Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)

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Jesus instructs the remaining eleven (11) Apostles in the "Upstairs Room" - 
by DUCCIO di Buoninsegna - from Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena

 

Acts 1:12-14

After Jesus was taken up into the heavens, the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet near Jerusalem, a mere sabbath's journey away. Entering the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying: Peter and John and James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alpheus; Simon, the Zealot party member, and Judas son of James. Together they devoted themselves to constant prayer. There were some women in their company and Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.

1Peter 4:13-16

It is a blessing for you when they insult you for bearing the name of Christ. Rejoice, insofar as you share Christ's sufferings. When His glory is revealed you will rejoice exultantly. Happy are you when you are insulted for the sake of Christ, for then God's Spirit in Its glory has come to rest on you. See to it that none of you suffers for being a murderer, a thief, a malefactor, or a destroyer of another's rights. If anyone suffers for being a Christian, however, he ought not be ashamed. He should rather glorify God in virtue of that name.

John 17:1-11

Jesus looked up to Heaven and said:

"Father, the hour has come! Give glory to Your Son that Your Son may give glory to You, inasmuch as You have given Him authority over all mankind, that He may bestow eternal life on those You gave Him. (Eternal life is this: to know You, the only true God, and Him Whom You have sent, Jesus Christ.) I have given You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave Me to do. Do you now, Father, give Me glory at Your side, a glory I had with You before the world began. I have made Your name known to those You gave Me out of the world. These men You gave Me were yours; they have kept Your word. Now they realize that all that You gave Me comes from You. I entrusted to them the message You entrusted to Me, and they received it. They have known that in truth I came from You, they have believed it was You Who sent Me.

"For these I pray --- not for the world but for these You have given Me, for they are really Yours. (Just as all that belongs to Me is Yours, so all that belongs to You is Mine.) It is in them that I have been glorified. I am in the world no more, but these are in the world as I come to You."

 

 

Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)

by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.

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crucifixion3.jpg (1600 bytes) We are quickly coming to the conclusion of the Easter Season. Last ascension.jpg (36004 bytes) Thursday, we celebrated the feast of Christ’s return to His Father, the Ascension. Next Sunday, we celebrate the great outpouring of the Spirit on the Church, the Feast of Pentecost. I’d like to try to summarize what I feel the entire season of Easter has been trying to put us in touch with during these Seven Sundays. The same basic event has been the focus of each of these Sundays. We focus on that moment in the life of Jesus, the mysterious period of time He spent with His disciples following His Resurrection. It’s clear that Jesus was not a man interested in great numbers. With His charismatic personality and power, with His ability to perform miracles, Jesus could have gathered together thousands of people who were ready to follow Him. But Jesus didn’t seem to want to concentrate so much on the crowds. Instead, Jesus concentrated His attention on just a few. As He was leaving this world, it was very important for Jesus to have a group of people who really understood what He was saying so that they could pass it on. Jesus wanted to plant the seed deep inside of them so He would be certain it was growing. What I find fascinating is that the eleven disciples weren’t really very successful at the end of three years of Jesus’ teaching. They saw and experienced so much during this time with Jesus, and yet, when it came to His death, they were frightened and shattered by what was happening. They scattered. Evidently, a three-year retreat with Jesus wasn’t enough. John and the women were the only ones who hung in there.

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The Incredulity of Saint Thomas - 
by CARAVAGGIO -
from Sanssouci,  Potsdam

Jesus came back to the disciples after His death, giving them a short, intense, course of forty days. Jesus spent time with them, speaking again of everything He had already explained to them. He gave them proof after proof that He was truly Who He said He was. He explained that He truly was the Jesus Who had spent time with them, now transformed through His pain and His suffering. I’ve often envied these men. Think of what it would be like to have this kind of experience with a religious Teacher Who would reveal all kinds of insights given by God. Then, this Teacher would do something extraordinary: Dying, but rising. Having the ability to walk through doors with a post-resurrection body. Revealing wounds, but not bleeding. Letting us probe the wounds as Jesus allowed the disciples. This would be an extraordinary experience. At the end of this experience, we would be so clearly convinced it would almost seem as if faith were unnecessary. The disciples were given all of these proofs. And yet, they still had doubts and fears. This is an interesting revelation of the way in which Jesus wants to work with our weakness. Jesus wants us to believe. Jesus wants His disciples to be certain. Thomas, the one who doubted the longest, finally says, “My Lord and my God. I understand Who You really are.” The Ascension reveals Jesus returning to the Father. Before He does so, He wants the disciples to understand that He is leaving them with a seed, the heart of the message. They must share this message with their brothers and sisters. I don’t know if we can go this far, but I suspect that Jesus must have been a little nervous. He must have been afraid that the message He was leaving with the disciples might end up being a little distorted. Jesus wants to make sure the disciples understand.

God works through Jesus, convincing people of what they need to share with oneHolySpirit_small.gif (21176 bytes) another. We could take this as a reminder of two things: The work of the Spirit in the Feast of Pentecost has the goal of trying to make everything clear to us. The Spirit is an Advocate, a Helper, a Teacher, Who stays with us and works with us. Christ promises this source that lives inside each and every one of us.

The second facet of the ministry of Jesus stresses the importance of our being convinced. I mean really convinced. Absolutely certain of two things:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Who Jesus really is.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) That He really comes from the Father.

Jesus is not just talking to us about His human insights into a tradition that had been around for a long time. It’s not an insight perhaps colored by Jesus’ own wants, needs or background. No, this is the One Who comes from the Father. It’s important for us to know that Jesus is the One giving us the fullness of the message. Jesus is going back to the Father, where He will have a certain authority. He will be placed over all things in the universe. This gives us the sense that there is a benevolent power, a power stronger than every other power that is able to work with us and all of the situations in the world to bring about the kingdom. The kingdom is a way of describing a life that is full, rich and meaningful. We are in the world for a reason. We have to do what we are called to do in order to fulfill our destiny. That is the kingdom. This is a wonderful image of Jesus saying, “I am the truth. I am engaged in a work with you that has meaning and purpose.

In the gospel from John (17:1-11), we find a wonderful statement about the mission of Jesus. He is talking to the Father about His mission, saying, “You know, I’ve done it. We’ve really done it together.He makes these statements right before He ascends to the Father, stressing the point to His disciples so that they will understand what has been done and what they are being asked to do. What Jesus is really saying is this: “You have done an extraordinary thing through Me, and the glory goes to You, God. I am glorifying You because I am an instrument of Your presence in the world. What I am giving to these people is an indication of how much god_is_luv_ani.gif (9754 bytes)You love. And how much You want to help people and give them the truth.” That is the glory of the Father. The glory of the Father is His incredible interest in you and me. Why would God bother? Why would He pay attention to one life, among the billions of lives? I don’t know why. That’s the Father’s glory — that He cares about every single individual, and He wants each and every person to be convinced of the truth so that we might enter into this wonderful process called knowing God. Knowing what it’s all about. Knowing the Father, in Jesus’ own words, is the same as possessing life. Jesus is saying that when we know the Father, we experience life. We have this Father Who is gloriously interested in offering you and me life. He gives life to us. He asks two things of us: Stay close to the truth, which means staying close to the Father, and stay close to each other. I was thinking about this when I was preparing this homily. Religion is a wonderful thing, but it can get so easily sidetracked. How far away religion can move from the heart of the message. Jesus was speaking to His disciples right before He left them. He was giving them the challenge of creating Church. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus never took the time to say, “This is the way I want you to worship Me. I want everyone to be at Mass on Sunday. Mass starts with this prayer. Then you move on to this prayer and the readings. Then you have communion, the sign of peace, and then you leave. I want to make sure that everybody belongs to a parish. These are the boundaries and the laws. Oh, and by the way, these are the moral codes I want you to follow. I want you to make sure you never do this and never do that.

Why didn’t Jesus do that? That’s the way religion often has a tendency to present Jesus. Our religion often tells us that this is what it means to be a Baptist, a Lutheran, a Methodist, a Catholic. This is what it means to be of the Jewish tradition. Religion specifies all of the things we are supposed to do and the way we are supposed to worship. It’s interesting that Jesus begs His disciples to be “of one mind. He wants them to preserve unity among them. What does God think of all of us today who carry the name of Jesus in our hearts and say we are His followers, and yet, we hate each other due to denominational differences? Or we feel threatened by each other because of denominational differences? Or we don’t feel comfortable with each other because of denominational differences? What a tragedy! Isn’t it interesting that at the heart of the work Jesus gives to us is a relationship. It’s all about a relationship. It’s all about us knowing God, what He stands for and what He asks of each of us, knowing why He has created the world as it is, understanding that suffering is part of the process in order to get to the place of wholeness and fullness. All of these images Jesus has given to us are the core issues. We are to be engaged in a process that seems mysterious at times, but nevertheless that has a meaning and a purpose. We enter into that. We stay connected. If we are involved in this relationship with Christ, we are basically people who offer each other life. And forgiveness.

 

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The Crucifixion - by GRÜNEWALD, Matthias - from Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar

 

Forgiveness is that major teaching of Christ that tells us we are to give life to people whether they deserve it or not. We are there for the purpose of giving, not for judging or holding back from someone. The ultimate meaning of forgiveness is that we are always willing to overlook someone’s performance in order to give them what they need, in order to bring life. It seems to me that we should take this season of Easter as an opportunity to examine our own focus, especially in our spiritual lives. Is the focus primarily on the formulas that we have learned from religion? Is the focus on the way in which we, in our own particular denominations, do things? Certainly, the differences are important to each denomination. There is a certain identity resident in our denominational differences. I’m not trying to say that those aren’t important to the religion itself. I’m simply trying to ask if we, as Christians when we gather together, would be able to feel more unified. That’s what Jesus wants. That’s the prayer that Jesus is offering for the Church at the end of His ministry. He wants so much for us to be connected together — loving, offering life to each other. Every time I hear a news report from Northern Ireland, I have to ask myself, “How is it that people of different denominational lines can be fighting each other because of those differences? Do they not hear this prayer of Jesus? Do they not understand the environment Jesus is trying to create in the world, where God is given glory for being the sign and source of our unity?

unithand.gif (2718 bytes) We give God the glory by supporting each other, recognizing Him as the source of unity. It’s through God’s help and power that we are able to do everything. We can follow the rules of religion without ever opening ourselves up to the Spirit. We can submit to ritual, feeling that we are doing what God has asked. We can do all of this, and still not do the essential work that Jesus prays for at the end of His life. If Jesus really wanted to emphasize doctrine and ritual as the most important thing, then I believe He would have given lists to His disciples as He departed this world. Instead, Jesus gave them the challenge to submit to the mysterious process of a loving, glorious God Who wants more than anything else to simply give life to people. As we conclude the Season of Easter, celebrating the feast of Pentecost next week, we will then enter into Ordinary Time of the church year.

That’s a time when we review all of the different facets of our faith. It is ordinary in the sense of our returning to the essential challenges of the gospel and how we look at the different facets. The Church sees the feast and season of Easter as the most essential, not simply because we celebrate the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and won redemption for us. We celebrate these Sundays of Easter because of the teaching that puts us in touch with the heart of the message. As we go on with the ordinary work of our Christian lives, we will stay focused on the goals Jesus wants us truly to keep in mind.

 

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