6th Sunday of Easter (C)

The abiding presence of God in the human soul

The Gospel proclamation underlines the nature of Christ’s testament of love, the legacy that we need to translate in order to be His faithful disciples. Last Sunday we reflected on the commandment and today it is about the manifestations of the love of God expressed in communion and relationship that we experience as a result of our openness to God. The evangelist John records the words of Jesus to his disciples: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. Yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me” (Jn. 15:23-24).The proof of our “love” for Jesus is that we keep his “word” and in turn we will experience the “love” of the Father, and the Father and Jesus will “abide” (make their home) in us. If we only had those words from Jesus and nothing else, they would be enough to guide us through life and point us in the right direction.

 The “word” of Jesus embraces everything we know about him through the Scripture – his words, his actions, his relationships with people of all kinds, the guiding principles of his life, his values and attitudes. Jesus is the “Word” of God not only because of what comes from his lips but from the whole impact of his life from his birth in an animals’ shelter at Bethlehem to the appalling last moments of agony and humiliation on the Cross. To “keep Jesus’ words” is to embrace all of that, to identify with it and make it real in the particular context of my own life.

The abiding presence of God in the human soul:The promise of God’s abiding presence must have been of great comfort to John’s community who knew that the Temple in Jerusalem — the symbol of God’s presence with His people — had been destroyed by the Roman army.  In today’s gospel passage, Jesus tells us that the one thing in life, which we can always trust is God’s presence. God inhabits our hearts so deeply and intimately that we become the visible dwelling place of God.  This living and life-affirming presence is always with us, yet ‘hidden’ in the very things we so often take for granted.  Thus we are invited to look for and encounter ‘God-with-us,’ yet ‘hidden’ — hidden in the person sitting next to us, in the words we speak and the songs we sing at worship. 

“The light of the World”is the title of a famous picture painted by Holman Hunt. It shows thorn crowned Jesus with a lantern in his hand knocking on a closed door and is based on those lovely words of Christ in Revelation: “Listen, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his house and eat with him and he will eat with me.”(Rev. 3, 20) The door is the human heart and it is said that the artist, having completed the picture, showed it to some friends, who praised the merit of the painting. One of them pointed out what he considered an omission on the part of the artist.  The artist reply was spontaneous that we should open to the light, because the handle is on the inside.

The role of the Holy Spiritis twofold: a) to “teach” the disciples and b) to “remind” them of what Jesus has already taught them (v. 26).  Jesus affirmed that even though he would no longer be with them physically, he would continue to be present among them through His Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of truth would continue teaching them and helping them to understand and to build on what Jesus had already taught them.  The Advocate would bring no new revelation because God had already revealed Himself in Jesus.  But the Advocate would deepen their understanding of the revelation given by Jesus.

Jesus gives his followers four gifts:  First, he gives them his love, which will enable them to keep his word. Next, he gives them the Holy Spirit, who will teach them everything they need to know. The Holy Spirit is the abiding love of God available to us, enabling us to accept the friendship of Jesus, while imitating Him, the Master.   Third, he gives them his peaceto strengthen them against fear in the face of trouble. Here “peace” is not just the absence of conflict, but also the far wider concept of shalom, the total well-being of the person and community.  The promise of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will bring a peace that will quell their fears of the unfolding darkness ahead. “In Johanninelanguage, peace, truth, light, lifeand joyare figurative terms reflecting different facets of the great gift that Jesus has brought from God to the world. “Peace is my gift to you,” is another way of saying, “I give them eternal life” (Jn.10:28) (Raymond E. Brown). The Holy Spirit is available as comforter and guide to those who believe in Jesus and follow in his way. God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are pure love. This love of God and Jesus and the Spirit comes and lives in us, takes up residence in us and lives in our body. When God’s love lives in us, there is much more peace in our families, our churches, our offices.  Fourth, Jesus rewards them with the assurance of his second coming.

Let us be aware of the abiding presence of God within us:We live in the New Covenant of Jesus, daily facing uncertainty, conflict, and temptations.  It is the abiding presence of God within us that enables us to face the future with undying hope and true Christian courage.  The Spirit of the risen Lord promptsus to turn to His Holy Scriptures for support and encouragement, enablesus to learn the divine truths, and grantsus His peace at all times.  However, to be able to receive these gifts, it is necessary for us to spend a little time each day in personal prayer talking to God and listening to Him.  We must deepen our relationship with Jesus, learn to get in touch with him, and sincerely love him.  When we listen to the Holy Spirit, we will   know His plan for our life and His solutions to whatever problems we face.  We will be able to love our fellow human beings, and there will be a core of peace within us.  The Holy Spirit teaches us through the Scriptures and comes to us in Communion.   When the Mass is ended, we go forth in the peace of Christ — all this under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

5th Sunday of Easter (C)

A New Jerusalem, a new heaven and earth, anda new commandment. 

Today’s Gospel reading comes from St. John’s Gospel, known as “The Last Discourse,” which took place at the Last Supper, on the night before Jesus went to the Cross. This farewell discourse is a powerful and intimate part of Jesus’ teachings; on the Christian concepts of glory and love. 

However history does not show that our records are really encouraging and praiseworthy.  Fourth century we started killing others for their different theological opinions. St. Robert Bellarmine was instrumental in burning the philosopher Giordano Bruno for saying that the universe is infinite and there could be other solar systems. Galileo was imprisoned holding the belief that earth revolves around the sun. St John of Arc led troops to conquer city of Orleans and crowned Prince Charles VII as king. As a result the opposing Catholics burnt her alive accusing her of heresy and witchcraft. The 16thcentury reformation began with the constant war between Catholics and Protestants. Even today countries like Ireland, Serbia, Croatia, Lebanon and many other places the fight continues in the name of Christ. It is said that peace in the world could be achieved only when Christians stop killing one another. 

Today it is good to reflect the impact of this civilization of love on our life and society. Unfortunately we are not better than the other societies. There exist lies, cruelties, exploitation, injustice and oppression of the vulnerable. The peace of our homes has been destroyed by violence and hatred. The sanctity of so many Christian families is no more relevant because of various reasons. We have been given the mandate by Christ to conquer the world with love, but even after 2000 years we have failed, because we have not started with ourselves.

The new commandment:In the second part of Jesus’ farewell discourse, he gives his followers a new commandment:  they must love one another as he has loved them.  They would be known, not by the sign of the fish, or even of the cross, but by their mutual love, the fruit of their conversion. The depth, breadth, and force of the love we extend to others are the only measure of the faithfulness of our actions and institutions. The command of Jesus is both new and old. It repeats the precept of Lev. 19:18 to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. What is new is that this love characterizes the new life inaugurated by Jesus and is proof of one’s love for God (1 Jn. 4:7). This love opens our eyes to facts that we might otherwise overlook: that the poor in the world belong to our family; that those who live in despair might be saved by our care of them; that peace can come to the world through our efforts

The nature of Christian love: Bishop Fulton Sheen says it is most used and misused word in English language. The Greek word Eros, which is for selfish love, Philia, which is for friendship and Agapewhich is loving the other for the other’s sake without anything in it for oneself. It is the kind of love with which God loves us, a love that should be the model of the love we have for others. It is strong, positive, difficult, determined action.  Jesus repeats the command to love one another three times, first explaining what it is (“a new commandment”),how it is to be applied  (“as I have loved you“), and finally witnessing that this love would stand as the trademarkof his disciples. Not only is this a new commandment, but also Jesus teaches that it is the greatest.  To love, in fact, is to know God—”Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). The early Christians practiced this love literally. That is why Tertullianstated that the heathens held the Christian congregations in high regard: “See, how these Christians love one another.”  

St. Paul writing to the Corinthiansspeaks so beautifully about the qualities of this love. I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angles, but if I have no love my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all the knowledge and understand all the secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains- but without love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burnt- but without love, this does me no good.  Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not selfish or irritable; love does not keep record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but delights in the truth……… Everything will pass away, but faith, hope and love will remain and the greatest of this is love.

No law but love: No law could prevent the tax collector from exploiting the people, but the loving words from Jesus changed the tax collectors like Matthew and Zachaeus. The harsh law with death penalty could not prevent sexual immorality in the society, but the loving gesture of Jesus could convert the woman caught in adultery. No law by Moses prevented people from abandoning their parents in their old age (Mt 15:1-7) but love of Jesus could. And no Sabbath law could heal the crippled man but the love of Jesus. It was love of Jesus that changed the good thief on the cross, not the death penalty that he had received.

Pope emeritus Benedict explained what is new in this commandment of Jesus in his book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (p64-65). It is new because to live this new commandment we have to immerse ourselves in Jesus, immerse ourselves in Jesus’ mercy. Why do we have to immerse our lives in Jesus to live this new commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves? Because to love in this way as Jesus commands is impossible by mere human efforts; it takes a divine grace within us to love in this way. We can only love in this way with the grace of God. Loving in this new way is only possible in the New Covenant because we have the grace of Jesus in the Eucharist and Sacrament of Reconciliation, and we have the Holy Spirit since Baptism and Confirmation. We have Jesus with us to help us love in his way.

4th Sunday of Easter (C)

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27).

Shepherds in the Old Testament: In the Old Testament, the image of the

 Shepherd is often applied to God as well as to the leaders of the people.  The book of Exodus represents Yahweh several times as a Shepherd.  The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel compare Yahweh’s care and protection of His people to that of a shepherd.  “He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with the young.” (Is. 40:11).  Ezekiel represents God as a loving Shepherd who searches diligently for the lost sheep.  The prophets often used harsh words to scold the selfish and insincere shepherds (or leaders) of their day.  Jer. 23:1:“Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered.” (Ez. 34: 2):  “Trouble for the shepherdsof Israel who feed themselves!  Shepherds ought to feed their flock.”

 The Good Shepherd in the New Testament:Introducing himself as the Good

Shepherd of his flock, Jesus makes three claims in today’s Gospel.   

1) He knows his sheep and his sheep hear his voice:  Jesus is the “Good Shepherd”, who knows them by name individually and personally, in all their joy and blessings, in all their trials and sorrows, in all their wanderings and stumbling and in all their need and lack. He loves us as we are, with all our limitations, and he expects us to return his love by keeping his words.  2) He gives eternal life to us, his sheepby receiving us into his sheepfold and giving us Faith through Baptism, and then he strengthens that Faith in Confirmation.  He supplies food for our souls in the Holy Eucharist and in the Divine words of the Holy Bible.  He makes our society holy by the Sacraments of Matrimony and the priesthood (Holy Orders.  3) He protects his sheepby placing them in the loving hands of his Almighty Father.  Without him to guide us and protect us, weare an easy prey for the spiritual wolvesof this world, including Satan and his minions.

In chapter ten of John’s Gospel, Jesus adds two more roles to those of the Good Shepherd.  He goes in search of stray lambs and heals the sick ones.  Jesus heals the wounds of our souls through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and strengthens us in illness and old age with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  Jesus dies for his sheep:  Just as the shepherds of ancient days protected their sheep from wild animals and thieves by risking their own lives, so Jesus died in expiation for the sins of all people.

The Risen Christ is the good and strong Shepherd who guides us towards the joy of eternal life. He gives us the true meaning of life and helps us to build it and realize it fully. We can feel the deep and concrete love of Jesus, because He knows the thoughts and doubts of our heart. He comes looking for us, always. Jesus knows us, cares for us, heals us, brings us to safety in the community of the believers on this earth and in the blessedness of the children of God in eternity. Jesus puts so much trust in us; he always renews it and with his trust we can do many things. The important thing is to follow him. He is the way, the truth and the life. How to follow him? In faith, in love, in listening to his word, in building up every day the response to the vocation he has given us, in love for neighbor and the needy in body and spirit because it is in the neighbor that Jesus is present, speaks to us, urges us to follow Him, the good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd, passionate and provident: Jesus knows and loves every one of his followers. It should not sound odd if He calls us sheep because he allowed for himself to be called “lamb” so that his duty to “take away the sins of the world” would become our mission, that is to take his forgiveness to all people.In today’s gospel He speaks about us as his flock and about him as the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. He never relinquishes his sheep and loves them to the point of giving his life for them. Moved by his passion for us, He didn’t hesitate to face the passion of the Cross. He is the good shepherd in love with life so that we can have eternal life. It is natural to wonder why we, the lucky flock, would abandon this Way and depart on roads leading to ravines. He, the infinitely good, divine, merciful and loyal shepherd, searches us, calls us by name and when He finds us, put us on his shoulders and leads us to the eternal pasture of heaven. (1 Pt. 2:25)

The people of God have been placed in a very large field that is often called the world. Many voices are calling us to come and join them. The voice of materialism wants us to deny our faith in the supernatural and believe only in the physical world. The voice of consumerism calls us to fulfill our envy by overspending on vacations, cars, clothing and a home. The voice of entertainment wants to fill our lives with media driven flashes that grab our attention, isolate us from our family and friends and then leave us with nothing but an oversized bill. 

Psalm 23 is David’s famous picture of God as The Good Shepherd: 

The Lord is my Shepherd…that’s Relationship! 

There is nothing I shall want…that’s Supply! 

Fresh and Green are the pastures where He gives me repose…that’s Rest! 

Near restful waters He leads me… that’s Refreshment.

He restores my drooping spirit… that’s Healing!

He guides me along the right path… that’s Guidance!

He is true to his name… that’s Purpose!      

If I should walk in the valley of darkness… that’s Challenge!

No evil would I fear… that’s Assurance!  

You are there … that’s Faithfulness! 

With your rod and your staff comfort me… that’s Shelter! 

You have prepared a table before me in the presence of mine enemies… that’s Hope! 

You have anointed my head with oil… that’s consecration!      

My cup is overflowing … that’s Abundance! 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…that’s Blessing!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord…that’s Security! 

Forever…that’s Eternity!

3rd Sunday of Easter (C)

“Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.”

The apostles returned to their former abodes, particularly to the Sea of Galilee so full of tender and nostalgic memories. It was while they were fishing that the Lord had called them to be “Fishers of Men.” The first miracle of water changed into wine has taken place at Cana in Galilee. They had no wine similarly there were no fish, but at the command of the Lord there is everything in abundance.  This post-resurrection appearance of Jesus reminds us of an earlier incident in his ministry, namely the call of Peter and the other disciples as they were fishing in the Sea of Galilee.  Fishermen often worked at night in order to be able to sell the fresh possible fish at the market in the morning. In both instances, Jesus asks the disciples to cast their nets into the sea a second time.   They catch a large number of fish, and in both incidents.  

Peter and John remained true to their characters; 

John was the first one to reach the empty tomb on Easter Morning, so Peter was the first to enter it; John was the first one to believe that the Lord has risen, Peter was the first to greet the Risen Lord; John was the first to see the Lord from the boat, so Peter was the first to rush to the Lord. John had the greater spiritual discernment, but peter had the quick action. It was John who leaned on the Master’s breast the night of the last supper, he was the one nearest to the cross and to his care the Savior committed His mother. When our Savior had walked on the waves towards the ship, Peter could not wait for the master to come to him, as he asked the Master to bid him come upon the water. 

Eucharistic meal with the Risen Lord

The return of the apostles to their old occupation sets the stage for their conversion.  Eventually they come to understand that the stranger on the shore directing them to a tremendous catch of fish actually is “the Lord.”  They recognize him while they are doing what they have always done. Immediately afterwards, the disciples eat a meal with Jesus.  It was at this point that they realized that their “Lord” was among them, imparting to them the experience of his glorified presence.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus opens his ministry with a miracle of abundance at Cana (2:1-11) and closes his ministry with another miracle of abundance on the Sea of Tiberius (21:4-6). “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish”(v. 13).  This is also reminiscent of the earlier feeding of the five thousand on the shores of this same sea (6:1-15).  Jesus is sensitive both to people’s physical and to their spiritual needs.   Since then, the Church has followed Jesus’ example by feeding, clothing, housing, and educating people.  Our concern for people’s physical needs not only relieves human suffering, but also constitutes a powerful spiritual witness. 

The triple confession and the commissioning of Peter. Love as the condition of authority.

One of the features of the stories about the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection is that they nearly always end up with Jesus commissioning someone. Jesus appears for a purpose. The presence of Jesus is strongly linked with the sense of calling.  Peter denied Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest (18:17, 25, 27), and now Jesus is offering him three chances to redeem himself. So Jesus first deals with Peter’s sin, and then commissions him to work on his behalf.  Jesus asks twice if Peter loves him with the deeper, stronger, and more sacrificial kind of agapelove and not mere phileolove involving brotherly love or friendship. In any event, “the one thing about which Jesus questioned Peter prior to commissioning him to tend the flock, was love.  This is the basic qualification for Christian service.  Other qualities may be desirable, but love is completely indispensable (cf. 1Cor. 13:1-3).”  Peter by this triple confession is restored to the leadership position from which he had fallen by his triple denial.  Furthermore, it is proclaimed that he is indeed a pastor, who shows his love for Christ in feeding Christ’s sheep, a recycling of denial into affirmation. Peter’s rehabilitation is a celebration of divine grace. As the shepherd appointed by the true shepherd, to do as he did, to care for the sheep, Peter also symbolizes leadership. “Feed my lambs” will continue to be the agenda of the post-resurrection Church until the risen Lord appears in glory.

We need to open our eyes, ears and hearts wide to see, hear and experience the Risen Lord coming into our lives in various forms, circumstances and events

Risen Lord blessing us with success and achievements

We often fail to acknowledge the presence of the Risen Lord behind our unexpected victories, great achievements, promotions at work, miraculous healings, and success in relationships.  Let us not foolishly attribute a success in our career only to hard work; our good health only to daily exercise coupled with moderation in food and drink; and our sound financial position only to frugal spending habits and the good management of money.  Let us remember the divine warnings, “Without me you can do nothing”(Jn. 15:5); and “If the Lord does not build the house the work of the builders is useless.”(Psalm 127: 1). 

 Let us compensate for our moments of weakness by genuine acts of love, compassion and service.  Peter was called upon to prove   his love:  “If you love me, feed my sheep.” The same Risen Lord reminds us: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”(John 14:15). What do our present actions and activities say about our love for Christ?  The Risen Jesus accepts our apology, dismisses the charges against us, exonerates us of guilt, and forgives all our weaknesses.  He   continues to challenge us to demonstrate our love for him by faithfully, freely, feeding his sheep entrusted to our care. Can we respond like St. Peter, “Lord you know that I love you.”

2nd Sunday of Easter (C)

Life in the world is a mixture of faith and doubt. Trust and confidence leads to a healthy relationships whereas doubts lead to frustration and conflicts. Broken relationships are bridged by mercy and forgiveness, which can make a difference in the lives of individuals. The ABC of Divine Mercy are: A for Ask for mercy, B for be merciful and C for complete trust in God. We need to ask and return to God with a repentant heart to recive it. Blessed are the merciful for they will be comforted. Be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful. Lastly without trust there is no mercy and the prayer that we need to reaffirm is “Jesus I trust in you”

On the feast of Divine Mercy, we are reminded of the three tasks the Lord had assigned to St. Faustina: 1. To pray for souls, entrusting them to God’s incomprehensible Mercy; 2. To tell the world about God’s generous Mercy; 3. To start a new movement in the Church focusing on God’s Mercy.  At the canonization of St. Faustina, Pope St. John Paul II said: “The cross, even after the Resurrection of the Son of God, speaks, and never ceases to speak, of God the Father, who is absolutely faithful to His eternal love for man. … Believing in this love means believing in mercy.”  “The Lord of Divine Mercy,” a drawing of Jesus based on the vision given to St. Faustina, shows Jesus raising his right hand in a gesture of blessing, with His left hand on his heart from which gush forth two rays, one red and one white.  The picture contains the message, “Jesus, I trust in You!” The rays streaming out have symbolic meaning: red for the Bloodof Jesus, which is the life of souls is the Eucharist and white for the Baptismal water which justifies souls. The Sacrament of Baptism makes us the children of God and the Eucharist sustains, nourishes and enriches our relatioship with God.  Thewhole image is symbolic of the mercy, forgiveness and love of God. 

The first part of today’s Gospel(verses 19-23), describes how Jesus entrusted to his apostles his mission of preaching the “Good News” of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and salvation.  This portion of the reading teaches us that Jesus uses the Church as the earthly means of continuing His mission.  It also teaches us that the Church needs Jesus as its source of power and authority, and that it becomes Christ’s true messenger only when it perfectly loves and obeys Him.  The Risen Lord gives the apostles the authority to forgive sins in His Name.  He gives the apostles the power of imparting God’s mercy to the sinner, the gift of forgiving sins from God’s treasury of mercy.  The Gospel text also reminds us that the clearest way of expressing our belief in the presence of the Risen Jesus among us is through our own forgiveness of others.  We can’t form a lasting Christian community without such forgiveness.  Unless we forgive others, our celebration of the Eucharist is just an exercise in liturgical rubrics. 

The second part of the Gospel(verses 24-29), presents the fearless apostle St. Thomas in his uncompromising honesty demanding a personal vision of, and physical contact with, the risen Jesus as a condition for his belief.  Thomas had not been with the Apostles when Jesus first appeared to them.  As a result, he refused to believe. We see in the gospels how Jesus encountered him and transformed him form a doubting to believing Thomas. 

The courageous Faith: The encounter of the risen Lord did strengthen his own convictions. The Lord’s words are very strong “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed.” 

Communicative Faith: Thomas, the “doubting” apostle, makes the great profession of faith, “My Lord and my God.” Raymond Brown calls this “the supreme Christological pronouncement of the Fourth Gospel”.  Here, the most outrageous doubter of the Resurrection of Jesus utters the greatest confession of belief in the Lord Who rose from the dead. This declaration by the “doubting” Thomas in today’s Gospel is very significant for two reasons.  

1) Itis the foundation of our Christian Faith.  Our Faith is based on the Divinity of Jesus as proved by His miracles, especially by the supreme miracle of His Resurrection from the dead.  Thomas’ profession of Faith is the strongest evidence we have of the Resurrection of Jesus.  

2) Thomas’ Faith culminated in his self-surrender to Jesus, his heroic missionary expedition to India in A.D. 52, his fearless preaching, and the powerful testimony given by his martyrdom in A.D. 72.  

Community of Faith: Thomas was able to overcome his doubts by seeing the risen Jesus.  Modern Christians, who are no longer able to “see” Jesus with their eyes, must believe what they hear.  That is why Paul reminds us that “Faith comes from hearing” (Rom 10:17).  “This Gospel shows us that Faith comes in different ways to different people. The beloved disciple believes upon seeing the empty tomb (v. 8). Mary believes when the Lord calls her name (v. 16). The disciples must see the risen Lord (v. 20). Thomas says that he must touch the wounds (v. 25)—although that need evaporates once he sees the risen Christ (v. 28). We see this in all those who have encountered the risen Lord, “We have seen the Lord.” It is an experience that generates the power of the Lord to share with others what each one has experienced.