Friday of the Second Week of Easter (April 28th, 2017)

Our first scripture, an excerpt from the New Testament Book of Acts, describes the Church in crisis- facing a persecution that threatens its young life.

An unexpected advocate emerges who intervenes on behalf of the persecuted Christians, insisting that the Church’s opponents stand down and let the Christians alone. Time will tell if this new movement survives, and as the Church is beleaguered and weak, it poses no real threat. And besides, if the Church is, as the adherents of this new Faith testify, a work of God, no merely human power will be able to stop it.

This advice seems to be accepted and the persecutors relent, at least for a time.

The Church has known persecution in every age of its life. Hatred from the outside oppresses the Church while wickedness from the inside subverts her mission- and yet the Church mysteriously endures. Why? Not because of merely human ingenuity or accident. But, instead, the Church endures because the Church is not merely an institution, a construct of our own making, but instead is mystically Christ’s Body, the continuation of his Incarnation in space and in time. The Church is Christ’s life and presence enduring in history. Like his earthly body, the Church is afflicted and suffers, but this affliction and suffering cannot overpower the divine power of God that the Church, as the mystical body of Christ, bears into the world. And because the divine power of Christ resides in the Church, affliction and suffering can become redemptive.

The early Christians knew and believed this. Do we?

Today’s Gospel is a brief selection from the Gospel of John, testimony to the divine power of Christ to work miracles. What does Christ do? He multiplies mere fragments of bread and fish so as, to satisfy the hunger of a vast crowd.

Christ does what only God can do, and in doing what God can do, he gestures towards the mystery of his identity- that he is God.

But today’s mysterious revelation in the Gospel does not just signal to us Christ’s divine identity, but also presents a type or foreshadowing of the mystery of the Eucharist.

How so? The Eucharist is a marvelous intervention of God in our lives, bearing into our lives a power that effects a surprising change- mere fragments of food and drink become Christ’s Body and Blood, imbued with his divine power to reconcile us to God and draw us into an extraordinary relationship with him.

The Eucharist is no more just a symbol or metaphor than it is merely bread and wine. The Eucharist we receive is Christ’s life and presence, given to us as food and drink, given to us, to satisfy the hunger of our souls for communion with God, but also given to us, so that partaking of his life, our life might become like his.

May we who partake of this holy mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood, appreciate what Christ is giving to us, and permit ourselves to become like the One that we receive.

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Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter (May 14th, 2016)

The story of St. Paul began in acts with a martyr. Remember, Paul is introduced to us as a persecutor of the Church who is present at the stoning of Stephen, the first of the Church’s martyrs.

The Book of Acts presents Paul as coldly approving of Stephen’s murder.

We then learn that Christ the Lord intervenes in the life of Paul in an extraordinary way, revealing his divine identity and also that his life and presence endures in this world in the Church. Paul learns that in persecuting the Church, he has set himself in opposition to God.

Christ offers Paul what he needs the most, forgiveness and the gift of another chance. Paul the Persecutor becomes Paul the Friend of Christ and his Church. Paul’s acceptance of Christ’s gift transforms him, and leads to the transformation of the world.

We are, all of us, who are the descendants of Gentiles, are also the spiritual descendants of St. Paul.

Today’s scripture from the Book of Acts presents Paul at the end of his missionary adventures. He had intended to go west, to Rome, the center of the known world, and Providence has brought him to Rome, but he arrives as a prisoner. He will be tried in Rome and executed. His story, a story that began with a martyr, will end with a martyr. Paul himself will be the martyr this time. The man who presided at the death of the Church’s first martyr will become a martyr himself.

Eventually the empire that killed St. Paul will fall. Caesar is long gone and his empire with him. It is the successor of the missionary adventure of St. Peter and St. Paul who now presides over the city of Rome, and Rome, which once sent out armies to conquer the world for Caesar, now sends forth missionaries to bring the world to Christ.

We who are the spiritual descendants of St. Paul now share in his mission. Our mission territory is not in far off lands, but here, in our own neighborhood. It is here in this our mission territory that we are supposed to do what St. Paul did, introduce people to Christ and invite them to share his gifts in the Church.

Those who know Christ and accept his gifts must share with others what they have been privileged to receive. This is how the Church flourishes and grows. This missionary work cannot be delegated away to others, but all the Baptized are to advance, as St. Paul did, the cause of Christ and his Church.

St. Paul knew that the missionary adventure would entail sacrifices, indeed he was willing to sacrifice his life. Perhaps far less is asked of us in terms of sacrifices, but we are asked to make an offering for the sake of the Church’s mission. What that sacrifice is will be particular to each Christian, but Christ will ask us for something.

At the very least Christ insists that we be open with others about our identity as his followers and that we come to know him well enough that we can credibly introduce him to others. Christian faith is a way of life that is lived publically and openly. But, you cannot share with others what you do not know, and as such, getting to know the Lord Jesus is necessary. Missionaries must know Jesus, not just vague speculations and scholarly opinions, but they must know him as one knows a friend.

We come to know the Lord Jesus in the Church. He presents his life and presence to us in his Sacraments and in the Scriptures we come to know his identity and mission. Through prayer, we make ourselves available to him, and in our service to the poor, we serve him.

It is in the Church that we become, like St. Paul, a friend of Jesus Christ, and it is from the Church that we go out into the world as missionaries and it to the Church that we bring the world to know Christ, share his gifts and become his friends.

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Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter (May 7th, 2016)

In this morning’s scripture from the New Testament Book of Acts, we are introduced to Apollos, a disciple of the Lord Jesus who would become a person of great influence in the early Church.

Apollos is introduced to us as a man who can eloquently speak and teach about the Lord Jesus, but who does not possess the fullness of the apostolic faith. What he has to say about the Lord Jesus is true, but it is also incomplete. Further, Apollos has not received the baptism of the Church, and as such, does not share in the fullness of the Church’s way of life. Two disciples, Priscilla and Aquila, who are friends of St. Paul, introduce themselves to Apollos, and share with him the teachings about Christ and the Church they have received from St. Paul.

There are two aspects to the Church’s missionary project. One aspect is to introduce people who do not know the Lord to Christ and invite them to share Christ’s gifts in the Church. The other aspect is to invite those who know of Christ to share in the fullness of the apostolic faith. There are many disciples of Christ, who, like Apollos, know the Lord, but not in the fullest sense of how Christ wants to be known in relation to his Church.

Christ wants people to know him in the Church, learn the apostolic teaching about the Lord and to experience and receive his life and presence in the Sacraments. When Christians are gathered together into the community that we call a parish, the purpose of this gathering and parish to make the Lord Jesus known and invite people to know Christ in the Church. The Church is not an optional add on to one’s relationship with Christ, but is integral and necessary.

Those who know and experience Christ in his Church have as their mission to share what they know and experience with others.   Like Priscilla and Aquila, our efforts to introduce people to Christ must be intentional. Disciples do not believe that knowing and experiencing Christ in his Church should simply be left to chance or delegated to an elite corps of believers.

The Church grows through introduction and invitation and disciples are the ones who make the introduction and extend the invitation.

Who have you introduced to Christ? Who have you invited to share a relationship with Christ in his Church?

Christ the Lord speaks again about his departure. His disciples will no longer know him in the manner that he presented himself to them in the mystery of his Incarnation. He will present his life and presence to them in a new kind of Body, the Body of the Church. It is through the Body of the Church that Christ presents himself to the world and invites people to be his disciples.

Christ the Lord assures us that through his Body, the Church, he will continue to care for us and act on our behalf. He hears and attends to our prayers with the same concern that he manifested when he heard and attended to the needs of those disciples who knew him in the flesh of his Incarnation.

Christ has not abandoned us. He has not become merely an idea or feeling or memory. He extends the power and presence of his Incarnation throughout history in the Church and it is through his Church that he is present, active and working for our salvation and for the salvation of the world.

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Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter (April 23rd, 2016)

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Acts presents the results of the preaching by the apostle Paul and his fellow missionary Barnabas.

Their lives have been changed for the better by God in Christ and they want to invite others to share the gift of faith in Christ that they have been privileged to receive. Paul and Barnabas introduced people to Christ and invited them to share a relationship with Christ in his Church.

Some were delighted at the good news about the Lord Jesus that Paul and Barnabas shared, but others- not so much. Paul and Barnabas were opposed and forced to leave the city, but none of this deterred them from their mission.

The disciple trusts that their efforts on behalf of the Gospel are not contingent on worldly standards of success or failure. Instead of success or failure, the category that measures our efforts is fidelity- are we doing what Christ asked us to do? Are we willing to do what Christ asks even when it is difficult, even when we face opposition, or rejection, or apparent failure?

Too many Christians take an actuarial approach to the discipleship, carefully measuring every possible outcome and adjusting their commitment to minimize risk. The radicality of the Christian life is mitigated by a strict regard for cost and benefit. All this is justified in the name of prudence, when what is really operative is fear. If as Christians we approach our mission with fear filled hearts, holiness is stymied and the Church not only falters, it fails. Fidelity manifests itself in a willingness to take risks.

Paul and Barnabas were willing to risk much, if not everything for the sake of the Church’s mission. What will we risk?

Christ the Lord’s words about his relationship with his Heavenly Father might seem cryptic. They are indeed very mysterious!

His point is that in our encounter with Christ we encounter God. The revelation of Christ is precisely this- God is Christ and Christ is God.

As disciples we believe that God in Christ makes himself present and available to us in the Church, particularly in the Sacraments, and most particularly in the Blessed Sacrament, which is the life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself.

The Church is not merely a social club but a privileged route of access to God in Christ.

This is why there is an urgency to introducing people to Christ and inviting them to share a relationship with him in the Church. It is through the Church that God in Christ continues to reveal himself and it is in relation to the Church that God in Christ wants us to know and serve him.

The Church is not merely a nice “add on” to our relationship with the Lord Jesus. The Church is the means that Christ uses to make himself present to people and it is the way that Christ wants all people to have so that they can share the gifts he wants them to enjoy.

In terms of Christ and the Church, the Lord Jesus does not give us a choice between one or the other. The Church is his Body! Once, Christ made himself known in the Body of his Incarnation and now he makes himself known in his Body, the Church. To truly know and love Christ, to truly serve him, means that we know him, love him and serve him in his Church.

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Saturday in the Octave of Easter (April 2nd, 2016)

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus changes the world, but most in the world choose not to believe anything has changed at all. In fact, news of the resurrection is met with defiance by many because they know that if the resurrection is accepted, then their way of life must change.

Change is never easy and it is a sad fact that many people would rather choose to be ruined than to change.

The change that the resurrection necessitates is not a kind of vague openness to the new or unfamiliar or change for the sake of change or change for the sake a progress, but it is acceptance of a new way of life, a way of life that is the Church.

The Church is not an institution through which we matriculate or ethnic customs or a social club we support with dues. The Church is a way of life and this way of life originates and has its living source in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In today’s scripture from the Book of Acts the apostles confront the reality that many will not accept either the resurrection of Jesus or the new way of life that is the Church. But this opposition does not deter them from their mission- they will continue to make Christ known and invite people into the Church’s way of life.

In other words, disciples of the Lord Jesus know that their mission is not about being successful in worldly terms, but in being faithful to the mission Christ has given them. Their mission is not to coerce people into believing, but proposing Christ and inviting people to share the gifts that Christ wants people to enjoy- the gifts of faith, hope and love. Sometimes many people will accept Christ’s gifts, other times only a few will, often times it is the conversion of a few to Christ that makes that greatest difference and has the most lasting effect.

The Gospel for today continues this lesson. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus did not instantly convince people to change their lives. Even many who knew Christ intimately and directly did not follow him.

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is not a truth of the faith that is hard to understand, but it is difficult to believe. The way of a disciple is not an easy way, but it is a noble way, a beautiful way of life, that like the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, opens up possibilities for us we never dared dreamt were possible, both in this world and in a heavenly world still yet to come.

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Thursday of the Third Week of Easter (April 23rd, 2015)

The great theme of the New Testament book “Acts of the Apostles” is that the Church is the privileged bearer of the life and presence of the Lord Jesus in the world, and, as such, the disciples of the Lord Jesus are empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak on his behalf, teach with his authority and continue his mission. This is all manifested in mighty deeds and marvelous signs and great wonders.

In all this, the Church is like Christ and is revealed to be the extension of his life and presence in space and time. The Lord Jesus hasn’t just disappeared into the mists of history or evaporated into a heavenly stratosphere. The Lord Jesus is present and working in his Church and the baptized are meant to be his witnesses, ourselves bearers of his life and presence into the world.

In this week’s excerpts from the Acts of the Apostles we have heard about the vicious persecution that enveloped the early Church and nearly snuffed out its life. Thus, the Church does not only bear likeness to the glory of Christ, but especially to the sufferings of Christ. In this world, in the body of his human nature, the divine Christ knew the experience of sufferings, and even now, the Lord Jesus knows sufferings in his body, the Church.

The persecution of the Church is not just a matter of historical memory but it is also a reality of the present moment. It might not be our experience, but for many Christians, professing faith in the lordship of Jesus Christ is a risk that can result in torture and death. Just this past weekend, 30 Ethiopian Christians were brutally murdered because they would not deny their profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

Our generation will be remembered as the generation that witnessed one of the greatest persecutions of Christians in the Church’s long history and our generation will be judged by the blood of these martyrs.

The witness of Christians in parts of the world where the Church is persecuted is creative and bold. What of our witness?

Today’s excerpt from Acts of the Apostles demonstrates the strategy God employed to undermine the malicious intent of the Church’s persecutors. As a result of their evil efforts, Christians go out into the world and create more Christians. The persecution ends up increasing the Church, not diminishing her. Philip’s witness to the Ethiopian servant is a sign of how Christ leads his Church through suffering and death to new possibilities and new life.

The spiritual heirs of Philip’s missionary witness endure to this day, and in fact, as I mentioned earlier, the descendents of the first Ethiopian Christians have proved themselves capable of bold witness to their faith in Jesus Christ- being willing to die rather than deny their Christian faith.

30 Ethiopian martyrs just last week.

What about our own witness to the faith?

Does anyone even know that you are a Christian? Are you ready to do what Philip did and bring people to know the Lord Jesus? How are your efforts increasing the Church and creating more disciples?

The blood of the martyrs is our judge.

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