Feast of Saint Mark, Evangelist
While it may be daunting to be faced by the roaring lion (the Devil), a believer should gain confidence from the underlying support that the Christian community can provide (I Peter 5:8-9). The writer of this letter recognizes that resisting can be overwhelming and asks the reader to “cast all [our] worries upon Him because He cares for you” (I Peter 5:7). At various times, especially when work is overbearing, family life is rupturing, or there seems to be no hope, we must remember that we always have an Advocate who yearns to have a relationship with each one of us. Today, try to take even ten seconds, to present your worries and anxieties to God.
As Jesuits, the road is often our home, meaning that wherever a Jesuit is, he is called to proclaim the Gospel to each person. This belief stems from Jesus’ opening command in the Gospel to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Yet, this is not just a Jesuit charism, but is a call for each Christian. As we are assisted by our Christian communities to resist the tricks of the Devil, it is the Lord who can provide us with strength to proclaim the Word of God.
Friday of the Third Week of Easter
Everyone has a conversion at some point in his or her lives whether it occurs from a conversation with a high school professor, a service trip in college, a job change, or even in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Saul experiences his radical conversion in what should have been a routine journey to Damascus to find believers of the Way. The light, dialogue with Jesus, and ensuing three-day blindness (Acts 9:3-9) presented such a full transformation for him that he changed his name from Saul to Paul and became one of the greatest missionaries for the Christian Church.
Through today’s reading, we find out that Saul’s persecution of Christians affected the Christian community by directly attacking her heart. In addition to attacking individuals, Saul’s persecution of Christians was also a directly attacking against Christ, Himself (cf. Matthew 25:40, 45). Ananias even acknowledges Saul’s bad reputation among the Christian community by telling the Lord how fearful he is of Saul (Acts 9:13-14). Yet the Lord assures him that Saul is “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Indeed, after being divinely commissioned, Paul will go on to write seven letters and possibly more proclaiming “what Christ has accomplished through [him] to lead Gentiles to obedience by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, [and] by the spirit [of God] (Romans 15:18-19). May we, at the end of this week, continue on in the missionary spirit of Paul to proclaim that Gospel to all people!
Thursday of the Third Week of Easter
Continuing in the Easter tradition, we hear of the Ethiopian eunuch who was so moved by Philip’s words describing Jesus that he wanted to become Christian. For cradle Catholics, it might be easy to forget why we are hold to the truths of the Church, but for those who came into the Church through RCIA, there is a wonderful transformation from sin and death into love and eternal life. It is through the eunuch that we get a beautiful story describing this transformation, for despite Philip being snatched away, the eunuch “continued on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). Jesus reiterates this point that true and eternal life is gained by those who partake in His Flesh (John 6:51). As we continue in this Easter season, let us continue to be on fire for Christ and spread this love to others!
An example of this love for Christ is also present in the memorial of Saint George, which the Roman Catholic Church recognizes today. Traditionally portrayed as a soldier on a horse thrusting a spear at a dragon, George served as a soldier under the pagan emperor Diocletian. After Diocletian issued an edict that soldiers must worship the Roman gods, George publically proclaimed his belief in Christ. Upset that one of his soldiers would resist, Diocletian had him tortured and in customary Roman tradition, beheaded. On this memorial of the patron saint for soldiers, we pray for those men and women who have served and are serving in the armed forces around the world.
Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter
One of the beautiful traits of the Scripture is that while it exalts Jesus’ promises for eternal life, it is does not sugarcoat the potential hardships and sufferings that Christians will endure. This passage from Acts presents these contrasting views: Saul pulls Christians from their houses to be imprisoned (Acts 8:1-3) while Philip has the audacity to publically proclaim Christ to the people and does so which such joy (Acts 8:4-8). This same message is pointed out in the Call of the King from the Spiritual Exercises. Whoever wishes to “overcome evil with good, turn hatred aside with love, to conquer all the forces of death…must be willing to labor with me [Christ] and so by following me [Christ] in struggles and suffering may share with me [Christ] in glory” .
The Gospels continues the Bread of Life discourse from yesterday, but really speaks to Jesus’ modus operandi. Jesus came from God to earth to reconnect humanity back to eternal life, which had been lost through the Fall of Humanity (Genesis 3:1-24). Despite what can be overwhelming physical/emotional/spiritual suffering that humans endure, there is this overriding hope in eternal life. C.S. Lewis displays this concept in his Great Divorce, as the vast grey town (Hell) and its ghostly inhabitants are minute compared to the vast immensity of Heaven. As we journey through our earthly lives, let us be mindful that despite our suffering, we will be carried forward into eternal life.
Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter
Like many written works, how a character is introduced foreshadows the role that he or she will play in the rest of the story. Today’s First Reading provides us with a little bit of the character development of Saul, later called Paul. Through the story describing the martyrdom of Saint Stephen (whose feast day in the Roman Catholic Church is celebrated on December 26), we are introduced to Saul simply as someone who was present and consenting to Stephen’s execution. As the next two chapters unfold Saul is presented as one of the most feared man among the Christian communities, as he is notorious for rounding up Christians and having them imprisoned (Acts 8:3).
While all four Gospels present the passage before today’s Gospel of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes (Mark 14:13-21, Mark 6:32-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-15), only John presents the famed “Bread of Life” discourse (John 6:26-59). If John omits the Body and Blood references in the Last Supper (he presents the Washing of Disciples Feet instead in John 13:1-20), he connects Jesus as the Bread of Life in chapter six. Jewish tradition held that the manna in the desert (Exodus 16, Numbers 11) symbolized the Torah, or God’s instruction, and was meant to feed the human spirit as it wanders through the desert of life. Yet, Jesus is the new Torah that can feed the deepest hunger, the spiritual quest to find God. In his Confessions, Augustine notes this quest is only solved when “our hearts…rest in Thee [God].” At each Eucharistic celebration, we are presented with our spiritual food to help us continue the wilderness of life. As Saint Anselm said, “I adore and venerate you as much as ever I can, though my love is so cold, my devotion so poor. Thank you for the good gift of this your holy Body and Blood, which I desire to receive.” At the next Eucharist celebration we attend may this be our prayer.
Monday of the Third Week of Easter
One of the overarching themes of the Easter season is presented in this week’s readings, namely, eternal life. The Gospel presents this theme beautifully with the words, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27). Too often in today’s world, we are consumers who are constantly looking for things to fill our stomachs, our minds, our houses, or our quiet time. Yet, Christ takes a different approach; happiness is found by those who believe in Jesus and who share in His meal (the Eucharist). As we enter into this week, the question that we should continuously ask ourselves is, “whether we looking for Jesus because of the signs that He worked or because of our faith in our Risen Savior?”
Third Sunday of Easter
Coming out of the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises, there is an excitement and joy that is hard to contain. In the First Reading, Peter (Acts 3:13-19) presents this fire and love for Christ in his speech immediately following the healing of the Crippled Beggar by the “Beautiful Gate” (Acts 3:1-10). At first glance Peter’s message sounds a bit condescending, he is presenting a summary of what happened to Jesus. The underlying theme is despite one’s sins, repentance is possible because of Jesus Christ. The Second Reading (1 John 2:1-5) confirms that through the death of Jesus, humanity’s sins have been washed away. By keeping the commandments, the love of God works in and through us to make us better instruments in God’s vineyard.
In the Easter season, the readings often discuss proof of the Resurrected Jesus and today’s Gospel is no exception. This Gospel presents the conclusion of one of the most famous Resurrection stories, “The Road to Emmaus” (Luke 24:13-35), to once again provide proof for the living Jesus. Hoping to cast aside their doubts that He is a ghost, Jesus provides physical proof of his body by displaying his wounded hands and feet as well as eating food in front of them. While Jesus may never directly appear to us, may we as Christians, through our actions of keeping the commandments provide an example to others of being on fire with the love of Christ.
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
The reading from Isaiah continues from yesterday and serves as word of encouragement for the Israelites by naming the good gifts that will be bestowed on those who show concern for the poor and downtrodden. For example, by giving food to the hungry, the interior gloom will be lifted and the Lord will renew your strength. By putting the Lord over oneself, the Lord will bless the individual (Isaiah 58:13). Yet, Jesus notes not all people will put the Lord first, so the Great Physician (Jesus) comes to heal the sick (Matthew 5:31-32).
Just as Levi was called to leave everything behind to follow Jesus (Matthew 5:27), so did St. Peter Damian. The life of St. Peter Damian whom the Church commemorates today was born in Ravenna, Italy in 1007 and after losing his parents at a young age, he was sent to live with his brother who treated him more as a slave than as family. An archpriest from Ravenna took pity on him and sent him to school, where Peter flourished and soon achieved the status of master teacher. Yet, he abandoned this life to join a hermitage of two Benedictines of St. Romuald (died 1027), but was so eager to pray and slept so little that he developed severe insomnia. After the death of the superior, he was named abbot and founded five other hermitages.
Peter Damian was often called upon by successive Popes to serve as a peacemaker, and Pope Stephen IX made him cardinal-bishop of Ostia in 1057. Addressing the major concerns of the day, he sought to wipe out simony (buying of church offices), encourage priestly celibacy, and urge diocesan clergy to live together. A prolific writer of numerous sermons and letters still available, he inspired many to return back to the Church. He was overcome by a fever and died on 22 February 1072. The Catholic Church declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1828.
Friday after Ash Wednesday
Looking at this short Gospel reading (Matthew 9:14-15), we are presented with the two extremes: fasting and abundance, but in this Lenten season, we focus on the fasting. While many people give up things for Lent (dessert, television, for example), some people add on things to do during Lent. A perfect example of these “additional” actions are found in the message from Isaiah (Isaiah 58:6-7) namely, the wonderful corporal works of mercy. As we end this workday and enter into the weekend, are there any ways in which we can share our bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, or help those who are oppressed? May those who are suffering from any of these conditions feel the consoling power of God’s presence.
Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Moses, the leader for the Israelites, puts on his “lawyer hat” and speaks to his client, the Israel people, to present them with two different choices. In the first choice, the people obey the commandments of the Lord and are rewarded with blessings from the Lord (Deuteronomy 30:16). In the second choice, the people strive to be independent by serving themselves and other gods, which comes at the cost of being destroyed. To witness their decision, Moses calls upon heaven and earth (Deuteronomy 30:19). While Moses ultimately leaves the decision up to the people, one could see from the psalm today that the choice should be “blessed are they who hope in the Lord (Psalm 1).
Today’s Gospel text flips the notion that “money buys happiness,” with a simple question. “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself” (Luke 9:25)? In today’s world, where many businesses or jobs point out all the positive traits, Jesus does not sugar coat the upcoming difficulties that are associated with being a disciple: led before kings and governors, handed over by family members, or be put to death (Luke 21:12-19). Thus, the challenge for us today and this season of Lent is, is what are we or what can we give up to better follow Christ?