you will be on the wrong side of the fence when it comes to religion. Wonderful advice for us on many occasions ourselves.
So Gamaliel was a scholar in the Law, i.e. the Law emanating from the Covenant. He had an accurate sense of it. People recognized him as such. The love of the God of the Covenant was in his heart and he exhibited it in ordinary life’s relationships. He was down to earth and practical.
Gamaliel knew that the followers of Jesus were talking and teaching about the death of Jesus and that his resurrection overrode it so that Jesus was alive and active as they spoke. God would be still working through him if he is doing God’s work.
The remarks of Gamaliel showed this line of thought: if the God of the Covenant is involved he is the eternal God, never dies, nor will his love and plan of salvation of mankind ever cease. Such a God enables his faithful ones to live beyond death. To this day Christ has not stopped bringing pardon and eternal life to his people, us included.
Such is Gamaliel’s stature that the Eastern Orthodox Church considers him Saint Gamaliel (Feast Day August 3rd). Keep his advice in mind. You are bound to need it someday.
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The Angels and the Resurrection
The forgotten persons in the scripture accounts of the resurrection and what happened afterwards are the angels. We know them from other places in the Old Testament and New. But their roles in the Resurrection accounts give us a better idea of the might deeds of God in the lives of Jesus and the first disciples and every generation since.
Here are some of the verses. Keep in mind they come from different sacred authors. Remember the angels are representatives of God himself. What they say or do, God is speaking and doing. So the angels give us and show us the word of God. Perhaps by paying closer attention to what they said and did, the mystery of the Resurrection will be more revealed to us.
And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it MT 28:2.
Why was it rolled? For mobility sake. We think that it generally took more than one person to move the stone. Being mobile meant that there would be more than one burial there (the family). Was the tomb ever used for someone else after the resurrection? We do not know. It said the angel of the Lord descended from heaven. Whose angel was it? The title Lord in these accounts usually refers to Jesus, the risen Lord. Recall that at the Annunciation scene it says: The angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah and to the shepherds (Luke 1-2). Or the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph (Matthew 1-2). In the Old Testament the expression angel of the Lord was a way of saying God communicated with man. No matter what, the Lord above was the one who brought about the Resurrection of Jesus — the Father raised him from among the dead.
Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay (Mt 28:6).
The famous Easter phrase: Fear not — for God is with you (many places in the scriptures). I know…how did he angel know it if he were up in heaven? He knew exactly what the women were doing from their hearts — searching for the Christ and that Jesus died by crucifixion. The crucifixion and resurrection go together in the Easter Mystery. Again the angel puts the resurrection in the passive voice: has been raised. Understood by the Father. The angel invites the women to come take a look, not that they would find Jesus there but the place where Jesus had been.
But the angel does not want them to linger there (at the empty place). He tells them: Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” (Mt 28:7) This angel now makes angels out of the women, i.e. messengers. Do it quickly, no delay in explaining the situation to the disciples so they would not have to worry and feel dejected. The angel ends up by saying I have told you, that is the word of God delivered to the disciples. You recall how much the risen Lord Jesus made about understanding the scriptures, what they were told.
From John’s Gospel Chapter 20:11-15 the angels are clothed in white sitting inside the tomb at the head and foot of the slab where they had put the body of Jesus — kind of like standing guard (although now sitting since their job was accomplished). It is a posture of respect for the dead and that they were there the whole time Jesus was in the tomb. We may think of them as witnessing Jesus being raised from the dead. They knew what had happened and knew it to be a joyful event. That prompted the question to the women: why are you weeping. Mary could not see clear for her tears. She thought at first the angels were part of the gardening crew, possibly who robbed the grave. Jesus reassures her that what happened would bring great (Easter joy).
But Mary 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?”…
Later in the Acts of the Apostles we hear of two other occasions involving angels: 1) when the apostles miraculously were released from prison by an angel and sent on mission to teach the people what the life of Christ brings to mankind (Acts 5:19); 2) later when Peter was arrested and bound by chains and angel led him out of the prison [the incident gave name to our Cathedral] (Acts 12:6-17).
All in all the angels need some watching. They continue to be messengers of God for our sake. God is with us through them. Some of the early Christians thought the just released Peter knocking at the door was an angel.
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Thomas still on our minds
God won’t let us forget Thomas the Apostle from last Sunday and his my Lord and my God. It does not do him justice to call him Doubting Thomas. He was a man of faith, deep faith, deep Easter faith. He did not live in isolation. In the lockdown of the Upper Room (the Cenacle) he was crowded in with the others. From the Easter morning accounts we know that Mary Magdalene ran back from the empty tomb and told Peter and John. The news got around quickly in their small group. Thomas was there that morning also and he was there when Peter and John returned with the same puzzling message. His life was then and had been for almost three years tied up with the other disciples. So what does his Easter faith tell us about the believing in the risen Lord and the Church?
You recall that his “sin” was not believing the others joyfully proclaiming they had seen the Lord. Jesus in his mercy and love brought him not only to have faith in the resurrection of the Christ but also to have faith in the word of his fellow Christians. Here it is quite evident that faith in Jesus and faith in the Church go together. This is expressed in our Creed. So in the final lines of the Apostles’ Creed we profess: I believe in the holy catholic Church… In the Nicene Creed we even give profession of faith in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church… So we in our time of faith hold to the same beliefs as did Thomas and the others — Mary Magdalen, Peter, John and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, etc.
This leads us to a rather important part of our faith life — staying close to the other believers, joining them in joyful celebration, e.g. the Eucharist, encountering them at Mass united in faith, living the body of Christ, the Church. We cannot call ourselves believers in Jesus without believing what fellow believers show in their lives and prayer about Christ, the Living One. We have Thomas and his temporary absence from the community to thank for bringing this home to us. This Easter is laying open before our eyes what the Catholic faith brings us. And we are glad.
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