Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 8:1b-8; John 6:35-40)

Although the Acts of the Apostles provides only a summary history of the early Church, several conclusions may be drawn from it.  Today’s passage, for example, gives three keys to understanding the initial missionary activity of the Church.  First, the fact that the missions resulted from the persecution of the Church in Jerusalem tells us that they were not planned in advance.  Rather, they were the work of the Holy Spirit prompting Christians to work for the good in any situation.  Second, the comment on how the Apostles and, presumably, other Hebrew Christians stayed behind in Jerusalem indicates that the initial missions were a venture of Greek-speaking Christians.  These non-Jerusalemites probably downplayed the importance of the Temple as Stephen did in his diatribe before being stoned.  Finally, as missionaries they did not feel restricted to preach their message to Jews but could address pagans as well.  The latter not only could speak their language but also had no interest whatsoever in Temple worship.

As recent popes constantly remind us, Catholics today must take up the mission of evangelization.  We can draw on the conclusions from Acts to respond to the summons.  The Spirit puts us in situations where our lives and words give testimony to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  In the beginning, at least, our purpose will not be to bring people into church but to show them how the love that Jesus teaches leads to a more fulfilling life.  Still, we do not refrain from speaking of our personal relationship with Jesus.  The righteousness of our lives will be the surest sign to others of the validity of our message.  But unless we are clear that the Holy Spirit guides us, they will never know the full story.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 7:51-8:1a;   John 6:30-35)

People crave bread.  For the hungry bread is the simplest of dense food.  Once made, it can be transported anywhere and eaten for instant satisfaction.  For the better off, bread serves as a metaphor for money, that indispensable resource seemingly capable of providing every need.  In today’s gospel Jesus uses bread as an image of his own spiritual endowment.

The Jews ask for a sign like the one their ancestors received when the Israelites ate manna in the desert.  According to the Scriptures manna gave sustenance but was not very satisfying.  At least, the people tired of it and complained to Moses that they wanted something more substantial.  Now God the Father is supplying the people’s deeper needs with a much richer kind of food.  Jesus names himself as the bread that comes down from heaven giving life to the world.

Jesus is calling us to believe in him.  He wants us to accept him – his teaching, his example, the community he leaves behind – as our way of living.  He promises that we will not be disappointed.  Quite the contrary, we will find ourselves enjoying the fullness of life.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 6:8-15; John 6:22-29)

Stephen is a Greek-speaking Christian.  In the first reading today he debates, no doubt in Greek, Jews from Cyrene, a Greek city in modern Libya, and from Alexandria, the center of Greek wisdom in Egypt.  Not being from Jerusalem, Stephen has little allegiance to the Temple, the great institution that dominated Jewish life there.  He evidently speaks of the place as useless since Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice outside the city walls.  This kind of talk would be grating in the ears of any Jew, and it is especially so with those belonging to the Sanhedrin or ruling body of the city.  They will eventually have Stephen stoned to death.

If Jerusalem and its Temple are of little importance, something similar may be said of Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica.  True worship is made in Jesus Christ, the feast of whose body and blood can be celebrated anywhere.  Certainly Rome has come to signify the Vicar of Christ, but he might reside in another place as happened for most of the fourteenth century.  As magnificent as it is, St. Peter’s is destined for collapse.  It is the Eucharist that has eternal efficacy in reconciling us to God.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:34-42; John 6:1-5)

The math teacher at an all-male Catholic high school early in the year deterred discipline problems.  When he saw the boy with the biggest muscles acting out of line, he grabbed the boy’s tie and said something like, “Never do that again, mister, do you hear me?”  That showed the class that he was tough.  When he saw one of the smaller students misbehaving, the teacher sent him outside where he might be seen by the school’s disciplinarian.  That proved that he was mean.  The actions had strong sign value.  All the boys in the class reckoned that this math teacher was not to be fooled with.  Jesus’ feeding the multitude in today’s gospel is also done as a sign.

John’s mentioning that proximity to Passover does not only indicate the time of year.  More importantly, it indicates that Jesus’ feeding the crowd is like God’s feeding the Israelites in the desert with manna and quail.  Jesus is giving the people a sign that he is worthy of their trust.  They are to believe in him as they believe in God who sent him.  Unfortunately, the people pick up the wrong message.  Rather than heeding his words, they want to make him their king so that he might continue feeding them for nothing.

The bread and wine in the Eucharist are likewise signs of something greater present.  They indicate that that we are being nourished with food that provides eternal life.  In this case they have become what they signify – the body and blood of Christ that enable us to love like him.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:27-33; John 3:31-36)

Since atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, we have to be careful about implementing Peter’s statement in today’s first reading, “We must obey God rather than men.”  Today we hear of Muslim “holy wars,” but there was a time when Christian Europe was so tragically engaged.  To discern whether a particular impulse is of God or not, we must, as the first Letter of John puts it, “test the spirits.”

Testing the spirits means to compare whether a proposed action conforms to Scripture.  Should I take on another ministry, or am I already failing to do justice to the work I have?  St. Paul writes in one place that he has “become all things to all people” (I Cor 19:22) and in another, “Be imitators of me” (I Cor 11:1).  Yet we see Jesus retreating at times (Mark 7:24).  Obviously we sometimes need assistance in our discernment.  Fortunately, most of us have wise people nearby whom we can consult.  Virtuous people are not reluctant to ask for help.

We Christians have Jesus as our primary model.  Unlike Mohammed who was a businessman and a warrior, Jesus was a pacifist teacher.  He will not lead us into battle.  Some of his sayings are not to be taken literally.  (If you have ever looked at pornography, do not pluck on your eye.)  Pray to him for assistance.  As he says in today’s gospel, he “does not ration the gift of the Spirit” of wisdom.