(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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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?
Today’s Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Ps 33:1-2, 45, 18-19; Jn 6:16-21