6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: THE HOLY SPIRIT, GIFT OF THE RISEN CHRIST

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

One of the hardest yet rewarding experiences in our lives is having to say goodbye to somebody we love or bidding farewell to a beautiful experience we have become used to. We experience this in the departure of somebody we deeply love whether he/she is going away for a long time or for good. We experience this on our first day at school when we need to say goodbye to the experience of merely playing and staying at home with our folks. We experience this after graduation in High School, when we have to separate ways with our classmates. We experience this when somebody very close to our heart is dying and trying to console and letting him/her go.

Painful as they may be, yet these experiences has helped us to grow and become stronger. Much as we wanted to spend longer time with our loved ones, it just couldn’t be. So we try our best to become the best persons that we are, thinking that they whom we love are not gone and are not separated from us but always with us. Their abiding presence has become an inspiration, advocate, comfort, consolation and help.

In today’s gospel of the 6th Sunday of Easter, Jesus was bidding goodbye to his disciples. Imagine the emotional turmoil inside the disciples; in a short while they will no longer see the face of their master. Perhaps the disciples were asking: What are we going to do without Jesus? Who’s gonna guide us now? Can we continue the mission of Jesus all alone by ourselves?

In this state of emotional distress, Jesus assured them that they are not alone; he will not abandon them and that he will always be with them. How can this be? He and his Father will send them the Holy Spirit.

We remember that in John’s Gospel, the risen Christ conveys the gift of the Spirit to his disciples on Easter Sunday evening. The Spirit is, as in Paul’s letters, the gift of the risen Christ. In the gift of the Spirit, the risen Christ and the Father come and make their home with the disciples. The Spirit will be the continued presence of Jesus on earth after Jesus’ departure to heaven (Jn 14:12, 16). Jesus said,

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.

When the disciples receive and allow the Holy Spirit to make home into their lives, the Spirit will not convey new revelations, but will unfold in ever new understanding, interpretation, and application the once-for-all revelation of Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s work will more than reminisce the exact words of Jesus; it will be a living representation of all that Jesus had spoken to his disciples, a creative remembrance of the gospel.

This ongoing work of the Spirit will give the disciples peace and takes away their fear, because the Spirit is always there as their helper who stands by them especially during the challenging times of persecution and martyrdom.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

The First Reading shows us an example of the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of the presence of the Holy Spirit as an Advocate who will teach and remind the community after his departure. This passage is sometimes called the “Council of Jerusalem,” the first council of the church which dealt with the first major crisis of the early Church. In this passage we see how the early church was led by the Holy Spirit in decision-making.

Luke reports that some Judean people came to the Christians at Antioch to tell them that the gentile converts could not be saved unless they were circumcised. The Judaeans were worried that the traditional practices were being altered by the church at Antioch, and they were exercising themselves in behalf of the tradition.

The elders of the church acknowledge that they face a problem for which no extant policy offers a clear solution; so they decided to deal with this as a community by calling a meeting of the leadership (“apostles and presbyters”). They carefully looked back into their experience. Peter rehearses his experience of being drawn into the Gentile mission through the remarkable conversion of Cornelius and his household. Then Paul and Barnabas describe “the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them” (Acts 15:12).

The assembly then interprets their experience of God working through them by looking to the longer experience of the community embodied in its Scriptures. This is exemplified by James’ citing a passage from the prophet Amos (Amos 9:11-12; the Greek version), which implies two stages in God’s plan for Israel: (1) the restoration of the people of Israel (“rebuild the fallen hut of David”) and (2) the ingathering of the Gentiles (“so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord, even all the Gentiles”).

The conclusion that the Jerusalem council reached was that the mission to the Gentiles is the will of God, and that they ought to do all in their power to cooperate with this divine initiative. The apostles rebuke the Judaeans by telling them what the decision of the Holy Spirit is: circumcision is not required for salvation. The decision about what is required for salvation is the Lord’s.  Thus, the Judaeans were actually opposed to the mind of the Lord. Likewise, they decided on a policy that both honors the tradition and adjusts to changing circumstances; they asked of Gentile converts only that they keep the minimal “rules for resident aliens” indicated in Leviticus (regarding marriages to relatives, food associated with idolatry, and improper slaughtering).

Finally, they boldly spoke of this very human process (reflection on experience and interpretation in the light of tradition) as “the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.”

Through this experience, we saw how the Spirit of God was at work through the very human processes of decision-making in our Church. This experience taught the church  to take seriously both our present experience and tradition. Our hierarchies, traditions, teachings, and laws all help us remember. The traditions and structures of the church, however, should not lead us to close our eyes to the working of the Spirit in the world and the situation especially of the poor and the needy today. We need to continue to be obedient to the Holy Spirit by not remaining close-in within ourselves. As Pope Francis told catechists gathered in Rome in 2013,

What I want to say now, I have already said many times before, but it comes from my heart … When we Christians are closed in our group, in our movement, in our parish, in our own environment, we remain closed and what happens to us is what happens to whatever remains closed: when a room is closed the odor of humidity gathers. … A Christian … remains closed and becomes ill.

Pope Francis, International Congress on Catechesis, Vatican City, September 28, 2013

Jesus calls us today, to say yes to the Spirit, to go wherever the Spirit blows. By this, we will know that Jesus is with us, just as a sheep know the voice of their shepherd. In knowing Jesus, we will know the presence of the Father.

The risen Christ has not abandoned us, his disciples, the church at all times. The Holy Spirit, the bond of the love of the Father and the Son, continues to lead and guide all peoples and the church towards the final fulfillment of God’s kingdom.

 

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5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: THE NEWNESS OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION

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Photo by Cerqueira on Unsplash

The resurrection of Jesus brought about a profound sense of newness. It inaugurated new ways, new lifestyles, new vision, new values and attitudes. At the same time, the resurrection of Jesus, entailed a different path, a different lifestyle, a different community, a different religion from the one that people have become used to. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus is the very reason for the birth of Christianity. If not for the resurrection, Christianity would not have been born as a new religion separate from Judaism.

In the first reading of today’s 5th Sunday of Easter, from the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch after they proclaimed the good news to many cities and made a considerable number of disciples. When they came home to the community of Antioch in Syria, they were “commended to the grace of God for the work they had now accomplished.”

Tradition holds that the first gentile (non-Jews) church was founded in Antioch (Acts 11:20-21). It was from Antioch that St. Paul started on his missionary journeys. More significantly, it is in Antioch that the disciples of Jesus Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-26).

Why were they called Christians? They were called Christians because they were different. At the same time, they lived their faith in a new way. Unlike the traditional Jews who were mainly legalistic and exclusive, the disciples of Jesus Christ embraced and welcome everyone, Jews and gentiles alike, not just the rich but most especially the poor and ordinary people. They proclaimed not only in word but much more in deed, practising what they preach and living as communities which became models of communion and fellowship.

The second reading, from the book of Revelation, proclaims the radical newness of the world that God will established at the end of times. This is the fulfillment of the new world which is contained in the promise of the resurrection of Jesus. “See, I make all things new,” says the One who sat on the throne. The second reading is about a vision of a new earth, a new Jerusalem, in which “there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away.”

The new Jerusalem will be made up of people who love one another. People will not watch in this holy city as their brothers and sisters languish in poverty and hunger, nor will they attack each other in various forms of inhumane treatment, torture, and war. This whole new world – “a new heaven and a new earth,” “new Jerusalem,” – is the ultimate fruit of living the resurrection of Jesus.

The Gospel reading from John’s account of the Last Supper represents the heart of what is going on in the Christian mission flowing from Easter. Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus’ love for them and their imitation of Jesus’ love for each other will be the deepest form of evangelization: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34).

The “newness” of this command is difficult to specify. The command to love is found everywhere in the Bible, not just in the New Testament but Old Testament as well. In his farewell address to Esau and Jacob, for example, Isaac commanded: “Be loving of your brothers as a man loves himself, with each man seeking for his brother what is good for him . . . loving each other as themselves” (The Book of Jubilees 36:4-5). Similar sentiments are also found in the New Testament (1 Th 4:9; Rm 13:9; Gal 5:14; Mk 12:31).

What is evident in all these passages, however, is that love is extended only to other members of the inner circle, the community, and not to those outside. Whereas, God’s love that Jesus commanded to the disciples to imitate is spontaneous, unmotivated, directed to sinners and others unworthy of love. Israel experienced this love of old (Dt 7:6-8). In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s love is known in a totally new dimension.

Jesus’ new commandment to love calls us to love to the extent and in the manner Jesus loved us. Our love is to be the self-sacrificing love of Jesus. It is a love that embraces all, those who are different from us, even our enemies. It is this kind of love which brings Jesus glory. It is this kind of love which brings God glory. It is this kind of love which enables us to share in that same glory.

As Jesus commanded his disciples, he commands us now, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

How do we measure up to Jesus’ commandment today?

4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER: HEARING JESUS’ VOICE

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from https://legacyicons.com/christ-the-good-shepherd-icon-x120/

Tomorrow, May 13, 2019, more than 60 million Filipinos will go to the polls for the synchronized local and national elections. COMELEC  says that there are 61,843,750 registered voters in the Philippines alone in 2019. 1,822,173 more are registered to vote from overseas.

During the campaign, people heard different voices from thousands of candidates but with one common refrain: You guessed it right, “I will serve you with all of my heart.” Each of the candidates promised to serve up to the last breath of their lives. No, the candidates said, this is not about money, power, politics, influence or status, it’s all about service. The people, however, are sick and tired of these words from the candidates, that sometimes they wonder, whether elections still matter; whether it will make a difference if they vote for this or that candidate.

In today’s fourth Sunday of Easter, also called Good Shepherd Sunday, we listen to the voice of Jesus:

“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.”

In Jerusalem during Jesus’ times, there was only one sheepfold (the pen for sheep). Various flocks would arrive along with their respective shepherds and send all the sheep into it. This made for a rather large herd overall, and there wasn’t a practice of branding or marking in order to tell one from the other.  How then could each shepherd reclaim his own sheep?

There were two ways: First, the shepherd knew them by heart. Sometimes he had a special name for each character in the flock. And second, the sheep themselves recognized their master’s voice immediately. When he called out, they simply got to their feet and came with him, through the sheep-gate.

Christians have a very intimate relationship with Christ in the same way that the shepherd and the sheep have a very close relationship with each other.  Christians are the sheep of Christ the Good Shepherd. As sheep we follow only one good shepherd–Jesus Christ. As sheep, however, we not only have an intimate relationship with Christ, the good shepherd, but also with fellow sheep of the flock. To be a sheep is not just about me and Jesus but also about me and my brothers and sisters just like in a real-life situation of a herd of sheep. As sheep we are not alone and we feel secure in the company of fellow sheep. When we get separated from the flock, like a lost sheep, our lives is in danger. Thus, we belong to one sheepfold called the Church.

As the sheep of Christ the Good Shepherd, today’s fourth Sunday of Easter, offers us three challenges today: First, to hear the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, secondly, to follow the true good shepherd which is Jesus Christ and thirdly, to shepherd one another especially the least and most abandoned just like Christ shepherded us.

  1. Hearing the Voice of Jesus

In today’s world, there are many voices who compete for our attention. To whose voice do we listen? Many of us are attracted to many voices in the world today because often times they offer us instant gratification and solutions to our problems. Only in the long run, we realize that they bring us to our own perdition instead of redemption.

As sheep of his flock,  we are to recognize the voice of Jesus, the good shepherd. Do we recognize the voice of Jesus from among these many voices?

We can only recognize the voice of Jesus in the world today if we have a very close relationship with Jesus. We can discern who among from the many different voices we hear in the world today truly reflects the voice of Jesus. In this process of discernment, we cannot do this alone. That is why we have one another–fellow sheep in the common sheepfold of the church–to guide and support us in recognizing and listening to the voice of Jesus in the world today.

Most of all, however, we have the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus and God the Father, to be our advocate and guide in listening and following the voice of Jesus. Pope Francis affirms that we can recognize Jesus’ voice among all the other “voices” only through the Holy Spirit.

We can study the whole history of salvation, we can study the whole of Theology, but without the Spirit we cannot understand. It is the Spirit that makes us realize the truth or—in the words of Our Lord—it is the Spirit that makes us know the voice of Jesus. Jesus, the Good Pastor, says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.” Pope Francis, 4/25/2015

But hearing is not just passive hearing. Hearing becomes passive when we go to mass every Sunday, listen to the readings and the homily, but after the mass, there is no change in our attitudes and values. We go back to our old ways and do the things we have been used to all over again, even if it is enslaving, wrong and detrimental.

Thus, hearing the voice of Jesus entails personal transformation where the good news of Jesus penetrates our deepest core and transform us. It also entails doing, applying in our lives and proclaiming the good news that we have heard from Jesus.

In the first reading, from the book of Acts, Luke tells of the preaching of Paul and Barnabas at Pisidian Antioch during the so-called first missionary journey. The pattern of events is typical and is repeated in many cities during the missionary journeys: the apostles preach in the synagogue; a certain number of Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism believe, while others reject the message and stir up opposition against the apostles, who then declare their intention of turning to the Gentiles.

The proclamation of the Word of God has no promise of success, but the Word must be proclaimed whether people hear or refuse to hear (Ez 3:5). What matters is that the word is proclaimed faithfully. This matters even more than that it should be made to seem relevant by artificial stunts and gimmicks.

2. Following the Good Shepherd who is Jesus

During the Biblical times, there were good as well as bad shepherds. Many of Israel’s rulers became bad shepherds. They did no care for the people the way they should have. In Ezekiel 34:2-4, for example, God says:

“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled over them harshly and brutally.”

This is God’s charge against the Pharisee, the cult leader, and the false teacher: that God entrusted them with his own flock, but they betrayed this trust to please themselves at the cost of the flock’s own well-being.

Today we hear of cult leaders and even our own church and public leaders who lived in splendor while their followers barely scrape together money to send them. Several false teachers boast massive houses, expensive cars, and private helicopters. Some have even been accused of sexual and physical abuse!

These are the thieves and the robbers that Jesus refers to in John 10:1. Instead of entering through the door, these individuals try to lure the sheep to them by twisting the scripture. They do not come to care for the sheep; they come to care for themselves.

Jesus said,

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”      (John 10:11)

Jesus sacrifices his own life for the sheep. He is truly selfless. The false teacher sacrifices the sheep for his own life.

There are many shepherds in our world today. Whose shepherd are we following? Who are the good shepherds in our world today who reflects the value of service and sacrifice of Jesus?

This can be a very good guideline as we go to the polls tomorrow. Who among the candidates truly reflects the image of Jesus as good shepherd? Who are the bad and good shepherds from among the candidates?

3. Being good shepherds to one another

Following the good shepherd we are also called to be good shepherd to one another; we are called to shepherd each other. To be in the sheepfold of Jesus is to participate in the ‘shepherdness’ of Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we are called to shepherd one another, to search for the lost and the lonely, to care for the most abandoned, to protect the vulnerable and to defend the poor and the oppressed.

The image of the good shepherd is a call for us to proclaim Jesus’ values and attitudes of service and inclusiveness amidst the world’s vying for power, domination and position. As Easter people we are called to exercise our prophetic stance in the political arena by proclaiming Jesus, the good shepherd, in word and in deed. As Easter people we are called to be the “light of the world” and “salt of the earth” by transforming the world in the light of the gospel.

We also celebrate today Vocation Sunday, a day to reflect, discover and recognize God’s calling in each one of us. Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, calls out especially the religious and clergy  to go out of the comforts of their convents and stay close to the marginalized and become “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.” The call to be a shepherd, however, is not just a call for the ordained and religious. It is a call for all the flock—we, the church, lay and ordained—are called to shepherd one another and have the smell of each other’s ‘sheepness’.

Why did Jesus ask Peter “Do you love me?” three times? — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture

While some authors have answered this question from a strictly spiritual point of view, the original Greek text of the Gospel provides further insights.

via Why did Jesus ask Peter “Do you love me?” three times? — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture

3RD SUNDAY OF EASTER: LIVING THE RESURRECTION – TENDING GOD’S SHEEP

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Do you love me?

The resurrection of Jesus is also about our own resurrection, when we rise up from our weaknesses, failures and sinfulness to embrace a new and victorious life. This is not much truer than in the case of Jesus’ apostles. From weak, fearful and insecure, the resurrection propelled the apostles to become bold, daring and zealous in proclaiming the good news of Jesus.

In the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John are arrested, hauled before the Sanhedrin, and ordered to cease preaching in the name of Jesus. The “Sanhedrin” said to Peter and the apostles, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name”?  In response to this expression of the highest authority in their Jewish lives, they assert boldly, “We must obey God rather than men.” Ever faithful to Jesus’ command to follow him, they even rejoiced that they were able to “suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” This is a tremendous gesture of defiance that has become an inspiration for the Church especially during the times of persecution.

The resurrection of Jesus provided the greatest opportunity for the apostles to abandon their immature ways and atone for the betrayal they committed to Jesus. This is most especially prominent in Peter’s life.

In the Gospel, the last of the resurrection appearance of Jesus in the gospels, Jesus appears to the disciples while they were catching fish–their old livelihood.  The Gospel scene hints at two failures: the fishermen coming back with no fish and Peter’s denial of Jesus before his death. Yet these failures became occasions for Jesus’ gift of abundance: a large catch of fish, a fuller love that would “glorify God.” Indeed, faithful discipleship is not measured by absence of failure, but by openness to casting one’s lot on Jesus’ commands, a recognition of God’s abundant gifts, and willingness to grow into new life.

John’s Gospel has two charcoal fire scenes. The first, in chapter 18, warms Peter in Caiaphas’ courtyard when, as predicted, he denies his master three times. Today’s Gospel presents the other charcoal fire, near which Jesus invites the denier to atone for his cowardice by confessing his love three times. Peter’s profession of love for Jesus three times is Peter’s atonement for his triple denial of Jesus. Love heals his sins and reunites him to Jesus.

Jesus, however, asks Peter to demonstrate his love for him by service to his people: “Feed my sheep, my lambs.” From love comes deeds, namely feeding and tending Jesus’ lambs and sheep. Loving Jesus is not just a personal relationship with Jesus but essentially overflows into loving and serving others–God’s flock. The lambs and sheep belong to Jesus, not Peter.

Jesus then predicts that Peter’s service will take him where he does not want to go. Peter truly became the kind of man exactly what Jesus envisioned him to be. Love transformed Peter to become the rock of the early church, a fearless proclaimer of the good news and glorifier of God up to his death.

A final paragraph of the gospel contains a prediction of Peter’s martyrdom. This is the earliest reference to that event and its only mention in the New Testament.

Jesus asks us today, like when he asked Peter: “Do you Love me?” Despite our sinfulness, like Peter, may we take the risk to say, “Lord, you know that I love you.” But not just in words but more importantly in action, let us prove our love for Jesus by helping to feed God’s lambs.

 

May 1: Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

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St. Joseph the Worker icon by Theophilia

As we celebrate International Workers’ Day or Labor Day today, the church honors St. Joseph the worker. St. Joseph adopted Jesus, the son of God as his own beloved son, and taught him how to be a man–a human being and a Jew–how to walk the earth with us.

To the people of Nazareth, Jesus was known as the son of a laborer, the son of the carpenter. Yes, God’s Son was born in a workman’s family. He learned the trade from Saint Joseph and spent his early adult years working side-by-side in Joseph’s carpentry shop before leaving to pursue his ministry as preacher and healer.

The first reading for the liturgy of today’s feast recounts the old Jewish myth of creation–in which God himself is seen as a worker, crafting the Universe in six days.  God gave us–-the human race–-the power to be stewards of God’s creation. This means that we too are to work to fulfil the potential of God creation.

As the Apostle Paul, a tentmaker says, we are all called to be God’s co-workers.  We are all called to be co-creators, using our God given dominion to do God’s work making this world more like heaven, and (now that Christ is ascended back to the Father) being Christ’s Body, doing his work on earth.

Thus, on this Feast of St Joseph the Worker, we acknowledge the importance of work in our lives.  Our church has always asserted the right to hold a productive and rewarding job as a fundamental human right.  Each breadwinner should be able to supply the needs of his family from the earnings of a meaningful job. As St. John Paul II asserted in Laborem Exercens,

The workers’ rights cannot be doomed to be the mere result of economic systems aimed at maximum profits. The thing which must shape the whole economy is respect for the workers’ rights within each country and all through the world’s economy. (Pope John Paul II, On Human Work, 1981, n. 17).

The shrine joins the whole world in giving honor to all the workers. The shrine has continuously upheld the dignity of labor and supported the cause of the workers from just wages to job security. Every Wednesday in the novena, devotees pray for workers and the dignity of work:

That we may proclaim the dignity of work by doing our own work conscientiously,
LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.
That we may work for the just distribution of this world’s goods,
LOVING MOTHER PRAY FOR US.

St. Joseph, pray for all our workers, that they may fulfill their dignity as co-workers in God’s creation.