Reflection for the Fourth Thursday of Easter

The Gospel today takes place during the Last Supper, just after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. It ends with the line “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” What is Jesus saying?

Whoever receives the one I send receives me. In the various Gospel accounts, Jesus sent his disciples out several times to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. They acted as heralds, proclaiming that Christ, the Anointed One, had come. Jesus instructed the disciples what to do based on whether the people of the various towns received them. After his Resurrection, Jesus again sends his Apostles and disciples out, with the same mission: proclaim the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God. This is, perhaps, the most clear at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, where Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teachings them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20 RSVSCE) We are, in fact, all sent through our Baptism and Confirmation on this same mission.

When people accept a Christian in love with Jesus into their lives, it begins a transformation process. Those who are strong in faith can’t help but share their love for God and the joy of living a virtuous life. They can’t help but to be overjoyed by the fact the God loves them, died for them, and invites them to share in eternal life. Even in times of suffering and difficulty, the Christian lives differently, with an interior freedom that cannot be found anywhere else, which is due to their relationship with God. By living this way, with this joy, others are attracted to the Jesus, and we evangelize the world. By accepting a Christian into their lives, they’ve invited Jesus into their lives, whether they know it or not. This is why God cannot accept a lukewarm Christian. When people accept a lukewarm Christian, they do not see the beauty and glory of God. Lukewarm Christians spread to others a distortion, a poor imitation, of God, not the full Truth and Beauty and Glory of God.

Whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. When someone receives Christ into their lives, they start to become transformed little-by-little. They slowly come to experience the love of God the Father. Jesus was sent into this world so that this world may be returned to the Father. The Father loves all of us, and he desires that we all be with him in Heaven. The only way we can do this is through Jesus. Jesus is both fully human and fully God. Jesus is unlike anything in creation. He is a true bridge to God. By his Incarnation (becoming human), Jesus expanded human nature—what it means to be human—so that it would be possible for man to be in communion with God. When we accept Jesus into our lives, this communion is no longer simply possible, but actual! The Most Holy Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are one in communion, so when we accept Jesus in our lives, there is no possible way we can also reject the Father and the Holy Spirit. The three come as a package deal.

As we go about our busy lives, let us remember that we Christians are sent to be lights to the world. Through our actions and interactions with others, let us shine out as brightly as the sun. It might just be that one simple thing to us softens the heart of another just enough to allow Jesus to work within his or her life, and that is where the journey to true fulfillment begins.

Today’s Readings: Acts 13:13-25; Ps 89:2-3, 21-22, 25 & 27; Jn 13:16-20

Reflection for the Fourth Wednesday of Easter

Fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands always seem to indicate someone was about to be sent on a mission. The Church in Antioch participated in fasting, prayer, and laying on of hands for Saul and Barnabas prior to their mission to Cyprus. Their mission? To share the light of Christ with the world.

I realized recently that there are several sacraments where hands are lain upon a person. The link between ordination and mission is fairly easy to see, and is very similar to the mission of Saul and Barnabas: spread the light of Christ and minister to the People of God. Confirmation, likewise, has a laying on of hands when the forehead is anointed with Chrism. (CCC 1300) The link in confirmation to mission is, similarly, not difficult to see: Confirmation seals a person with the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and spread the Good News, even through trials and difficulties.

The third sacrament with the laying on of hands, however, is a bit more of a mystery in its mission. During the anointing of the sick, the priest lays hands upon the receiver of the sacrament. Anointing of the Sick is no longer reserved to those in immediate danger of death, so what does this gesture mean?

I think that there are two possible ways to understand this symbol of the laying on of hands. The first is that the laying on of hands reminds the Christian of his or her mission that was given in Baptism, was strengthened in Confirmation, and was renewed with each reception of the Holy Eucharist: to spread the Good News and to be a light shining out to the world. I think, though, that this is just a part of it. Saint Pope John Paul II taught the Church many things through his writings and his example. One of these things was the value in suffering.

Suffering is a paradox. We cannot understand, and it will never truly make sense to us. We can grasp at why we suffer, as Saint Pope John Paul II did beautifully in his encyclical Salvifici Doloris: On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. (Vatican Amazon) When we suffer in a Christian way, we can inspire others to turn towards God—in a way we can be missionaries in our suffering. Furthermore, suffering inspires compassion within others, which is another their soul may be moved toward God.

The laying on of hands during the anointing, then, would remind us of our Christian mission in general, and aid us in taking on a special mission of evangelization through our suffering. The laying on of hands also has an ancient connection with fervent intercessory prayer, which St. James calls for when ministering to the sick. (James 5:14-15)

When a person is dying, I think that the laying on of hands during anointing takes on yet another meaning. When a person in the twilight of their life, and is close to death, that person is preparing for the journey to eternal life. He or she is preparing to embark on a new mission, a mission no longer bound to the chains of an earthly body. When hands are lain on a person nearing death, it is commissioning him or her on a new stage in the human journey: the journey home, the journey to Heaven. It is possible for this final journey to end up in different place, to Hell, but this is why Catholics have the combination of prayers and sacraments that used to be called “Last Rites.” (I will write a full article about Last Rites in the near future—this post is already long!)

Today, let us remember the mission that God has given to us. Let us go bravely into the world which is becoming increasingly hostile to religion, especially when religion that stands up to it, and show everyone that it is a joy to be Christian, and by our joy, let us spread the light of Christ.

Today’s Readings: Acts 12:24-13:5a; Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6 and 8; Jn 12:44-50

​Reflection for the Fourth Tuesday of Easter

(I wrote this reflection with the primary audience intended to be younger schoolchildren.)

Sometimes people around us ask us to do things we don’t really want to do. When that happens, what do we do? I know that sometimes I will pretend that I didn’t hear the person, but that doesn’t usually work. Another thing I might do is to tell them that I don’t understand what they’re asking me to do. Maybe it is true I don’t actually understand, but if I had been listening when they were talking I would understand. It’s like if my mom told me that if I took out the trash I could go play with my friends, and all I heard was the part about playing with my friends. My mom would be angry if I didn’t take the trash out, and I wouldn’t get to play with my friends. Just because I heard it the way that I wanted to hear it, that doesn’t change that my mom told me to take out the trash. Saying “I didn’t understand” wouldn’t change What my mom had told me.

This is like what is happening in today’s Gospel.

Jesus has been telling everybody about his mission and who he is, but they ask him to tell them plainly, which means they are probably pretending not to understand Jesus. In reality, they just don’t want to hear him. They don’t want to understand what he is saying. They might have to change if they could understand him. They don’t want to change, so instead of hearing what Jesus is actually saying, they only hear what they want to hear. 

We need to make sure that we are always listening for Jesus’s voice, so that we can hear it when he speaks to us. Jesus is our Shepherd, and we know when he is speaking to us. He doesn’t talk to us like other people do, but in other ways. When we want to do something bad and there is something inside of us telling us that it is wrong, that is Jesus talking to us. When we want to do something good and there is a voice inside of us telling us that it is good, that is also Jesus talking to us. We always need to remember to listen for what Jesus asks us to do.

One of the best ways to listen to what Jesus wants us to do is to be obedient to our parents, because God gave our parents a special role to teach and guide us. We also should listen to our teachers, because our parents trust our teachers to teach us and help us learn all the things we need to know. Jesus can speak to us through our parents and our teachers, so we should do our best to do what they ask us.

So today, let’s all try our best to listen for Jesus. Sometimes he talks to us by helping us know right from wrong, and sometimes he talks to us through other people. He is always trying to speak to us, and all we have to do to hear him is to quiet down a little bit and to listen.

Today’s Readings: Acts 11:19-26; Ps 87:1b-3, 4-5, 6-7; Jn 10:22-30

Reflection for the Fourth Monday of Easter

Non-Jews are also called to the kingdom of God! What fantastic news! This is made clear in today’s first reading. Peter is called to declare clean all foods which God has created. (I will try to write an article about all the reasons this is important in the somewhat-near future!)

Right after declaring the dietary laws unnecessary, Peter baptizes an entire household—this would have included the husband, the wife, any children, and any slaves living there—of Gentiles. The reading makes special note that they received the same gifts as the Jews in their baptism. When the Christians hear that these non-Jews received the same gifts, they did not become angry and jealous: they glorified God!

This is one way we can identify true Christian charity (a.k.a. love): it is overjoyed to be shared. True love cannot be turned in on itself, it must be shared. This is especially emphasized in Saint Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Today, let us try to be joyful with all around us, because God has called them to salvation. Perhaps through our example of living in Christian joy, they may recognize the gift God has given to us and seek it for themselves.

Today’s Readings: Acts 11:1-18; Ps 42: 2-3, 43: 3, 4; Jn 10:1-10 or Jn 10:11-18

Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Today Jesus gives us one of the most beautiful images in all of the Gospels: Jesus the Good Shepherd. His sheep know his voice, and they follow his voice. He protects his sheep from the robbers and thieves who come to destroy them. I know that I like to picture myself as one of Jesus’s sheep, following him to the green pastures of Heaven.

When a baby is born, that baby knows the voices of his or her parents, maybe grandparents, possibly a few other people. The baby knows that these voices are safe, because the baby has heard those voices before. New voices confuse or even frighten the baby. As the baby grows from youthhood to adulthood, the child starts deciding which voices to listen to and which voices to ignore. Instead of listening to his parents, he listens to Hugh Hefner and decides to objectify women. Instead of listening to her grandmother, she listens to advertisements that tell her ‘everyone is doing it.’ Instead of listening to Jesus’s message transmitted through the church, we think that consumerism and materialism will bring us total happiness.

With this in mind, I have to ask myself: am I really one of Jesus’s sheep who recognizes his voice? When Jesus calls us, do we listen to him, or do we listen to someone else? Am I listening to the voices of the world instead, and following them? If I am following Jesus, I can enter into the gates of Heaven, but if I am following a robber, I will only enter the gates of sin, death and hell. We have to realize that if we listen to the world and the devil for too long, it will be very, very difficult to hear Jesus’s voice over all the noise.

In both the first reading and second reading today, Peter is instructing the faithful in how to live a life where we follow Jesus instead of the world. We find the first few steps in the first reading. In the first homily recorded, Peter tells those gathered—and us today—to save ourselves from “this corrupt generation” by repentance and baptism. Through this gift, we receive the Holy Spirit who aids us in living a good, Christian life. After preaching the Good News of Christ’s fulfillment of the Scriptures, Passion and Resurrection, Peter called the people to action, and they acted. Over 3000 people were baptized that very day.

The second reading is from Peter’s first letter. In it, he holds up Christ as an example for how to live a holy life. We must suffer patiently, offering our suffering to God. We must live the beatitudes, not returning insult for insult, judging justly, and living righteously. Then Peter tells writes two of the most profound lines in the New Testament, “By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”

Christ saved us, and wants us to live with him forever in complete happiness, but we must listen for his voice in order to do this. Sometimes he will ask us to live in a way that is difficult, that we might not think is very good, but if we listen to Jesus, and follow him, we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. When things are difficult, we can always remember that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, “walks ahead of [us], and [we] follow him.” No matter where Jesus asks us to go, he has already been there, and that is a great comfort.

Like a baby who trusts the voice of his or her mother and father, let us trust the voice of Jesus, because it is those who are childlike to whom Jesus promised his kingdom.

Un resumen en español

Como los bebes escuchan a sus padres, tenemos que escuchar para la voz de Jesús. San Pedro nos dijo unas instrucciones para vivir en Cristo. Necesitamos seguir los mandamientos y vivir las bienaventuranzas. Cuando vivir la vida cristiana, podemos escuchar la voz de Cristo.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; 1 Pt 2:20b-25; Jn 10:1-10

Reflexión pequeña para la cuartera domingo de Pascua

Cuando fuimos bautizados, Jesús nos llamó de una manera muy especial. Él nos perdonó y nos dio el regalo del Espíritu Santo. Este regalo del Espíritu Santo nos ayuda ser como Cristo, porque cuando somos como Cristo, podemos entrar al cielo. Creo que todos quieren ir al cielo.

Pero, ¿cómo nos ayuda el Espíritu Santo en maneras pertinentes? Me gustaría hablar sobre dos maneras.

La primera manera: Cristo nos perdona cada vez que vamos a confesión. Cristo quiere que vivamos en la luz, que vivamos con él. Él no quiere que vivamos en nuestros pecados. El Espíritu Santo nos fortifica contra los pecados y las malas cosas en el mundo. Entonces, podemos vivir con Cristo en la luz. A veces, es difícil vivir en la luz, pero Cristo y el Cielo merece la pena.

La segunda manera: Cristo es el buen pastor. Como un pastor, nos protege de los ladrones y los bandidos. Los ladrones y los bandidos, ellos vienen solamente para robar, matar, y destruir. Necesitamos permitir que Jesús nos proteja contra esos malvados. El Espíritu Santo nos da la gracia para identificar la voz de Jesús y para seguir la voz de Jesús. Con el Espíritu Santo, podemos seguir a Jesús por la puerta del cielo.

Cristo quiere que tengamos vida, y en abundancia. Envió a esa hora y continua a enviar ahorita el Espíritu Santo, para que nos ayude tener la vida abundante. Abramos nuestros oídos para escuchar la voz de Cristo y pidámosle al Espíritu Santo que nos ayude a escucharla y a seguirla.

Brief summary in English

Jesus gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit in our Baptisms to strengthen us and to help us live the Christian life.

Las lecturas del día: Hch 2, 14a. 36-41; Salmo 22, 1-3a. 3b-4. 5. 6; 1 Ped 2, 20b-25; Jn 10, 1-10

Reflection for the Third Friday of Easter

Jesus gave us his flesh to eat. The Jews thought Jesus was talking about cannibalism. How can we eat his flesh and drink his blood? First, we can’t eat his flesh and drink his blood because that would require murder to do so. Second, we can’t because it is forbidden by the law. The first portion of this becomes a moot point with the Eucharist, where Christ transforms bread and wine into himself. The second point, however, requires a little more attention. Cannibalism is forbidden by Mosaic Law. If the bread and wine are Jesus, it would still be cannibalism—we would still be eating a person.

The question we must answer is whether receiving the Eucharist is cannibalism, and if so, is it a bad thing to do. St. Thomas Aquinas was fond of answering both yes and no to questions, and I think that’s the approach to take here. It is cannibalism in the sense that we are eating Jesus. We cannot deny this and remain Catholic. It is not cannibalism in a much more fundamental way: we are not eating the dead body of a person. Jesus is present in the Eucharist in a special way which we call the Eucharistic Presence. In this Eucharistic Presence, he comes in body, blood, soul, and divinity, but it does not look or taste the same as a dead body, so we know something is different about it. Furthermore, Jesus is not dead! He is still alive!

There is one more argument that makes reception of the Eucharist different, and it revolves around the act of eating. Why do we eat? We eat to nourish ourselves. When we eat, the food is broken down and becomes a part of us. The food is transformed. When we receive the Eucharist, something much different happens. Instead of the food being transformed into us, we are slowly transformed into Jesus. The Eucharist is the only food which transforms us into something new.

When we are changed into Christ through the Eucharist, it is not as obvious as Paul’s conversion in the first reading. Jesus came to him as a blinding light which he could not ignore. We receive something even more previous in the Eucharist. Instead of simply seeing Jesus, we become united with him in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Unity, because it unites us with Jesus, and by extension all those around the world with valid sacraments. (If we are all one with Jesus, and he is one with us, then it logically follows that we are also one with all others who are one with Jesus and with whom he is one.)

Let us never forget the incredible gift we receive in the Eucharist.

Today’s Readings: Acts 9:1-20; Ps 117:1bc, 2; Jn 6:52-59

Reflection for the Third Thursday of Easter

“I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this?”

Then, Philip “proclaimed Jesus” to the eunuch. He didn’t just tell the eunuch the name “Jesus.” He proclaimed Jesus. He undoubtedly told him Jesus is the son of Mary and Joseph, but also the Son of God. He would have told him that Jesus is both fully God, and fully man. He would have told him that Jesus is the complete fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, (this is how Jews referred to the scriptures that make up what we call the Old Testament) and the living embodiment of the Good News. (Remember, the New Testament hadn’t been written yet!) He would have undoubtedly told the eunuch that Jesus came to save us from sin and bring us to life everlasting. Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, the eunuch must have been burning inside. He stops at the first water they see and begs for Baptism.

“I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this?”

What a marvelous question!

We know that the answer is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of God, but how often do we ponder that answer? How often do we actually think about Jesus? Who is he? What is he? Why did he come here? The Gospels, especially today’s passage from John, tell us all these things. They tell us these things, which truly happened, so that we may know who Jesus is. If we know who Jesus is, we can enter into a relationship with him. Once we do that, we can understand even better who he is, we can begin to grasp at what he is, and we can finally realize why he came to save us. We can never run out of new things to ponder when it comes to Jesus, and that is why this question is so striking, because it forces us to ask ourselves: “Who is Jesus?”

Today’s Readings: Acts 8:26-40; Ps 66:8-9, 16-17, 20; Jn 6:44-51

Reflection for the Feast of Saints Philip and James

When I go out to a restaurant, one of the first things I do is order my food and maybe a beverage. To do this, I could shout my order to kitchen, but it’s much more effective to have the waiter or waitress bring it there for me. Since I don’t like shouting in the middle of restaurants and I like my order to stand a chance of getting cooked, I give my order to a cashier, a waiter, or a waitress. This person takes my request to the kitchen, where another person cooks my food. After my food is cooked, someone will either hand it to me or bring it to me. Often, this is the person with whom I placed my order.

Intercession from the saints functions very similar to this. We begin by saying a prayer, during which we ask for a specific saint to assist us. God will ultimately fulfill our prayer, but the saint has a different mode of access to God. The saints take our prayers and make them more pleasing and acceptable to God, then they present them to him on our behalf. God then responds to our prayer in the most fitting way, often returning his response with the saintly messenger who brought the request to him.

The Gospel today confirms this way of understanding intercession. Jesus is the intercessor for humanity. Only through Jesus will we be able to reach the Father. Even the saints must ask for Jesus to present their prayers to the Father, as no one can go to the Father except through Jesus. Philip had difficulty recognizing this reality. His desire to see the Father was good, but he did not realize that the road to the Father was standing right in front of him. Despite all the miracles that Jesus had done, and all the wisdom that Jesus had taught, Philip still couldn’t connect the dots.

Both Philip and James struggled, at times, to understand the meaning of all the signs and wonders that God worked—even those that God worked through them. Eventually, they figured it out and told everyone around them by spreading the Gospel message: Jesus will lead us to the Father and, God-willing, to our eternal reward, because Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. After Philip and James figured it out, amazing things happened. Philip cast out demons and healed the sick. James was the Bishop of Jerusalem and wrote one of the letters of the New Testament. Both were martyred for their faith, but they were happy to do so, because they had put their trust in Jesus to take them with him to the Father, even in death.

Let us all remember that Jesus is the way to the Father, and if we are having a difficult time understanding that Jesus is the way, let us ask the saints to help us in ways we cannot help ourselves.

Today’s Readings: 1 Cor 15:1-8; Ps 19:2-3, 4-5; Jn 14:6-14