“Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task [of service], whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3)
These were the instructions that the apostles gave for selected the very first deacons. The widows were being neglected, because the apostles did not have the time to care for all the widows and to pray. The apostles addressed the problem by choosing seven men for their wisdom and love of God and ‘laying hands’ on them for the purpose of doing this service.
It seems to me that even in the early church there was a tension around whether service to those in need or worship was more important. The apostles decided that they would create a special office in the church—the deacon—to perform and supervise the charitable works of the church. If we had to name the difference, I think it would be fair to say that the deacons devoted themselves to the temporal affairs of the church: allocation of resources, distribution of alms, etc., while the apostles remained devoted to the spiritual affairs of the church. In modern times, these roles are a bit different; however, the focus still appears. Deacons are ordained to serve, and priests and bishops are ordained to teach and to lead. This is an over-simplification, but I think it can help shed some light on things for us.
Because I am in the process of priestly formation, this passage takes on a special importance for me. I am only a year away from ordination as a deacon, God willing. (Remember that every bishop has already been ordained a priest, and every priest has already been ordained a deacon.) At that ordination, I will make promises to live my life in a unique way. While I already practice that now, making a public promise of that is a very big deal. Occasionally, the gravity of these promises can seem overwhelming, which is why today’s Gospel is a perfect fit with the first reading. In today’s Gospel, Jesus walks on water, and this scares his disciples. Jesus knows this, and he tells them “It is I. Do not be afraid.”
Let us always remember the love that Jesus has for us. When we do, how could we possibly be afraid?
In the first reading today, we hear about the teachings of this Pharisee named Gamaliel. He was a very respected teacher of the law, the most distinguished in all of Israel. The apostle Paul was one of Gamaliel’s finest students. What Gamaliel says is about how to know if the Apostles were from God or not. If they are from God, they will last. If they are not, they will fade out and disappear. The Jews didn’t need to persecute the Apostles: they will stay or go depending on God’s will.
Gamaliel was right. The Apostles eventually formed the church, which has never stopped existing since Jesus founded it. One of the things that the Church does is help us understand what God wants us to do with our lives. One of the ways she does this is by canonizing saints, who live their lives in a way that can teach us. Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Louis de Montfort. St. Louis de Montfort is known for his tireless devotion to preaching about Mary. He wrote many books explaining how to pray the rosary and other topics. Perhaps his most famous book is called True Devotion to Mary. Many Popes have commented on how excellent the book is, and I personally think it is one of the best books I’ve ever read, because it teaches us how to devote ourselves to Mary so that she can bring us to Jesus.
Mary always leads us to Jesus. We can never love Mary too much, because she takes the love we have for her and gives it to Jesus. Mary is always responding to God with love. This is one of the great things that Mary teaches us: always respond to God with love. If Mary had not responded “yes” to the angel Gabriel, or had half-heartedly responded, God would not have become man. We would not be able to go to Heaven, because Jesus had to become man so that we can go to Heaven! Our human responses matter.
In the Gospel today, Jesus desires to feed a crowd of 5000. All the disciples come up with are 5 loaves and 2 fish that one boy had brought. The boy must have thought, “what an insignificant answer to Jesus.” Jesus, though, took the response of the boy, and turned it into so much food that the crowd couldn’t finish it all! You see, in our response to God, we use what is called our free will. Our free will is the most special gift God gave us when he made us. It is how we choose right from wrong. It is how we decide when and how to respond when someone speaks to us.
With this freedom, though, we are also given a responsibility. (CCC 1734) We have a responsibility to participate in our society. (CCC 1914) We have a responsibility to help others, to be good examples, and to obey instructions given to us by our parents and those who are in charge of us. For example, one of my responsibilities is to listen to what my pastor asks me to do, and then to do it. By responding to my pastor and doing what he asks me, I contribute to society.
One of the most important things that we, as Catholics, do in society is worship God. Because God made everything, including us, we have a responsibility to thank him. The best way to do this is through the Celebration of the Eucharist. The word Eucharist even comes from the Greek word that means “thanksgiving.” By participating in the celebration of the Eucharist—the Mass—we are participating in the most perfect way possible in society. We are doing the best thing we can do with ourselves.
How we act while we are at Mass is just as important as showing up to Mass. If I am sitting through Mass, not paying attention, not responding, not participating in the singing, it is not actually a good thing to do. It is as if am coming to Mass, where God really comes to be with us in the Eucharist, and saying, “I want to get what you’re giving me God, but I don’t want to thank you or give anything back to you.” It would be like going to a friend’s house for dinner, and instead of saying “thank you” you came in, swallowed the food really fast, and then left without saying anything. We know that’s not right, so we shouldn’t do it when we come to Mass, which is a special sort of meal where God is actually there with us in a very special way in the Eucharist.
So we must always remember that it matters how we respond, both at Mass and at all other times. If how we respond matters, then let’s try to always respond to Jesus with our whole hearts. We should never be embarrassed to love Jesus by showing him reverence with our voice or actions. If we have trouble with these things, St. Louis de Montfort reminds us that we can ask Mary to teach us how to love and respond to Jesus.
Finally, let us thank God that he sent his Son to save us, and that Mary was given the grace to say yes to him with her whole heart. May we have the courage to respond to God with such whole-heartedness.
Today’s Readings have two options.
For the regular weekday cycle, they are: Acts 5:34-42; Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14; Jn 6:1-15 (The reflection assumes these readings are read.)
For St. Louis de Montfort’s feast, they are: 1 Cor 1:18-25; Ps 40: 2& 4, 7-8a, 8b-9, 10; Mt 28:16-20.
Every time I turn on a light at night, I am amazed by all the moths and other bugs that seemingly come from nowhere. These critters, which I never seem to see during the day, are drawn to this small light as if their lives depend on it. This is how it should be with us and God. We must be drawn to God’s Light, allowing his Son, Jesus Christ, to guide us safely.
Like moths drawn to a porch light, we should be drawn to God. Those who aren’t drawn to God are doomed to forever live in the dark. All the really nasty night critters prefer the dark: snakes, angry mountain lions, etc. The dark is dangerous!
It is the same in our spiritual lives. When we are moving toward God, we are assured of safety. We may experience difficulties and bumps in the road, but we can recover, because God’s light is shining on us and showing us the path to travel. Jesus and the saints are leading us to God. When we travel in the dark, the angry creatures around us (e.g., demons) are prowling in the darkness, hunting for us and our souls, seeking to devour us, so that we might be as miserable as them.
Peter and the Apostles were drawn to preach the Gospel in the Temple. They followed the light right out of prison and back into the Temple to preach again. What fearlessness! They were drawn to God’s Light, and they were eager to share the light with everyone. The Light of God is not a bug zapper, which destroys those who come toward it. It may require some change in our lives, but all are welcome into God’s light.
Let us orient our lives to God and go toward His Light, like moths to a porch light.
We have all the ingredients of a great ghost story in the Gospel today. An innocent man is caught and brutally killed. His friends all abandoned him. But he didn’t stay dead. There were reports that his grave was empty, there were angels saying he was alive, and people had seen him appearing in different places. The apostles may have thought that he was a ghost now, who returned to avenge his death. But that’s not what happened. The first thing Jesus says to his apostles gathered in the upper room is, “Peace be with you.”
An “eye for an eye” standard of justice was understood at the time. In Roman times, power and justice were exercised through brutality and vengeance. The Jews and the Romans exercised their power to the maximum extent on Jesus, and killed him. It didn’t work. This power doesn’t last. Jesus shows that his power is greater. He suffers the worst fate that the world can throw at him, a brutal death, and it doesn’t stop him. He returns to offer the same peace, mercy and forgiveness as before.
In between the end of Luke’s Gospel, which we read today, and the reading from Acts selected for today, Christ Ascended to Heaven, the Apostles selected Matthias as the 12th Apostle, and the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost. Christ’s Kingdom on Earth was now fully established: the King had returned to his Heavenly Kingdom, his Ministers were at full strength, and the Holy Spirit came to assist the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth—the Church—in Her Mission. The power wielded by Christ, of mercy, forgiveness and peace, was now in the hands of His Church.
This power is what converted thousands at Pentecost. This power ended slavery in the Roman Empire, and that taught the world that men and women are equal in dignity. This power established the Church, which has done more work to advance humanity and to ease suffering than any other group in history.
Our call, as Christians and members of Christ’s Church, is to bring this power into the world. We do this when we show love, mercy and forgiveness to others. Exercising the Church’s power makes the world a better place, and by doing so we put ourselves on the path to Heaven.
The disciples walking to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus, even when he was telling them about all of salvation history and how he had fulfilled it. It was only in the Eucharist when they recognized Jesus, through the actions of taking, blessing, breaking, and giving the bread. What is most interesting to me is that these are the same four actions we see in every account where Jesus feeds a multitude. These are also the same words that the priest uses in the Mass during the Eucharistic Prayer, where we recognize Christ in his Eucharistic Presence.
These four actions can be understood as an analogue to our spiritual life. We offer ourselves to God, sins and all. He takes us, and he blesses us. He gives us special grace so that we may transform ourselves, and purify ourselves. He helps us to make ourselves a better offering for him. He does this by cleaning off the crust that forms over our hearts. God breaks our hearts, little by little, to open them to his love. But we are not the only one being broken. God’s heart was broken by a lance, and from that broken heart flowed forth blood and water. This blood and water is the fountain of everlasting salvation; it is the water flowing from the side of the temple. The love and mercy of God flows from his own heart into ours, filling it up completely until it overflows. God then gives us back our hearts, formed anew. He has broken our hearts of stone and given us hearts overflowing with love.
Peter, John, and the other apostles had their hearts shattered by the Crucifixion, but the Resurrection and Pentecost filled them so much that they could not stop themselves from praising God constantly at the Temple. On one occasion, they healed the crippled man we heard about today. Then, the man went with the to praise God! How appropriate that this happened at the Beautiful Gate, for it is indeed a beautiful sight when a healed and renewed man recognized God’s love, and in return gives his soul completely over to God.
When we hand ourselves over to God, he will break us and form us anew. But what a wonder this can be, if we allow God time to do his work. Many of us wonder what the meaning of suffering is, and I won’t pretend to answer that; however, I will say that in our suffering we learn to truly love God and to allow others to love us. God has been through everything we will ever experience. No matter what we’ve done, God will always take us back. No matter how enormous the hole in our soul has become, God can fill it.
All we must do is offer ourselves to God. He will take what we offer him, and give us back more than we can ever imagine.
My parents gave me my name. When one of them says my name, it is different than when other people say my name. They can communicate, simply in how they say it, so much more than a simple desire for me to pay attention. I see something similar with my friends and their kids. How a mother says her child’s name communicates a lot to the child. And it goes both ways. My friends can tell me which child is crying, and if that child is hurt, throwing a tantrum, or needing some sort of attention—just by the sound of their crying. Sometimes, I can calm one of these wailing children down, but sometimes only a parent’s touch will do.
Mary Magdalene is crying. She misses Jesus, the God-man who forgave her sins. The one man who was capable of showing true love for her. Two angels come, and they are unable to comfort Mary. She tells them that someone has taken Jesus, her Lord, and she does not know where he has gone. Only her Lord can calm her.
So, Jesus comes to her.
Mary does not recognize Jesus right away. She mistakes him for a gardener. But he heard her cry, and he will not allow her to suffer alone. When he calls her by name, she instantly becomes aware of who this gardener is. He is Jesus. By saying her name, Jesus, the Lord of the Universe, communicated comfort and re-assurance beyond all telling to Mary Magdalene. Then he tells her that she cannot hold on to him. He will be going soon, and she must be able to do on without him. Jesus is preparing her for his Ascension.
Jesus went to the Father, but he did not leave us alone. He left Holy Mother Church to care for us, to minister for us. She has been given all authority by Jesus. She will not let us be alone. And when only Jesus will do, we can always receive him into ourselves through the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
In Exodus, the Jewish people were to slaughter sheep with the “whole assembly present.” Why was this such a big deal?
The Ancient Egyptians worshipped sheep. Specifically, the god in charge of the rising and the falling of the Nile—and as the Nile rises and falls, so does Egypt—was depicted as a ram, an adult male sheep. God was commanding his people, through Moses, to kill the gods of Egypt and mark their doorposts with their blood. This most certainly made a statement, and it also explains why it made sense to be ready to go right after the Passover meal: your people had just killed thousands of another culture’s gods. You need to get out of town. Quick.
By spreading the blood on their doorposts, the Jewish people were telling everybody that they believed in the God of Abraham. It was a public sign of fidelity, of faithfulness. An angel, with a superior intellect to ours, can tell a Jew from a non-Jew. Angels wouldn’t need to see the sign on the doorpost. More important was the sign on the hearts of the people as a result of visibly proclaiming their faith. Again, the Jews were smearing the blood of the gods of Egypt on their doors. This is not an activity done lightly.
Because they listened to God, the Jewish people were spared the wrath the consumed the first-born children of Egypt. But I’d like to propose thinking of this in a little different way than we are often accustomed: it was not their Jewish heritage that saved them, but their public faith in the God of Abraham. We can even see it as a foreshadowing of the final judgment, where we are judged by our actions. Those willing to put aside the gods of Israel were judged worthy. Those who did not suffered greatly.
Like the Jews in Egypt, we too mark our doorposts with blood. The Blood of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist—whether we receive both species or not—marks the door posts of our souls. We wash ourselves in the Blood of the Lamb at every Mass. During the Last Supper, Jesus transformed the bread and wine into his Body and Blood, and he told us to “do this in remembrance of me.” He did not ask us to simply remember him: he asked us to do this—to transform bread and wine into his Body and Blood and share it amongst ourselves. We remember that it was Jesus who died in giving us this gift. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed in the New Passover, and we paint the door posts of our souls with Hid Precious Blood when we receive the Eucharist. How fitting is this imagery! The stakes of the New Passover are just as high. In the Old Passover, judgment was visited upon the Egyptians for their treatment of the Jewish people. In the New Passover, Christ—the Lamb of God—judges us for our treatment of every other person we encounter.
If we were judged solely on our merits and actions, we would be in sad shape. God knows this. He knows that we struggle and strive, but we still can’t be perfect. We plead for help, and when we make mistakes we have to beg for forgiveness. Jesus washes the feet of his apostles, and the apostles were not comfortable with this. When you wear sandals every day and walk around on dusty roads, your feet get dirty. The apostles knew who they were, and they knew who Jesus was. God was washing their dirty, nasty, grimy feet. God was making his apostles clean again. All the apostles needed to do was allow Jesus to minister them, to love them. Their job was to receive Jesus into the hearts, and to trust Him even when his actions did not make much sense.
To me, this action of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles sounds a lot like what happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus, through the priest, enters into the areas of our life that are dirty, those of which we are ashamed, and He cleans us. He doesn’t do it half-way either. He cleans us totally, making our souls spotless of sin. He loves us so much that he will forgive us all our sins. We only have to be receptive to God’s mercy, and humble enough to ask for God’s grace and His forgiveness. We have to let God love us.
When we tell the priest our sins in confession, this is what we are doing. We tell God, in sorrow, what we have done, and through this action we demonstrate our faith that God will heal us. We profess that we have made mistakes, but that we know God is stronger than any sin. Then we are given a penance, a task that we must do. This penance helps us to grow in charity. Without charity, we are not true children of God. We do not stand a chance of remaining clean. We cannot truly receive Christ in the Eucharist. We cannot fully paint the door posts of our souls with the Blood of Salvation.
The Gospel today ends with Jesus calling us to love others as he loves us.
Jesus loves us enough that he forgave us all and died for us. Then he gave us his own Body and Blood as food for eternal life. He gave us this food to nourish us spiritually, and so that he could remain with us forever. He gave us this food so that we could grow in love and charity for God and for our neighbor.
Jesus loved us totally, and he is calling us to love others totally. As Jesus forgives without desiring revenge, so must we forgive and put aside our desire for revenge. As Jesus lives with us through every part of our lives—especially the hard parts, we must not avoid people because they have difficult lives. As Jesus feeds us spiritually, we do our best to nourish not only the bodies of those less fortunate, but we should also feed the spirit and minds of others through worship, prayer and study of Scripture.
On Holy Thursday, the first day of the sacred liturgies of the Triduum, we remember the Last Supper and the Washing of the Feet. We remember the charity that Jesus showed to all of us through his ministry on the earth and through his Church. Let us strive to mirror that charity in how we treat God and one another.