The Easter Transformation

It may not feel like it but Easter is with us still even though Easter Sunday (April 12th) was over five weeks ago! Even in spite of pandemics and whatever. The Ascension of our Lord will be observed on May 21st and Pentecost Sunday on May 31st a full 50 days after the Resurrection. This period of time being Eastertide. Although the weeks after Easter Sunday seem to be a very quiet time in the life of the Church, it is anything but.

This is the time period when the Apostles are transformed from a frightened group of disciples who abandoned Jesus as He awaited trial into a group of bold, passionate missionaries who defy the same religious authorities that killed Jesus and proclaim Christ as Messiah to all! Look at what they experience after Mary Of Magdala first reports the empty tomb to them (Jn 20: 1-10) and Peter and John run to see for themselves. Imagine the shock and confusion that confronts them when they see that Jesus’ body is not there!

After Peter and John leave, Jesus appears to Mary while she is still weeping (Jn 20: 11-18). Christ appears to two men as they travel to Emmaus (Lk 24: 13-35). The risen Christ then appears to the disciples behind locked doors (Lk 36-49 and Jn 20: 19-21A). A week later, Christ appears again to the disciples, this time showing His wounds to Doubting Thomas (Jn 20: 24-29).

Later on, Christ appears to the disciples on the shore of Galilee while they are fishing one morning. He offers them some breakfast that He is cooking on the shore of which they partake (Jn 21: 1-14). Afterwards, He questions Peter three times if Peter loves Him (Jn 21: 15-19) . At another time, Jesus arranges to meet them on a mountain in Galilee where He instructs them to make disciples of all men (Mt 28: 16-20). Jesus speaks with them over a forty day period telling them to stay in Jerusalem until they are baptized by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1: 4-5).

When they had gathered together again, He told them “ …you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1: 8). With that He ascended into heaven before them. Finally, a few days later when Pentecost came, they were all gathered in one room when the noise of a strong, driving wind filled the room and there appeared like tongues of fire which appeared over each one of them. They were filled with the holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues to all those around them so that each could understand them in their own language (Acts 2: 1-11).

Jesus on the Shore

No, the Easter season was not a quiet time. It was an explosion of spiritual transformation for humanity! Resurrection from the dead! Appearing to hundreds of people….loving everyone, even your enemies!! No, this isn’t a quiet time, business as usual. From that first Eastertide, life has never been the same.

Every morning I read the Daily Readings for Mass that day and for the past several weeks since Easter Sunday, I read passage after passage taken from the Acts of the Apostles which covers the time period immediately after Pentecost detailing the dramatic shift in the hearts and souls of the Apostles. In Acts 3, Peter cures a beggar crippled from birth at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. Afterwards, he speaks boldly about Christ to the crowd who were amazed by this miracle.

The captain of the temple guard and Sadducees came and arrested them for curing the crippled man and preaching about Jesus. The next day they are brought before the Sanhedrin and asked in whose name have you done this? Peter’s response “….it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed.” Not sure what to do since the crowd there saw the healing, they ordered the Apostles not to speak or preach in the name of Jesus and released them.

The Apostles continue their preaching and healing and bringing many people into their community of believers. In Acts 5, they are again arrested and thrown into jail by the religious authorities. That night an angel of the Lord opened the cell telling them to return to preaching in the temple which they do. In the morning when the Sanhedrin convenes for their trial, the captain of the guard cannot find the Apostles in prison. They then hear from someone that they are back in the temple preaching again! The temple guard brings them back to the court and the high priest questions, “We gave you strict orders to stop preaching in that name….”. Peter (the man who denied even knowing Jesus before his trial) and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree…” Needless to say, the Sanhedrin is infuriated by this and want to put them to death!

At this point, a respected teacher of the law in the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel, stands up and orders the men to be put outside for a short time. He then warns the members of the Sanhedrin to be careful about how they deal with these men. He reminds them of two other false leaders with large followings who were killed and their followers disbanded and came to nothing. Gamaliel tells them to have nothing to do with these men and let them go. If the activity of these apostles is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them and you will find yourself fighting against God!! The Sanhedrin hears his words and are persuaded. The Sanhedrin have the apostles flogged, order them not to preach in the name of Jesus and then release them. They went home rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer for His name.

Outright persecution begins in Jerusalem against the Jewish Christian community which has been growing. In Acts 6, St Stephen is stoned to death as he forgives his killers. Acts 10 shows Peter wrestling with the idea of allowing Gentiles to be part of the Christian community. This is resolved when Peter receives a vision that tells him that God does not withhold divine favor from other people outside of Israel. This persecution actually increases the spreading of Christianity as those scattered by the persecution now carry the word to Antioch where another large community of believers is established.

With chapter 9 of Acts, comes a major surprise that does not involve the original Apostles and that man is Saul. Saul happens to be the most ferocious and zealous persecutor of believers in the Way. He was involved with the stoning of St Stephen and now is obtaining letters from the high priest to bring back in chains any men or women who belong to the Way in Damascus. On the way to Damascus, a brilliant light flashed knocking Saul off of his horse and blinding him! A voice heard by everyone there says:”Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” When Saul asks who is this, a reply comes:”I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” There in Damascus he becomes a disciple, his sight returns and he becomes one of the prominent evangelizers of Jews and Gentiles! Now known as Paul, his writings make up most of the New Testament (about 93 pages). The rest of the chapters in Acts from 10 thru 28 concern Paul’s preaching in Jerusalem, Asia Minor, Greece, Europe and Rome. The change from ferocious persecutor to a zealous preacher of Christ is as dramatic as Peter’s change from one who denied even knowing Christ to a zealous preacher himself. All of Christianity descends from the evangelizing action of these twelve men with God’s grace active in them!

No! As we can see, this is not a quiet time historically for the infant Church! Unfortuntely, all this action and activity are not part of the Sunday readings but a part of the daily Mass readings each day during Eastertide. This is not to minimize or make light of the readings in the Sunday Masses which have major significant meaning for our relationship with God. It is just that these readings do not highlight the dramatic and enormous changes in the Apostles because of the astounding experiences they had with Jesus and God’s graces. This also shows the importance for a follower of Jesus to be reading Scripture outside of what is heard at Sunday Mass. The appreciation of the effects and drama of Christ’s Coming cannot be fully realized without it.

The Acts of the Apostles, in its entirety, is only about 38 pages long. Not a lot of material to read. One could do it in an evening. You will spend a lot more time pondering on what it says and what it means for the rest of your life but it isn’t a long read. I urge you to do so. When you think of it, the entire New Testament is only about 298 pages. How many books have you read that were longer than this? The entire Old Testament is about 1100 pages. When you spend regular time learning more about your faith (Bible study, retreats, books, lectures) than only attending Sunday Mass, you will become a happier and more joyous person and will come to know what Jesus meant when he said “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”.

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You Too Are Full of His Grace

It has been a difficult winter with two life changing events occurring in the family. One family member losing a battle with cancer and another spending a week in ICU. And then the rise of the coronavirus in America causing much suffering, fear and anxiety.

Now in the fourth week of our Lenten season of fasting and penance a ray of light and hope suddenly appears in the midst of it all with the Solemnity of the Annunciation on March 25th! A sudden reminder of how God came to be with us as foretold in Isaiah 7:14 “Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son: and his name will be called Emmanuel (God with us)”. Jesus Christ true God and true man. The one that we truly need now.

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner (American)

God assured Mary of His grace that night as He does for us now. Read the beautiful Meditation by Word Among Us for March 25th below.

TODAY’S MEDITATION: LUKE 1:26-38

Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you. (Luke 1:28)

Why do you think the angel Gabriel greeted Mary with these words? Perhaps because he wanted Mary to know that God had already filled her with all the grace she would need to say yes to bearing God’s Son into the world. Maybe he also wanted to reassure her: she could count on God always being with her, not just in that blessed moment.

Mary might not have had much time to reflect on the angel’s greetings until later, after she had said yes to God’s plan. But as the baby grew in her womb, she probably thought about it often. She knew that what God was asking of her wasn’t going to be easy. No doubt this was a special child. How was she going to raise Jesus to be a king and sit on the throne of David, as the angel had said? (Luke 1:32-33). When such questions swirled in her mind, she could always go back and recall the angel’s words: God was with her, and so was his grace.

When has the Lord asked you to do something difficult? Maybe you were given a special needs child to raise or you are caring for an ailing spouse or parent or you’re trying to work through tensions in your marriage. We all are faced with situations in which God is asking us to do what seems beyond us. We may have to say yes to the Lord not once but many times as we struggle to be obedient to his plan for our lives.

But what the angel said to Mary is also true of us. Mary was born without original sin, but because of our baptism, we are also filled with God’s grace. He dwells in us. That means he is always with us and that his grace is always available to us.

When Mary said yes to the angel, Jesus came into the world to save us and share his divine life with us. Now we can move forward, day by day and one step at a time, to do what God is asking of us—because we too are “full of grace” (Luke 1:28)!

“Lord, thank you for giving me the grace to say yes to whatever is your will for me.”

Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10

Psalm 40:7-11

Hebrews 10:4-1

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Don’t Go It Alone

The past few months have been very busy for the family so it is great to get back to do some blogging. I hope you all had a Holy and Joyous Christmas season!

The daily readings leading up to Ash Wednesday and since then have been very beautiful and meaningful. Today’s readings from Psalms 51: 3-4, 12-13 and 18-19 expresses what kind of fasting is really desired by God. “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.” And the reading from JON 3:1-10 concerning Jonah’s message to the people of Nineveh to repent. A message which was well received by the people and the king who put repentance into action. Not the usual case, where the messenger is usually rejected and killed!

The Word Among Us today had a fine meditation on Nineveh which follows below. It talks about the importance of a community in living out the faith. Enjoy!

Meditation: Jonah 3:1-10

The people of Nineveh . . . proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth. (Jonah 3:5)

It’s estimated that only about 8 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually stick with them. There are several reasons for this. People tend to make goals that are too general, like “lose weight,” or too hard, like “run ten miles a day.” Another reason may be that they don’t feel connected to other people who share similar goals. They may feel that in the end, it’s a lonely struggle that doesn’t seem worth the effort.

In today’s first reading, notice how quickly the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message. Obviously, they were serious about fulfilling their goal of repentance. But what do you suppose motivated them? It’s apparent that the Ninevites were in this together. All of them fasted and all of them did penance. This is surely what helped them keep their resolve.

That’s something we should consider as well. We may have only recently made Lenten resolutions. We do these things so that we can leave our sinful behaviors behind and grow closer to God. But we may already be struggling with keeping some of them.

If that’s the case, you may need to shift your strategy a bit. Find someone who wants to join you in your Lenten practices. Perhaps you’ve decided that you want to pray the Rosary every day. Maybe your spouse could join you in prayer each evening before bed. You may have decided to fast from lunch once a week. You may be able to find a coworker who is also willing to fast and take a walk with you instead.

Here’s another strategy that may help: ask a friend to encourage you and keep you accountable. That person might be able to give you a phone call—and a pep talk—each week to see how you’re doing. You could do the same for them.

You are not alone; you are part of the body of Christ. There is so much more incentive to stay the course when you have other people running the race with you.

“Lord, give me the humility to reach out to my brothers and sisters for help and encouragement!”

Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19

Luke 11:29-32

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The Authority of Love

The readings of Advent are a great source of inspiration and comfort and I always enjoy them and the season as well. The readings on Monday of this week (Dec. 16th) about the chief priests and elders confronting Jesus after He overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple area were a bit of a surprise! A writer at Word Among Us helped me to understand better and the article is included here.

Meditation: Matthew 21:23-27

3rd Week of Advent

By what authority are you doing these things? (Matthew 21:23)

The chief priests and elders were challenging Jesus’ right to teach in the Temple. And in one sense, their opposition was understandable. Jesus had just walked into the Temple acting like he owned the place, overturning the money changers’ tables, and driving them out. Then he began healing and teaching the crowd that gathered around him. It must have been an unsettling scene: a stranger from Galilee assuming a mantle of authority that belonged only to the priests who governed this holy place. Who did he think he was?

Jesus knew exactly who he was—the Messiah! But he also knew that these elders would never believe him if he told them that he was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies and that his authority came from God himself. So instead, he turned the situation around and confronted them by bringing up John the Baptist, whom they had rejected.

That was then, but this is now. Unlike the elders in Jerusalem, we already know who Jesus is. What could this passage have to say to us?

Plenty, it seems. This story of Jesus’ confrontation with the chief priests and elders gives us an opportunity to consider what Jesus’ authority means for our lives. Of course, we proclaim that he is Lord, but our faith tells us that he is not a cruel dictator demanding unquestioning obedience from his subjects and ready to punish mercilessly every transgression we commit. No, his authority exists within the context of love. We obey his teachings because we know that he has only good in mind for us. We follow him because he is showing us the way to live in his own love.

Ultimately, Jesus’ authority is a gift, not a burden. It’s the gift of his protection from evil. It’s the gift of his grace to form us after his own image.

Jesus will never force his will on you. He is inviting you into a relationship with him—a relationship marked by trust and love, by humility and surrender. So don’t hesitate to take every concern, every difficult relationship, and every temptation to him. Place every area of your life under his rule, and let him fill you with his peace.

“Jesus, let my actions reflect your loving authority in my life!”

Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17

Psalm 25:4-9

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