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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2ND SUNDAY OF EASTER: THE COMMUNITY OF RESURRECTION

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The second Sunday of Easter is called by many names. First, it is called the Octave Day of Easter since it is the eight day after Easter. It is also called Thomas Sunday because of the story of Thomas in the gospel today. It also called Quasimodo Sunday and Quasimodogeniti.[1] On 30 April 2000, it was also designated as Divine Mercy Sunday by Pope John Paul II.

Eight days have passed since Easter and we have 40 more days to go to celebrate and ponder on the meaning of Jesus’ and our resurrection. Are we living as a community of the resurrection?

The readings for today’s second Sunday of Easter reflect on the qualities of a living community of the resurrection. Our readings today give a lot of clues.

First clue: The Community as Signs and Wonders of God

In the first reading we hear about how the early Christian communities witnessed the resurrection. Let’s hear it directly from Luke in his book the Acts of the Apostles

Many signs and wonders were done among the people
at the hands of the apostles.
They were all together in Solomon’s portico.
None of the others dared to join them, but the people esteemed them.
Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord,
great numbers of men and women, were added to them.

The early church after the resurrection of Jesus performed many signs and wonders through the leadership of the apostles. The apostles continued the divinely empowered ministry of Jesus (soon to be illustrated by the healing of the lame man through Peter and John [Acts 3ff]).

Because of this, new converts were “added.” It was God who added them; it was not the Church that added new members. The new converts did not become members on their own, but God brought them into the redeemed community.

Second Clue: Living the Resurrection not as Individuals but as a Community 

It is always heartwarming to hear that Jesus died and resurrected for me. But Jesus died and resurrected not for you and me alone or exclusively for you and me. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are redeemed not as private individuals but as an individuals interconnected with one another, in other words, as a community.

The apostles after the resurrection, did not go on their own but gathered and lived together as a community. After the resurrection, they were able to regain their strength because they came out of isolation and regroup. Although each of them had their own mission territory to go to, they never saw their mission as individual mission but the mission of the whole body of Christ.

Our faith, the Judeo-Christian faith has always been a community affair. At the Exodus from Egypt it was not an individual, nor a group of individuals, but a community, a people, which was delivered from slavery and led to the promised land. The Old Testament is not primarily concerned with the relationships between YHWH and individual Israelites, but with the relationship between YHWH and Israel. The very work ekklesia which the New Testament uses for ‘church’ comes from the Greek Old Testament where it is used to describe the whole ‘assembly’ of Israel.

Third Clue: A community forgiven and redeemed by Jesus also forgives and redeem others in Jesus’ name.

After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples were still living in fear and despair. In the evening of Easter, the disciples were huddled in the cenacle afraid to go out because they are terrified of the Jews (John 20:19). The disciples were perhaps thinking that, if they had done this to our beloved master, how much more to us, his ordinary disciples.

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews…

Then suddenly,

Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them,
‘Peace be with you’ ” (Jn 20:19).

The first words of the risen Jesus was “Shalom”–peace! The disciples betrayed, abandoned, and denied Jesus during the time that he needed them most—in his hour of passion, suffering and death.  Despite their cowardice and disloyalty, Jesus unconditionally forgave them. He does not complain or demand an apology. He simply offers peace, no vengeance and holding of grudges. What an act of unconditional forgiveness and unwavering friendship!

The risen Jesus passed through the walls and doors of the locked cenacle. This shows that Jesus’ love and forgiveness will traverse any walls of apathy, betrayal and fear. The resurrection will triumph over any hatred and animosity.

This is the reason why St. John Paul II declared this Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday.  God’s mercy is infinitely rich and no amount of human transgressions and obstinacy can stop it from being given to all humanity and God’s creation. The responsorial psalm of today’s liturgy proclaims this theme of mercy. In Psalm 118 we sing, “His mercy endures forever.”

As Jesus has forgiven the disciples, he empowered his disciples to pass on the gift of peace to others. The community of resurrection must be a community of healing and forgiveness. He said to them,

Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Fourth Clue: Faith amidst Doubt

This Sunday is unfortunately remembered as the the story of doubting Thomas. This is in reference to the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles, until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross.

While Thomas expressed doubt, when confronted with the resurrected Jesus, he was one of the apostles who proclaimed the strongest expression of faith with his statement “My Lord and my God” (John 20: 28). He was also one of the apostles who travelled the most in proclaiming the gospel. Tradition maintains that he founded churches in Mesopotamia, Ethiopia and even in India. Tradition also maintained that he died a martyred death there. Perhaps, the doubt of Thomas has made him a stronger and more passionate apostle.

Jesus’ response to Thomas’ declaration of faith was a recognition of the faith of the thousands of generation after the apostles who have come to believe despite not seeing Jesus.

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.’ (Jn 20:29)

We have not seen with our eyes the resurrection of Jesus but we are blessed because we all have believe!  Walking by faith and not by sight is an important mark of the community of the Risen One. This does not mean, however, that we have not experienced doubt in our faith. It rather means that despite our doubts and lack of faith, we continue to follow the Risen Lord and live the new life that he has bestowed upon us.

The heightening of doubt pretty much reflects today’s ethos. There is proliferation of fake news which make us skeptical about the truth across all topics – culture, politics, science and religion. We live in a time of skepticism and doubt that like the apostles of the the early church, believing entails sacrifice of time, talent and even of our very life.  The community of the Risen Lord continue to uphold God’s love, life and goodness despite all the doubt and despair in the world today.

Fifth Clue: A Community Transformed and Sent

The risen Lord having forgiven his disciples, empowered them to spread God’s mercy to others and immediately sent them.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

The resurrection of Jesus transformed the disciples from a bunch of cowards to a band of brave men who preached the Gospel all over the Mediterranean and confidently faced death, some by crucifixion also. Peter, Paul and most of the Apostles suffered the same fate as Jesus. They were persecuted and martyred because they were continuing what Jesus had started – going against a heartless culture and caring for those in need.

As we continue our journey in Easter, let us continue to receive strength from the Risen Lord so that we may continue to be an Easter people.

Let me end with the opening prayer in the mass today:

God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Amen. Alleluiah, Alleluiah, Alleluiah.

 


 

[1] The name Quasimodo came from the Latin text of the traditional Introit for this day, which begins “Quasi modo geniti infantes…” from 1 Peter 2:2, roughly translated as “As newborn babes desire the rational milk without guile…”. from Catholic Encyclopedia listing for Low Sunday.

The Shrine and Peace Building Today

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This September 21, the shrine joins the whole world in the celebration of the International Day of Peace.

In 1981 the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 36/67 declaring an International Day of Peace. In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a new resolution 55/282 declaring 21 September of each year as the International Day of Peace. The resolution declares,

“The International Day of Peace shall henceforth be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day…”

Indeed, the World Day of Peace serves to inspire people to embrace compassion, to respect life and to live in harmony with one another. Peace on earth can only become a reality when all people rise above national boundaries, politics, religion and ideologies. We need to celebrate our cultural diversities rather than using them as a reason for conflict.

Peace is an essential element of our life as Christians and devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  Peace is one of the chief teachings of Jesus:

“I leave you peace, my peace I give you.”

The peace that Jesus gave us is different from the peace that the world gives. Jesus’ peace is borne out of justice and inclusive embrace of all people especially the poor, the marginalized, the weak, and the abandoned. As followers of Jesus we are called to be vigorous witnesses and advocates of Jesus’ peace.

To be advocates of peace in our country today is to stand up for life and strongly protest the unabated killings that is a daily occurrence in our country today.  Most of the recent spate of killings is in line with the government’s war on drugs for which the main victims are the poor. On the other hand, rich drug lords and politicians coddlers of drug suppliers are given the full extent of the due process of law.

Suspected poor addicts and pushers are not the only targets of killing. Political activists, journalists, church people, clergy and Lumads (tribal Filipinos) have also become victims of extra-judicial killings.  Extra-judicial killing has no place in a civilized democratic society.  No one should be killed just because one’s political conviction is different from mine.  The continuous killings makes a mockery of our democratic and Christian society.

As Christians and devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help committed to peace building, we need to condemn the utter loss of respect for the dignity of life and human rights. We are utterly distressed that in a Christian country like ours, the killings is tolerated, even supported. As peace makers we need to question what kind of society have we become, what kind of people have we become? Our country has turned into a big killing field. Death is the order of the day. A culture of killing with impunity is the new normality. To add insult to injury, a culture of silence and a climate of fear has prevailed. In the midst of the daily killings, many people go on with their lives, show no empathy to the victims and accept the government war on drugs as necessary evil.

As devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help dedicated to peace building, it is our urgent moral calling in today’s critical times to resist the killings, defend democracy, uphold human rights and stand up for life.

Through the intercession of our Mother of Perpetual Help, may we obtain the strength to achieve peace in our society today. Like Mary, may we proclaim Jesus, the prince of peace, through our words and action of peace beginning within our family, community, parish and the whole society.