7th Sunday of Easter – I See the Heavens Opened

Photo: Stoning of St Stephen, altarpiece of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice

Hail and Farewell:

Summer is a bittersweet time of year. Many people will be moving into our community and will be “interviewing” parishes. If you are one of these, I hope that you will consider St Charles for your spiritual home, and I would love to speak with you. The bitter part is that about a dozen individuals and families, on the average, will moving from the neighborhood. For whatever reason you are leaving us – more space, schools or business transfer – we have loved having you and hope that St Charles has been a positive part of your life. We wish you many blessings and would like to do so publicly. All our departing parishioners will be blessed at the Masses on Sunday, June 23rd, the Solemnity or the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Please let us know if you will be attending any of these services. Whether you can attend or not, please know that we will pray for your continued success and happiness no matter where you go.

In Christ,

Fr Bill


First Reading

June 2, 2019

Acts of the Apostles 7:55-60

 

Since Easter, we have been reading passages from “The Acts of the Apostles” sequentially, if not comprehensively until now. Today we double back from last week’s examination of the Council of Jerusalem in Chapter 15 to the stoning of St Stephen in Chapter 7. This is to prepare us for the coming of the Holy Spirit next week at Pentecost. To understand this change in order, we need to look at why Stephen was executed and how he received it.

Stephen was one of the first Deacons. He was Greek speaking and filled with “grace and power” and worked great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:8) He excelled in debate and defeated other Greek-speaking Jews in public discussions. Embarrassed, they brought him to the Sanhedrin, the council of Jewish leaders, for punishment as others did Jesus and the Apostles.

Like the Apostles, he answers his accusers not with philosophical arguments but with the history of Israel. (Acts 7:1) He differs from Peter and the other Apostles by accusing the leaders of acting like the foreign enemies of Israel who fought against God himself. He ends his sermon with:

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors.

52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.

53 You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.” 

(Acts 7:51–53)

This is where we take up the story today.

First, note that he is telling Jewish leaders that they failed in their responsibility as Jews and leaders by not being to a light to the nations. They were called to bring people to God but kept Him for themselves. This reflects Jesus’s experience in the synagogue at Nazareth.

25 Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land.

26 It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. (Luke 4:2-26)

The leaders were infuriated and “ground their teeth at him”.

We begin today with Stephen’s response to the Sanhedrin:

55 But he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7:55

The opening of the heavens was St Luke’s way of saying that God himself was directly communicating something serious.

At Jesus’s baptism we read:

21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened

22 and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21–22

Jesus instructs Peter that there are no foods which could prevent a person from being a member of the Church through a vision: 11 “He saw heaven opened and something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered to the ground by its four corners.” Acts 10:11

What Stephen sees is so clear for a Jew that its meaning does not require words. He calls out:

 “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:56 (NAB)

This is telling the members of the Sanhedrin to remember the words of the prophet Daniel.

13 As the visions during the night continued, I saw

One like a son of man coming,

on the clouds of heaven;

When he reached the Ancient One

and was presented before him. Daniel 7:13

The Son of Man is a complicated image, but it always contained the sense of divine judgment. It is very interesting that this the only time in Luke that the title “Son of Man” is used by anyone other than Jesus. Luke wishes us to be clear that Stephen is speaking for Jesus, not only about Him.

 

 

Let us remember that when Jesus was himself before the Sanhedrin when asked if he was the Messiah he responded “

67 “If I tell you, you will not believe,

68 and if I question, you will not respond.

69 But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied to them, “You say that I am.” Luke 22:67–70

Accepting Jesus as the Son of Man and at very least the true Judge is a Christian requirement.

They did not listen to Stephen as they had not listened to Jesus, and like Jesus brought him out of Jerusalem to execute him. We should also not forget Jesus’ experience in Nazareth here as well:

29 They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. (Luke 4:29).

As we have seen many times in Luke/Acts, envy, jealousy, and other forms of pettiness are always lurking around the more theological explanations.

It is at Stephen’s execution that we see the closest parallels with Jesus and the clearest lessons for ourselves.

59 As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:59

 46 Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

Like Jesus Stephen clearly is offering himself up to God, but note Jesus entrusts himself to the Father and Stephen to Lord Jesus, clearly affirming that Jesus is God.

As important, however, is the attitude of forgiveness. Stephen’s last words are:

60 Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:60

He thus reflects Jesus’ appeal from the cross:

 “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

Next week we will go further back to the empty room in Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit. It is among the most inspiring sections of Holy Scripture. Having read of the progress of the early Church from Peter and Stephen to Paul and Barnabas, we should ask ourselves if we have truly been filled with the Holy Spirit and acted like apostles

The Apostles were martyrs in the strict sense of the word: they gave up their lives to proclaim the Good News. Martyr, however, means witness. There are other ways to bear witness to Jesus than handing over our bodies for destruction. We bear witness by what and why we act. Our reading of Acts this Easter Season has shown us that we are Apostles and Martyrs, not by giving up our physical lives, but our spiritual pride.

 

Sixth Sunday of Easter – To Remain the Same, Everything Must Change

Detail of icon painting by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

St. Philip Neri
Sunday, May 26th is the feast day of St. Philip Neri (1515 – 1595), the founder of the “Congregation of the Oratory”. Priests of the Oratory staff two of our neighboring churches, Assumption and St. Boniface. St. Philip was known for his love of music – the “Oratorio” developed from his group. For his sense of humor, he has been called the “laughing saint”. Most endearingly, he is often pictured caring for his cat. We extend our best wishes to our neighbors on their feast.

 

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29

May 26, 2019

Today’s reading from the “Acts of the Apostles” gives us the highlights of the Council of Jerusalem. This is one of the most important events in the Church’s history, not only for what was decided, but how and by whom. Although this will be merely an overview, it will nonetheless be somewhat longer than usual. I hope you are reading it on the beach or in London.

The situation begins with “some people” from Jerusalem arriving at Antioch and telling the disciples that: “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1b). As we have seen these last few weeks examining Acts the Apostles Paul, Barnabas and indeed Peter have been led by the Spirit to accept Gentiles, those not born Jews, into the Church by Baptism not circumcision. St. Peter we may remember baptized the Roman Cornelius when the Spirit came upon him and gave them the gift of speaking in tongues.

47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?” 48 He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Acts 10:47–48

Peter, also earlier in Acts, says: “There is no salvation through anyone else,” for God has not given human beings “any other name under heaven … by which we are to be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

It is important not only that we see that if Paul and the leaders of Antioch accepted this, it would have strangled Christianity at its birth, but that they realized that they could not solve this themselves but had to go to Jerusalem to receive a decision from the Apostles and Elders.

Our reading then skips 20 verses to reach the conclusion of this story. To understand this, we must look however briefly at what occurred in them. Paul and Barnabas are greeted by the church where the apostles and presbyters (elders) presided over a debate between Paul and Barnabas, who realized that Christianity was a new religion and needed to establish its own customs, traditions and teaching, and the “Judaizers” who held that Gentiles must first become Jews – for men that meant circumcision.

After this, Peter speaks. He reminds those in attendance that

7 After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. (Acts 15:7)

He reminds them as well that we believe that “… we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.” Acts 15:11

For Peter, this is a clear and basic fact upon which there can be no compromise. This would be sinful and as such must always be fought. (Acts 10: 10).

12 The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them. (Acts 15:12)

Then James, the brother of the Lord and leader of the church in Jerusalem and a man deeply committed to this Jewish heritage spoke:

13 “My brothers, listen to me. 14 Symeon has described how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name. Acts 15:13–14

He calls the gentiles “A people for his name”, reflecting the call of the Jews themselves.

2 For you are a people sacred to the LORD, your God, who has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own. (Deuteronomy 14:2)

James continues with a series of quotes from the Old Testament to show that when the Messiah came the doors would be open to all. (Acts 10:16-18)

It is then decided by the leaders that Baptism would be the only means of initiation into the church. It is here that we pick up the story.

 

They have made an official decision and now it must be officially communicated. As would have been expected in this world this would have been by a letter delivered by trustworthy people who could verbally witness to it. The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers. (Acts 15:22) .

It very strictly followed the form of a letter of command that would have been immediately understood and taken very seriously.

 

First, who is sending it is clearly stated: “The apostles and the presbyters, your brothers, (Acts 15:23A)

Second to whom it is being sent: “to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin”: (Acts 15:23b)

Note it is being sent not from one person nor one group of people but the Apostles and the elders. Also, it is being sent not for correction but for instruction and edification, from brother to brother.

Third: it states the situation: “we have heard that some of our number (who went out) without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind” (Acts 15:24) Note also that they clarify that those who disturbed them were not officially sent and had no authority to speak. From the very beginning there was a structure to Christianity.

Unlike those who unofficially went to them the Apostles and elders it clearly states that Barnabas and Paul are beloved and dedicated to the gentile mission.

Fourth: they give them instruction on what is expected of them after Baptism. These are among the requirements stated in Leviticus for all those who live in Israel: Jew and gentile alike

First: to abstain from the blood of meat sacrificed to pagan gods. This would be difficult to determine as most meat was obtained through temples, but they were concerned that people would revert to pagan worship if they used it. Paul also had difficulty with this 1 Corinthians 10:20.

Second and Third: from blood from meats of strangled animals, Strangled animals still had blood in it. It was thought that blood was the sign and means of life and therefore belonged to God. 4 “Only flesh with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.” (Genesis 9:4)

Fourth: unlawful marriage. This most definitely includes incestuous relationships, but it may also mean adultery. Paul himself had difficulty with people interpreting his preaching of freedom from the law as a license to do basically anything.

These rules were established only partly for theological reasons. There is a good deal of common sense and cultural sensitivity here as well. The early Christians needed to live a common life, to associate and most of all to share table fellowship together. They could not do this if they were nauseated by the sight of blood, suspicious if the meat was offered to idols or that someone was dating his sister.

Peter was clear that there would be no compromise on the basic issue but understood that much compromise would be needed for people of different cultures to eat and pray together.

This is one of the few incidents in the New Testaments for which we have another perspective. St. Paul gives his view of what occurred in the second chapter of the letter to the Galatians. Paul is very much special pleading, but we do see the outlines of the process and the conclusion. It was the unified leadership of the church that made the decision. We would not yet call them bishops, but they were people who had been commissioned by the Spirit to lead the church. Paul does not leave very happy from this encounter, but he is obedient to the wishes of the Apostles and elders.

We are all the beneficiaries of God’s decision to create a Church that is based on the connection to God through Jesus and the community of the Baptized. Looking at history, we must acknowledge that there have been many changes over the years. The center of the Church has moved from Jerusalem to Rome and it is no longer a purely or predominately Mediterranean organization, but indeed worldwide. The adaptations to each time and place were successful enough for the Church to last two millennium, but so specific to times and places that the structures had to change over time and will change again. As Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in the great Sicilian novel The Leopard (Il gattopardo)said, “For things to remain the same, everything must change”

Things will need to change in our time in ways we will perhaps find strange and unexpected. For example, what could “Elders” mean now in the decision making of the Church? It is in this way that the same Spirit that has molded and guided the Church since Pentecost can do so for us today.

 

5th Sunday of Easter – Turn, Turn, Turn

Photo: Svenwerk, “Spinning Top” – Staircase at Vatican Museums, Rome.
Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0  https://flic.kr/p/PzaJtw 

RESTROOMS AND GENERATIONS OF FAITH

Several weeks ago, we included in our weekly email drawings of the three proposed restrooms for our church. One will replace the existing unit off the Sacristy and the others will be in the former Baptistry. As you saw, they will be spacious, modern and fulfill all codes and regulations. To answer one question we received, several members of the team have or have had young children. Therefore, not only are there changing tables, but with the restrooms in the old Baptistry you can change an infant and watch a toddler at the same time.

Since then we have been given an expense projection. If everything goes wrong, it will cost about $200,000. Our plan is to pay for it from the redeemed pledges of Generations of Faith.

Those who were members of the Parish at the time will remember that this was a major fund-raising effort in our Diocese. The money collected was divided: 50% for capital improvements in the Parish, 40% for the care of retired and infirmed priests and 10% for developing youth ministry.

Members of the Parish pledged $539,128. We have so far collected $344,621. The parish share of this is $160,939 as of March 31. At this rate of return we will collect $437,778 of which the parish will receive $235,564. Please note, however, that if everything was collected, the parish would receive $336,914.

We will also include the $3,600.00 we received by going over goal with the annual appeal.

The papers are being completed and filed for this work and the items have been ordered. We hope for completion in early Autumn, about the same time as the exterior of the church. If you are not current with redeeming your pledge, please do so as soon as you can. If you are current, please think about sending in your next installment early. We are not asking for anyone to give anything more than he or she has pledged. It would be wonderful if we could pay this off exclusively from these funds.

 

FIRST READING

Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 19, 2019

Acts: 14:21-27

 

The section we read today from the Acts of the Apostles connects the completion of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, which we examined last week, with the important Council of Jerusalem, which we will explore next week. In the hands of a lesser author this could be an exercise in place setting, but Luke uses it able reveal important aspects of our faith. For me, this week was especially pertinent. Spoiler alert: Baby boomers, pay attention.

Last week we saw Paul and Barnabas arrive at Iconium. They spoke in the synagogue and were well received and “a great number of both Jews and Greeks came to believe” (Acts 14:1) This enraged the synagogue leaders who “poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against the brothers”. (Acts 14:2) The Apostles, however, were not driven away and “they stayed for a considerable period, speaking out boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the word about his grace by granting signs and wonders to occur through their hands.” (Acts 14:3) . The death threats became so great, however, that they went to the Lystra. They were successful, but eventually some of their previous enemies from Antioch and Iconium worked on the crowds, who stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. (Acts 14:19).

This is where we take up the story today. First, note that Paul is receiving the same treatment from others that he demonstrated himself. He followed the disciples of Jesus to persecute them. Now others have done the same with him. The people – Jews and Gentles – in the cities who hear the Gospel are immediately drawn to it but those with vested interests in keeping the old order in the old way are threatened and seek to destroy it. Paul has been replaced.

Now look at what Paul and Barnabas do:

21 After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. Acts 14:21

Without the interference of outside agitators. they make a considerable number of disciples but then return to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. They were persecuted -indeed almost killed – in these places, yet they return. This is not mere bravado but a pastoral necessity. These were new Christians and they needed to be strengthened. This is common Christian practice. Jesus tells Peter before Peter betrays him

31 “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat,

32 but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31–32

 

This occurred many times in Acts as well, most intriguingly with Barnabas himself. He was sent by the church in Jerusalem to see what was occurring in Antioch.

23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion (Acts 13:23)

After this, Barnabas realized that he was not the best equipped to lead this mission and went to Tarsis to bring Saul to help him in this task.

This exhortation was not however optimistic with pleasant nosegays.

22 They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)

This is common Christian teaching: Jesus tells the disciples on the Road to Emmaus

Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? (Luke 24)

And he tells Ananias about Paul:

16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name (Acts 9:16)

Although suffering for the good of the community may be found in the Old Testament, especially in the “suffering servant” songs in Isaiah that we have looked at many times, it was – if not quite an aberration – something which they thought would be eliminated with the Messiah. We all need to be reminded that this is not the case. As we have seen, Saul the tormentor of the Church was immediately replaced. It shall ever be, and we must be aware of the consequences of our baptisms.

The strengthening of the disciples was not only by exhortation, but by institutionalization.

23 They appointed presbyters for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith. Acts 14:23 (NAB)

Presbyter means elder, and it combines many roles that we would see as separate today from the person who presides at the Eucharist to the chief Catechist. There are two points of interest here.

First that there is a structure. The Acts of the Apostles has been called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. For Luke, nothing will prosper that is not directed and sustained by the Spirit. This includes the institutional structures that will maintain the proper functioning of the community.

Thus, there is “Prayer and Fasting’ to choose the right person. This has a wonderful pedigree:

12 Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles (Luke 6:12)

And also, in the earlier chapter of Acts

Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:3

The church is an earthly institution, and will either be a successful one or will fail like any other. She is also the body of Christ, and if she is to fulfill her responsibility to be the presence of Jesus in the world her leaders must be chosen by the Spirit, not merely emerge.

This is very personal and pertinent to me. This week I preached at my 50th High School graduation reunion from Cathedral Prep Seminary. We all entered 54 years ago to discern if we had a religious vocation. We assumed that this meant Priesthood. Most discovered that they did not have a call to the ordained ministry. Yet looking over the lives of my classmates, many had truly religious vocations. They built up their parishes, became involved in many ministries and were true presences of Jesus. Many of you have done the same in too many ways to count.

Yet I would like to speak with one group in particular: Baby Boomers. We who were born between 1946 and 1964. I think we have a particular insight into this week’s reading and indeed our world. We lived through the Vietnam War and Watergate, we saw most of the institutions around us fail and may have abandoned them. Yet we now know that we cannot live without them and may find some of them threatened. We know what to accept and what to reject. Younger people have not experienced this and do not. We have a great opportunity for ministry, for – although I hate to admit it – we are the elders of the community: civil and religious. Let us prove ourselves worthy of our wrinkles and creaking bones, but most of all the trust that Jesus places in us.

4th Sunday of Easter – A Light to the Nations

Meet & Greets 5/19; Communion and Liberation at 7 PM

Our Easter season Meet & Greets will be held after each Mass next Sunday, May 19. Join us for food, drink and fellowship.

This past Good Friday, 13 of our parishioners attended the opening prayer service for the annual Way of the Cross over the Brooklyn Bridge. A few hearty souls continued across the Bridge to St Peter’s Church in Lower Manhattan. As I was not one of them, I do not know how many of our parishioners who had a half day’s work joined them. This was sponsored by “Communion and Liberation”. This group also sponsored the lecture on Andy Warhol as a religious artist that several of us attended in February.

Communion and Liberation is an international Catholic organization founded in Milan in 1954. (https://english.clonline.org/cl) Its goal is to present Jesus and the Church in ways that are understandable to modern people without distorting the Gospel or Catholic tradition. I am sure that many of you, like me, have attended church events or read materials which emanated from some church related place that made little or no sense to you. Also, it sometimes seems that you can tell something is Catholic by the appalling graphics. (“Pius Schlock”) CL seeks to address this in many ways, including an emphasis on beauty and culture.

Members of Community and Liberation will be at next week’s “Meet and Greet” after the 7 PM Mass. There will be no formal presentation, but we will have an opportunity to listen to each other over some prosecco and cheese. In hearing each other, we will hear Jesus.

 

Fourth Sunday of Easter

May 12, 2019

Acts 13:14, 43-52

With today’s reading, Paul joins Peter and Stephen as the preachers of the Acts of the Apostles. We read the final section 13:43-52, but it begins with 13:14. I suggest that you read verses 14-42. Your first reaction might well be that this does not sound like Paul’s letters. This is true. Luke is using the conventions of Greek history writing. The speeches will follow a common pattern and thus Paul and Peter will sound much alike. This would have been expected by the original audience. It is not only that Luke is demonstrating his grasp of the techniques of rhetoric but showing us that they are very effective means of communicating.

He is thus able to give us a great deal of information with considerable concision. As he has the plan of the entire work in his head, he can be very strategic in how he presents his material. Peter, Stephen and Paul are preaching to Jews or Gentiles who were friendly to and knowledgeable about Judaism. These sermons give an overview of Jewish history and place Jesus into historical perspective. There is some overlap but each one brings out more with very few wasted words. There is however development. By the time Paul delivers this sermon the need to choose for or against Jesus is made clear. This is not to leave Judaism, but to participate in its next stage.

Also, this is Paul’s first or inaugural sermon. As always in Luke, this will return us to Jesus. At the beginning of his ministry, he returned to his home village of Nazareth and went to the synagogue. As with Paul today he is asked to speak on a test from Isaiah.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

19 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Luke 4:18–19

He then tells the people that this has been fulfilled in their hearing. When he shows them however, that this was to be not just for Jews they are enraged and try to kill him. As we have seen Peter was originally received with great enthusiasm but eventually imprisoned for his preaching.

It should then come as no surprise then when after his initial sermon Paul and Barnabas were invited to return the following week almost the whole city came to hear them and as with Jesus and Peter, they were met with abuse from the Jewish leaders who were filled with jealousy. Remember last week’s reading: 17 Then the high priest rose up and all his companions, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and, filled with jealousy.

Like Jesus this jealousy is rooted in their wishes to keep the knowledge of God to themselves: But Paul tells them

47 For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth. Acts 13:47

This is not a new teaching of either Paul or Jesus but is rooted in Isaiah:

6 It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,  

to raise up the tribes of Jacob,  

and restore the survivors of Israel;  

I will make you a light to the nations,  

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 49:6

Paul knows that this is Jesus’s plan as it has developed so far. The Messiah was to restore Israel which was dispersed since 721 BC. This was begun at Pentecost with the Holy Spirit coming upon the 12 Apostles. Notice how Judas had to be replaced after he betrayed Jesus and committed suicide but as the Apostles died a twelve person “college” of leaders was not continued. The foundation had been restored and now was to be expanded. So we see Peter, Stephen indeed Philip and now Paul reaching out to the Jews in the Diaspora. Yet none of them lost sight that the ultimate aim was to be the light to the Nations.

At the very beginning of Luke’s gospel Simeon says to Mary:

 

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,  

31 which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,  

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,  

and glory for your people Israel.”  Luke 2:30–32

 

Luke tells us very clearly that the good news is for everyone but reminding us that this was not added on to historic Judaism but part of its basic mission.

 

As we have noted we read only relatively small selections from Acts and some themes we will not be able to directly address this year. They will however be clearer in other years. One theme is hinted at today.

 

48 The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, 49 and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region Acts 13:48–49

 

The good news was received with delight and spread throughout the Gentile territory. We have seen this before that external situations even persecutions do not stop the word. The next line should come as no surprise:

The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory. Acts 13:50

Clearly as with Jesus and the other Apostles persecution is always to be expected, will often be severe but is never the final word on the Word.

The final scene however is not as clear and needs some explanation.

51 So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. Acts 13:51

This reflects Jesus’ saying in Luke’s Gospel:

10 Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say,  

11 ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.  Luke 10:10–11 (NAB)

 

This is a definitive judgment against the people of that town, not Judaism itself. It is mentioned that Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium.

When 1 In Iconium they entered the Jewish synagogue together and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks came to believe. Acts 14:1.

Paul considered himself a Jew, and “abandoning the Jews” would have been inconceivable.

What was always in the minds and hearts of the disciples was that the Holy Spirit was with them and that they may be occasionally beset with pains and sorrows, but they are always filled with joy.

 

2nd Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy

FIRST READING
Second Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2019
Acts 5:12-16

The 1st readings for the Easter Season are from the Acts of the Apostles. This is the second work of St Luke and has been called the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit”. Acts begins with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and Luke wishes to show that the Spirit will guide the Apostles, mostly Peter and Paul in preaching the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. We must always remember that St Luke has a wide view of history and will show us that the spirit guiding the Apostles was also present at the beginning of the world and the great events of both the old  and the new Testaments. He is a most careful craftsman and will build his narrative very slowly and deliberately and we will lose some of this. The Lectionary (readings in Church) follow a three- year cycle (this year we read Cycle C) and Acts is used in all three of them. Indeed, the descent of the Holy Spirit is not read until Pentecost, itself 6 weeks from now. This somewhat interrupts the flow, but we will fill in any critical gaps.

We read today from the 5th Chapter of Acts. It is the third time the Apostles have appeared in public. The first time was immediately after the descent of the Spirit. Continue reading “2nd Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy”

Notes on the Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil is one of the most beautiful Liturgies of the Church and one which every Catholic should experience at least once. It is sometimes found a bit daunting both by its length and complexity.  There are times when we may have several or even many adults receive multiple sacrament in a variety of configurations. This year only one person, Cyrus Gentry, will receive them. Those of you who attend either the 11:15 AM or 7:00 PM Masses will recognize him, and we hope that you will be present to welcome him into the Church. This will also mean that the service will be less complicated and somewhat shorter than usual. If you have never experienced the vigil this is the time to do so.

General Overview on the Easter Vigil:

Both words – Easter and Vigil – are important. Continue reading “Notes on the Easter Vigil”

Palm Sunday & Holy Week – Bring People Together & Rebuild

Flevit super illam [He wept over it (Luke 19:41)], Enrique Simonet, 1892

Triduum

The major celebrations of Holy Thursday (Mass of the Lord’s Supper). Good Friday (Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion) and Holy Saturday (Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord – Easter Vigil) although celebrated with separate services are liturgically one day. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops remind us that “(This day unfolds) for us the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery.” The single celebration of the Triduum marks the end of the Lenten season, and leads to the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord at the Easter Vigil.”

Each of these Liturgies is beautiful and powerful in themselves, but achieve their full effect only if they are celebrated together. I urge you to make every attempt to celebrate them with and in the Parish. The full schedule for Holy Week may be found below but a few notes on the Triduum.

We encourage people attending the Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday Masses to bring hand bells to ring at the Gloria. From Gloria to Gloria the Church lives in solemn silence.

The collection for Holy Thursday will go to Catholic Charities for the replenishment of the local food pantries.

The collection for Good Friday will go to the upkeep of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land. This is a most important duty of the faithful.

The Easter Vigil must begin in darkness. As Easter is late this year, we will begin at 9:00 PM. As it is a complicated liturgy, please read my prayer guide for it here.

 

First Reading
April 14, 2019
Palm Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-7

Readers of these reflections with a good memory will note that we covered most of this passage several months ago (Sept 17th). We will essentially repeat the exegesis (interpretation) from that reading in the body of this essay, but make different applications at the end.

As with so many of the passages we have examined we must return to the mindset of the people who returned to rebuild Jerusalem around 520 BC. A miracle had occurred. Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed and the leaders brought into exile in Babylon. This should have been the end of the Jewish People. Yet God through the unlikely intermediary of Cyrus, Prince of Persia, has given them a chance to start again. Enough decided to return to the ruins of Jerusalem that they could contemplate reconstruction. Yet, they needed a second miracle to know why they were there.

Many seemed to believe that they would be rewarded by God for their faith in the common way of the world: comfort, wealth and power. They were living, however, spartan lives in rubble as the employees of a foreign emperor. They asked Isaiah why God had abandoned them. Like their forefathers who left Egypt, they began to believe they were better off in captivity.

In the passage immediately before today’s reading God answers them:

Where is the bill of divorce

with which I dismissed your mother?

Or to which of my creditors

have I sold you?

It was for your sins that you were sold,

for your crimes that your mother was dismissed. (Isaiah 50:1)

They were exiled because of their refusal to follow God, but there was no bill of divorce or sale to anyone else. They were not abandoned permanently. God did not want to sever His ties with them, but to chastise them. Note, however, this is not the past but the present. He is referring to them, not their forebears:

2 Why was no one there when I came?

Why did no one answer when I called?

Is my hand too short to ransom?

Have I not the strength to deliver? (50:2)

He called them to make a new Exodus following him to a new land, but they did not follow with their hearts, only their bodies. Note the references to the Exodus in the next line:

Lo, with my rebuke I dry up the sea,

I turn rivers into a desert;

Their fish rot for lack of water,

and die of thirst. 50:3

The next line however marks a change and it is Isaiah who speaks:

4 The Lord GOD has given me

a well-trained tongue, 

That I might know how to speak to the weary

a word that will rouse them.

Morning after morning

he opens my ear that I may hear; (50:4)

A better translation for “a well-trained tongue” would be the tongue of a disciple. His responsibly is not to convey information, however true, but to exhort the people to fulfill their tasks. This requires continued effort (Morning after Morning) and is not the message we might first have considered.

A key part of “Second Isaiah” are the four “suffering servant songs” in which he speaks as one who has taken on the burden of his people. This is the third. We will, however, just examine this one.

5 And I have not rebelled,

have not turned back.

6 I gave my back to those who beat me,

my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;

My face I did not shield

from buffets and spitting.  (50:5–6)

Voluntary suffering was not common in the Old Testament, but it was not unknown. Jeremiah refers to himself as like a trusting lamb led to the slaughter. (Jer 12:19). This was, however, before the exile. Isaiah wishes to show them what is expected of them in this new world.

7 The Lord GOD is my help,

therefore I am not disgraced;

I have set my face like flint,

knowing that I shall not be put to shame.  (50:7–9)

However unpleasant life may become, he knows that God will never abandon him and dares those who thought him only oppressed to take him to court:

8 He is near who upholds my right;

if anyone wishes to oppose me,

let us appear together.

Who disputes my right?

Let him confront me.

9 See, the Lord GOD is my help;

who will prove me wrong?

Lo, they will all wear out like cloth,

the moth will eat them up. (50:8-9)

 

In the verse immediately following he then addresses the people directly:

 

10 Who among you fears the LORD,

heeds his servant’s voice,

And walks in darkness

without any light,

Trusting in the name of the LORD

and relying on his God? (50:10)

He knows that they do not understand him, that they would be expected to follow God for seemingly no earthly reward does not make sense to them. But it is their role to trust God.

 

11 All of you kindle flames

and carry about you fiery darts;

Walk by the light of your own fire

and by the flares you have burnt!

This is your fate from my hand:

you shall lie down in a place of pain. (50:10–11)

 

If they think they are walking by light it is their own and not God’s. Their fate will be pain forever.

There are many statements to the effect that we learn by our successes when young and failures when old. God is teaching the people what he wants them to be mature disciples. In a previous “suffering servant song” Isaiah writes:

It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,

to raise up the tribes of Jacob,

and restore the survivors of Israel;

I will make you a light to the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)

The Jews were called to lead others to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They would need to learn that the required humility comes by sacrifice and suffering. Their effectiveness will not be because of their power but their trust.

If we are reading any Lenten and Holy Week reflections, we will most likely come upon the “Suffering Servant” passages as referring to Jesus. We must be very careful how we interpret this. The New Testament uses the Suffering Servant many times to explain Jesus’ self-understanding and it most likely this reflects Jesus’ own thinking. This should not be considered a Christian interpretation in the obvious sense of that word. Jesus was born a Jew and died a Jew. His mind was Jewish and would have read the Scriptures as a Jew.

If we accept that he saw himself as the Messiah (the Christ, the Anointed one), then one of his tasks was to bring the nation back together again. Israel – the northern kingdom – was destroyed and the people scattered in 721, and Judah – the southern kingdom – rendered powerless by 586. The nation would need to be restored for any Jew to consider Jesus the Messiah. The Scriptures hold that Jesus did this by forming a new covenant with God though his willing sacrifice on the Cross. This brought together not only the Jews but truly allowed them to be “a light to the nations”. We can see Paul who also possessed a Jewish mind had to say that Romans “ For I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek”. (1:16)

As we celebrate the great feast of faith, let us remember that no matter how forceful our preaching or wise our teaching, we are not truly faithful unless we seek to bring people together, even if that means that we too will be servants who suffer. Could we have a better model to follow or a better time to try?