7th Sunday of Easter – Being Christ’s Real Presence

Stained glass window in the Cenacle (Upper Room)
Cenacle Window 2, Onceinawhile (CC BY-SA 4.0)

When [the apostles] entered the city
they went to the upper room where they were staying.[…]
All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer,
together with some women,
and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
(Acts 1:13–14)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Church Fathers
Seventh Sunday of Easter
St. Augustine
May 21, 2023

The weekly commentaries after Easter have examined the Eucharistic writings of some of the greatest theologians of the early church whom we now call the Fathers. The Chuch Fathers are always worth reading but especially during the “Year of the Eucharist”. As we have seen, the Fathers have offered wonderful insights and I must admit regret that very few of the copious materials prepared for the “Year of the Eucharist” have included their wisdom. A notable exception is Cardinal Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark. The central section of His Pastoral letter on the Eucharist “Returning to Grace” is on St. Augustine, the most brilliant of the all the Fathers and the one to whom we now turn:

St Augustine (354-430 AD) is so complex a figure that providing even a superficial biography would be impossible for our present purposes. Most simply, he was a man of his time and place and wished to address contemporary questions. As we have seen, one of them was the consequences of being bodily creatures. Christians held the Jewish view that we did not have a body, we were our bodies. They are good, that the fullness of the Kingdom would be bodily, and we were not just ghosts in a machine.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter – The Measure of All Things

Remain in My Love stained glass, 1931
Church of St. Catherine of Siena (New York)

“And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
(John 14:21)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Church Fathers
Sixth Sunday of Easter
St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 to c. 395)
May 14, 2023

Pope St. John Paul II believed that the Catholic Church breathed with two lungs: Western and Eastern. He saw clearly that they brought life to the body of Christ because they reflected different but complementary approaches to the same truth. The Western approach is based upon technological speculation and philosophy, the Eastern on the experiences of those who have best known God. In the West, we attempt to express the truth with clarity and rigor. In the East theologians seek to lead each baptized person to experience God’s reality for him or herself. For them, doctrine develops in response to spiritual experience. Pope John Paul understood that this was a matter of emphasis, Western theologians experienced what they taught and that Eastern theologians accepted that truth extended beyond their feelings and experience but nonetheless we could each learn much from each other’s perspectives. (Ut Unum Sint) In this he reflects one of the most beneficial explorations of many theologians of the last century. Theologians of the East and West read each other’s classics, sometimes with great suspicion but with great profit on both sides. St. Gregory of Nyssa who we read today was one of the first to be discovered in the West and has been especially fruitful.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter – Entering Heaven Together

Photo by Craig McLachlan on Unsplash

Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings
but chosen and precious in the sight of God,
and, like living stones,
let yourselves be built into a spiritual house
(1 Peter 2:4–5)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Church Fathers
Fifth Sunday of Easter
St. Irenaeus on the Eucharist
May 7, 2023

St. Irenaeus (c. 130 to c. 202 AD) was the Bishop of Lyon in what is now France. He was however born in the East most likely in Syrma in today’s Turkey. His assignment to Lyon was not happenstance. It was then, as it is now, a commercial center and had a large population of traders and merchants from the east. Irenaeus spoke Greek knew the culture and was uniquely able to minister to their needs. Also, they not only imported goods but also the church’s first major heresy, Gnosticism.

Gnostic means knowledge and although it came in many forms Gnostics of every kind believed that people were saved by having the right knowledge not by the death and resurrection of Jesus. They usually believed that the body was disposable or even evil and only the non-material spirit was important. This is an eternal temptation. We saw that Paul constantly taught the Gentiles that they would be raised “body and soul”. Pope Francis, as we will see, finds it in our own society, The Gnostics often went far beyond this and considered the human body to be a creation of a lesser god or even the devil. St Irenaeus fought the most dangerous form of Gnosticism devised by a charismatic Roman teacher Valentinus (c.  100 to c.  180 AD).
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Good Shepherd Sunday – We Are His Body

The Good Shepherd,
Stained Glass Window at St. Charles Borromeo

I am the good shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my sheep, and mine know me.
(John 10:14)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on Church Fathers and the Eucharist
Fourth Sunday of Easter
St. Justin the Martyr
April 30, 2023

This week we will look at St. Justin Martyr (100 to c.165 AD). He was a philosopher and the first Christian writer to engage educated pagans with their own thoughts and language. He had some interesting insights but most of them were better expressed by St. Augustine several centuries later and we will examine them in several weeks. He provides, however, in his “First Apology” a good description of the Eucharist in 2nd century Rome. There are more extensive quotations than usual this week, they mostly speak for themselves and reveal that what was present from the beginning still gives life to us now. All quotations are form the First Apology.

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Divine Mercy Sunday – Jesus Is with His Church

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio, 1603

Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
(John 20:27–28)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Gospel
Divine Mercy Sunday
John 20:19–31
April 16, 2023

Our Gospels for the Easter season tell the stories of our Lord’s Resurrection and the new life which it offers. They are beautiful, demanding but so deep that they should be read with new eyes every year. They contain many themes and use many literary devices so any brief examination, however valuable, will be superficial. Today we will begin with why there are two endings to the Gospel of John.
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Easter Sunday – Revealing Jesus’ Light

The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Tomb,
Eugène Burnand, 1898, Musée d’Orsay
(About this Image)

So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
(John 20:3–8)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Gospel
Easter Sunday
The resurrection narrative in St. Matthew (Matt 28:1-20)
April 9, 2023

This year our Sunday gospel readings in Ordinary (Green) time have been from St. Matthew. The Passion read on Palm Sunday and the Gospel reading at the Easter Vigil will also be from Matthew. (It is also an option for the Easter Day Mass.) The full resurrection narrative is Matthew 28 1-20, but we only read from 1-10 on Easter with the rest used on Easter Monday. They are, however, so connected that I think it is important to read and examine them together.

This is a passage of such unusual depth that this overview is quite superficial. There will also be extensive quotations from scripture.

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
And behold, there was a great earthquake;
for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,
approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
His appearance was like lightning
and his clothing was white as snow.

(Mt 28:1–3)

Matthew likes continuity and has the same two women follow Jesus from his death and burial to the empty tomb (Matt 27:55, 61 and 28:1). This is presented as history without theological speculation. Matthew wants to show that it happened, it is important, and it has consequences. It was announced by an earthquake and an angel. Angels and earthquakes are featured prominently in the popular religious literature of Jesus’s time when discussing the end of time. In the previous chapter after Jesus gave up his sprit:

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Palm Sunday – Manifesting the Glory of God

Entry into Jerusalem, Wilhelm Morgner, 1912,
Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, Germany.
(About this Image)

The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
(Matthew 21:9)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Palm Sunday
Philippians 2:6-11
April 2, 2023

None of the New Testament authors wrote a catechism. They addressed the concerns of specific communities and breathed the air of the marketplace more than the cloister. Their situations and concerns are often very specific. These specifics have given their writings a longer life than if they presented detached universal and eternal truths. They experienced the life of their communities and even if some of the language and concepts may be initially foreign the situations are all too familiar.

This is especially so in Paul’s “Letter to the Philippians”. We examined this letter before and basic information can be found here. Philippi, like most of Paul’s cities, was an important center. It was noted for its “light manufacturing” and had fewer Jews than most of the places Paul evangelized. It did have in common, however, with virtually all of them dissension and divisions not only because of different beliefs but personal rivalries. Near the very beginning of the letter, he writes:

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