Reflection for April 22

If I were the hired man referenced in today’s Gospel passage, I’d have taken the shepherding job in the fervent hope that a wolf never showed up. I’d be like those lone, underpaid security guys in the movies who during their night shift don’t know what to do when the alarm goes off. I might not dash out the door, but I’d definitely freak out and wonder what to do. I would not want to be the person who runs away or hides helplessly under a table, but sometimes stuff comes at us and we simply can’t handle what’s happening or we can’t handle it at that moment in our lives.

Being a Christian, though, means getting ready for those moments. They will come. There will be moments when someone we dislike needs help we can provide, moments a family member or friend is diagnosed with a serious illness, moments we see an injustice or unkindness unfolding right in front of us. Secretly hoping that such moments never come is a bit like Jesus hoping he isn’t headed to Jerusalem, isn’t going to be crucified, isn’t going to die.

Holding our ground in such moments costs us. We risk our reputation. We risk our money or our time. We risk our comfort or even our physical safety. We also risk forming new relationships and reforming existing ones. We risk inspiring others. We risk furthering the reign of God. Some risks really terrify us. The other risks, I hope, make us want to hold our ground.

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April 29 – Fifth Sunday of Easter

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: April 29 (usccb.org)

Discussion Questions on Acts of the Apostles 9:26-31

Reading closely

  1. Why might Saul have gone to Jerusalem?
  2. Why are Jesus’ followers afraid of Saul?
  3. How might Saul have explained his conversion to Christ?
  4. How might Jesus’ followers have reacted?
  5. How does Barnabas change things?
  6. How has Saul’s situation changed?
  7. Why might the Hellenists have reacted violently to Saul?
  8. Why do the apostles send Saul away?
  9. What is happening to the church?
  10. What is the role of the holy Spirit?
  11. Have you ever undergone a change of heart that was hard for others to accept?
  12. When have you found it hard to accept a good change in someone else?
  13. Have you ever acted as an advocate or mediator?

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: April 29 – Fifth Sunday of Easter

Reflection for April 15

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Today we hear that the risen Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. I wish God would do that with other subjects, too, like general relativity, foreign languages, and human behavior. Life would be so much easier. Ironically, for Catholics, one area we don’t need as much help understanding is the Scriptures. When Jesus appeared to his disciples, they were struggling to understand how Jesus fulfilled what we now call the Old Testament. Since that moment those many years ago, we’ve become accustomed to interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures with Christ in mind.

After the risen Jesus opened the minds of his first followers to reinterpret their sacred texts, he commissioned them to go forth as his witnesses, to tell people about him and help them to understand and embrace the gospel. Although we aren’t historical witnesses of Jesus, we have our own stories to tell, stories about acting with mercy, patience, or compassion instead of condemnation, frustration, or resentment. We can offer our own testimony about the ultimately life-giving, uplifting nature of the gospel, about the capacity of God and God’s goodness to prevail over evil no matter the form it takes.

But for all our understanding of the Scriptures and our lived experiences of the gospel, we still need God to open our minds. In fact, we most need God to open our minds to understand our own minds. Sometimes we are so sure of ourselves we misinterpret both Scripture and our experiences. We conjure God up instead of paying attention to what God is really saying and doing — and we become bumbling or bombastic witnesses instead of humble and attentive ones. Such witnesses do not inspire people to embrace the gospel. If we truly want to draw people to Christ, then we must admit when we are wrong, confess our hidden motivations and desires, and acknowledge that there is always more of our minds to open up to God.

April 22 – Fourth Sunday of Easter

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings:  April 22 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Acts 4:8-12

From Judaism to Christianity

In telling the story of the growth of the early church, Luke must also tell the story of the separation of Christianity from Judaism. As the apostles continue the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus, they encounter greater and greater hostility from the Jewish leadership. Finally the two faiths separate.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit

Those who tried and executed Jesus have arrested two of his disciples for proclaiming that Jesus is risen. Although Peter and John fled and hid themselves during Jesus’ passion, now they speak with remarkable boldness. The cripple is a man Peter healed (3:1f).

The disciples’ power to heal and their boldness of speech indicates that Jesus truly is risen and has empowered his disciples. His Spirit gives his followers the courage and wisdom to speak despite the danger.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: April 22 – Fourth Sunday of Easter

Reflection for April 8

If the Risen Jesus appeared to me, I doubt I would declare as Thomas did: “My Lord and my God!” I’d be much more likely to think that I was dehydrated or needed to eat or take a nap. Or I might freak out and run screaming from the room. I’m all for faith in the Risen Jesus, but I’m not sure I’m up for an apparition.

Today’s Gospel reading is meant to affirm our faith in the unseen: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” In this age of scientific inquiry, however, I for one hesitate to believe in something without a little supporting data. Maybe the disciples were hallucinating when they saw the Risen Jesus. Maybe they were dehydrated and hungry after hiding in that upper room for so long. When people point out that Jesus’ followers must have seen the Risen Jesus because they were emboldened to proclaim that he had risen, even at the cost of their lives, I’m inclined to point out that that was then, this is now.

The words and stories of ancient texts might not be enough. Some of us need a little more data. We need living witnesses. We need to see people heal and forgive today. We need to see people acting with patience and peacefulness. We need to see them in our offices, our classrooms, our public spaces, our homes. We need them to appear in our midst, startling us, dispelling all doubt, and emboldening us to become the next generation of Jesus’ disciples – good and holy people whom God sends into every locked and hiding heart.

April 15 – Third Sunday of Easter

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: April 15 (usccb.org)

Sample Commentary on Luke 24:35-48

Flesh and bone

In their different ways all four Gospel-writers try to help people believe in something that seems unbelievable: the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Luke shows that Jesus’ risen state isn’t a purely spiritual experience, mass hallucination, or wishful thinking.

  • Jesus has hands and feet; ghosts don’t
  • Jesus is flesh and bone, a biblical expression for being human
  • Jesus eats food

The risen Jesus is part of time and space, but he’s no longer subject to it. He has triumphed over death and is now lord of all, both of the spiritual and the material.

In fulfillment of the scriptures

The disciples are happy but confused. They didn’t expected Jesus to return like this, and they don’t have a frame of reference for making sense out of his transformed state. Jesus must help them understand.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: April 15 – Third Sunday of Easter

Reflection for Easter Sunday

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Today in churches everywhere people are singing alleluias and saying Jesus is risen, turning in their little rice bowls or other almsgiving collection items, and happily breaking Lenten fasts in order to again eat sweets or drink soda. And perhaps we imagine that when the news that Jesus had been raised from the dead first became known to his disciples, they were ecstatic and started eating chocolate and drinking soda, too. But in the Gospels of Mark and John, things unfold quite differently. In John’s Gospel two disciples run to the tomb but don’t know what its emptiness means, “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”

Mark’s version is completely disheartening. Mark’s Gospel ends with the words, “Then [the women] fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” That’s it, end of Gospel. Later Christians were so dissatisfied with this ending that they tacked on resurrection stories of their own. But why did Mark end his Gospel in this way?

Suppose that the women aren’t bewildered because they don’t understand what’s happened to Jesus, but because they do understand. They’re afraid of the paradox that death leads to life. They tremble because salvation has come through pain, shame, betrayal, loneliness. They flee the tomb because Jesus repeatedly called people to follow his example of self-giving, persistent love. They say nothing because to proclaim that Jesus is risen is to proclaim that the manner of his death is the path to true life.

The women are us. We sing alleluia and declare that Jesus is risen, but we run away from his way of living and dying. For our Easter celebration to be authentic we must at least try to embrace costly love. Otherwise we might spend eternity in our own tombs.

April 8 – Second Sunday of Easter

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Click here for a link to the Sunday readings: April 8 (usccb.org)

Reflection Questions on Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35

  1. In what ways can a community of believers be of one heart and mind?
  2. What all do you imagine the apostles doing?
  3. What might have inspired people to sell property and bring it to the apostles?
  4. How readily do you think people shared their possessions?
  5. How would you have decided how to distribute things?
  6. What impact do you think this behavior had on outsiders?
  7. Would you like to have been part of this community?
  8. To what authorities do you submit? In what ways do you submit to them?

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on the first reading and the Gospel click here: April 8 – Second Sunday of Easter

Reflection for March 25

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Jesus enters Jerusalem in a way that evokes the memory of King David, who made that city the capital of Israel. David was a savvy leader who brought stability to God’s people. By Jesus’ day, many Jews expected the messiah to be like David, a political and military ruler who would expel the Romans. The palm branches are a display of national pride. They’re mentioned in Psalm 118, a psalm that celebrates Israel’s victory over its enemies. Moreover, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem near the start of Passover, a feast in which the people will celebrate God’s triumph over Egypt. Jesus’ followers must be excited to accompany their master into Jerusalem. It must seem to them that they are an entourage accompanying their king as he finally takes possession of his sacred city.

Yet Jesus has not come to take possession of Jerusalem. He comes instead to let the city take possession of him. The city seizes him, interrogates him, and ridicules him. The inhabitants condemn him, scourge him, and finally crucify him. The incarnation of love is left exhausted, entirely spent, poured out to the last drop. Having given his all, he dies. There seems to be nothing left for him to give, yet Jesus will rise to offer himself to the city, to its people, to all people again and again, inviting each new generation everywhere to possess him.

The Passion of Jesus is a love story. We’re invited to participate in it. These days of Holy Week at times feel like a reenactment as we wave palm branches, say our lines during the Passion proclamation, watch feet being washed, venerate a cross. But we are not only recalling the stunning saga of the king who handed himself over to his city, we are also becoming part of that saga. As today we hear Jesus coming to take possession of his sacred city, we ask ourselves if we will let him take possession of us.

March 29-31 – The Sacred Triduum

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Click here for a link to the second reading for Holy Thursday: Holy Thursday
Click here for a link to the Gospel passage for Easter: Easter Vigil

Sample Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Early eucharists

At this time there weren’t church buildings. Instead, people gathered in one another’s homes for the eucharistic meals, usually in the homes of wealthy people because their houses could accommodate large groups. Eucharistic meals were often celebrated during or right after the dinner meal. They were – and still are – ritual actions through which Christ became present to his community.

Sacrilegious eucharists

Verses 23-26 are part of a larger passage in which Paul expresses outrage at the way the Christians at Corinth broke bread together.

Wealthy members of the community, who didn’t have to work much, if at all, were gathering earlier to have dinner among themselves. By the time others arrived, tired and hungry, the feasting was well underway. The wealthy might also have eaten better food or even excluded the poor from the dinner part of the gathering.

Want more? To download discussion questions and commentaries on two passages from the Sacred Triduum click here: March 29-31 – The Sacred Triduum