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📍290 S. Arlington Ave., Reno, NV 89501

 

GOSPEL REFLECTIONS

THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY
IN ORDINARY TIME

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of John 6:1–15. This text relates the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and initiates the Eucharistic teaching of Jesus known as the “Bread of Life Discourse”. The miracle of the loaves and the fishes was deeply rooted and revered in the memory of first century Christians and is the only miracle of Jesus that appears in all four Gospels (Jn 6:1–15, Mt 14:13–21, Mk 6:32–34, and Lk 9:10–17). As the inaugural event for the Bread of Life discourse, this passage contains several important lessons for us as disciples and introduces themes to help us better appreciate our experience of seeking the Lord every time we share in the Eucharist.

 

The first lesson for discipleship is expressed by Jesus’ desire to lead us to deeper faith. The passage begins by telling us that a multitude followed Jesus because they saw the signs He performed. This indicates that they were following Jesus more as spectators than as believers. They may have seen the signs, but they did not understand what those signs meant. The word that is used to describe the crowd’s sight (Greek: Eoron) refers to an experience of superficial observance. Jesus, on the other hand, “sees” (Greek: Theasamenos) the multitude and is able to look deeply into their hearts and understand their need for growth in faith. The verb used to describe Jesus’ sight really means to have insight and not just superficial observance. In vs. 3 we are told that Jesus sat down, and in doing so, assumed the position of a teacher in the ancient world. This chapter, then, is about the instruction Jesus wishes to offer the crowds so that they can move from being mere superficial spectators, who watch Jesus do things, to committed disciples, who understand the meaning and purpose behind Jesus’ actions. If the crowds do not develop this deepened insight, they will misunderstand Jesus’ identity and try to make the Lord fit their own expectations. We see this mistaken response to Jesus in vs. 14 and 15 where the crowds acclaim Jesus as a prophet and a king.

 

Those who do receive Jesus’ teaching, and develop deepened insight into our Lord’s actions and person, are able to correctly profess the faith of a disciple who follows the Lord, not because of what Jesus does but because of who Jesus is (see Peter’s confession of faith in Jn 6:68–69). Jesus wants us to move from being spectators to becoming committed disciples as well. In order for that growth in faith to happen, we must come to understand the deeper meaning in our Lord’s actions. If our faith is only a matter of rote prayers, religious rituals, and memorized creeds, this passage invites us to let Jesus become our teacher so He can lead us to understand the relationship offered to us in prayer, the reality of grace being presented to us in religious ritual, and the intimate self-communication of God shared with us in creeds. Those who accepted the revelation and insight of Jesus grew closer to Him; those who did not accept that deepened faith ended up walking away from the Lord (see Jn 6:66–68). The quality of our discipleship will depend upon the insight we gain from Jesus as our teacher so that we can look beyond the signs that fill our lives and see the reality of God’s presence in our midst.

 

How can a person today be a superficial spectator when it comes to his or her experience of faith and Church? 

What ministries or opportunities can help members of our faith community understand the meaning and purpose behind their practices of faith, ritual actions of worship, or forms of prayer? 

How has the growth from superficial awareness to deepened insight occurred in your faith life? 

When Jesus “sees” your faith community, in what way do you think the Lord most wants to lead you so that you can be more committed disciples?

How can people today, who misunderstand Jesus’ action in the world, remain superficial spectators of faith?

Into what errors can a superficial faith lead them? 

 

The second lesson of discipleship occurs when we are told that Jesus posed a question to “test” Philip. Jesus asked Philip, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”. Jesus was really more interested in hearing what Philip had to say than the solution Philip offered. We are then told that the Lord already knew what He was going to do (note—many Scripture scholars believe that this phrase is the central point of this entire passage and sets the stage for Jesus to deliver His greatest gift to the disciples). Philip responded by stating the impossibility of addressing the need with human resources. In doing so, Philip was revealing his temptation to trust only in his own ability and self-sufficiency to resolve the problem. Jesus wants the disciples to acknowledge their inability so that they might be able to realize the Lord’s power to do what they cannot accomplish on their own. Along with Philip’s response of what cannot be done, Andrew offers an answer of what can be done: He presents a child who has five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus accepts this meager and insufficient offering of the disciples and transforms it into an abundant and new reality. The lesson of discipleship is this: God can do infinitely more with our lives than we can accomplish on our own.

 

Like Philip, we can be overwhelmed with the needs of the world around us. Sometimes we wonder if our efforts really make a difference. In those moments, it is important to remember that one of the greatest temptations is to do nothing because we can only do a little. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Nothing done with love is ever small because God is love, and what we do with love we do with God, and God is never small. In this Scripture passage, we are reminded that discipleship is about God and not us. God can do great things with what we offer Him; the problem is that we often don’t offer the Lord very much with which to work. Our challenge is to offer Christ the gifts of our lives with love and confidence so that God can do great things with those gifts. If Andrew had tried to feed the crowd himself with those gifts of five loaves and two fish then only a few people would have been fed. Because Andrew offered them to Jesus, the Lord was able to feed thousands. Sometimes Jesus tests us to see if we are trusting in ourselves or in Him. . How we address daily situations and whether or not we offer the Lord our meager gifts provide the answer to that test.

 

When are you tempted to “Do nothing because you can only do a little”, and how does this passage help you overcome that temptation? 

Who for you is an example of faith, like Andrew, who offers to the Lord with love and generosity the insufficient gifts of their lives? 

How does God test you to see if you put your faith in your own self-sufficiency or in God’s grace? 

What are small things that you can do with great love in your everyday life? 

The offertory time at Mass is meant to be a prayerful experience of spiritually offering our lives to the Lord. Our lives are to be used by Him, transforming us to become His presence in the world, even as the bread and wine are transformed to become His Body and Blood. How does the offering of Andrew affect the way you will prayerfully enter into the offertory at Mass? 

 

The third lesson of discipleship occurs when we are told that this event took place at the Feast of Passover. This is a very important element of the passage and it is meant to connect with other events that occur in John’s Gospel on the Feast of Passover: The gift of new wine at Cana (see Jn 2:13) and the celebration of the Last Supper (see Jn 13:1) are two such events. It is no accident that these three events are connected by the Feast of Passover (Wine, Bread, and the Last Supper). They are all Eucharistic moments. The Gospel of John presents the gift of the Eucharist as something that occurs during the daily life and ministry of Jesus and not simply something that took place once at the Last Supper. This presentation is meant to encourage disciples to understand the importance and significance of receiving the Eucharist as part of our regular daily lives as well. The Eucharistic significance of this passage is indicated in two ways. Notice how Jesus Takes, Gives Thanks (literally, “Eucharistizes”), Breaks, and Gives the five loaves and two fish to the crowds, and it becomes more than enough for them.

 

We need to remember that these four verbs are very significant and are only used in this combination in the context of Eucharistic scenes (see Mk 14:22–23, Lk 22:19, 24:30, 1 Cor 11:23–24). Anytime Jesus uses these four verbs the reader automatically knows that our Lord is celebrating the Eucharist. This insight should inform the way we read this passage. John wants us to learn something essential about the Eucharist so he included a very important additional detail: There is symbolism in the fact that there are five loaves and that the name of Jesus appears five times in this literary unit (see vs. 3, 5, 10, 11, 15). This numeric connection between the name of Jesus and the number of loaves points to an identification of Jesus with the bread. Thus, when Jesus gave the five loaves He was giving Himself to the crowds!  

 

How does the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist affect the way you prepare for Mass?  

How has the Eucharist become an important part of your regular Christian life and discipleship?  

What are symbols we use today that help us understand the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist (like the frequency of the name of Jesus equating with the five loaves)? 

How do you think Jesus wants to change our faith community at every Mass? 

 

The fourth lesson of discipleship is communicated when are finally told that the people were “satisfied” (see Jn 6:11). This is the only time in John’s Gospel that we are ever informed of people’s satisfaction. This phrase echoes the instruction to first century Christians known as the Didache which relates that disciples shared in the Eucharist until they “had their fill”.[1] John is speaking about more than just the physical satisfaction of hunger; John is referring to that deep longing of our hearts that only God can satisfy. Jesus, and only Jesus, was able to satisfy that hunger in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes through the gift of the Eucharist. This singular ability of God to satisfy our deepest longings and yearnings was expressed beautifully by Saint Augustine when he said, “You have formed us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”[2] Our hearts are made for God and we become frustrated and dissatisfied when we try to fill them with other things.

 

This passage teaches us, as disciples, that Jesus wants to satisfy us just as He satisfied the crowds that day so long ago. The Lord wants to lead us to deep insights of faith so that we can know His presence with us and His action in our world. He invites us to share our life with Him when we make a spiritual offering of ourselves so that He can share His life with us in the Eucharist. When we seek to fill our deepest hungers with accomplishments, entertainment, human relationships, positions, possessions, or the pursuit of pleasure then we inevitably remain unsatisfied and empty. This Gospel passage is good news for disciples who have been hungering for more—that hunger is an invitation by God to deeper relationship with Himself.

 

From what false sources do people seek satisfaction for the deep longings of their hearts today and what is typically the result? 

When have you experienced lasting spiritual satisfaction from your relationship with God in Jesus, and how did you foster that satisfying relationship? 

What helps make the Mass a satisfying experience for you, and what is it that detracts from the Mass making it less than a satisfying experience? 

How have you realized the truth of Saint Augustine’s quote?

 

The fifth lesson of discipleship is presented through the command of Jesus to the disciples when He said, “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.” In response to our Lord’s instruction the disciples gathered twelve baskets of fragments. There are two important messages for us in this act of gathering. First, the word used for “fragments” (Greek: Klasmata) is the same word used in other first century Christian writings to refer to the fragments (remnants) of the Eucharist. Today, we gather the “fragments”, or remaining pieces of the Eucharist, and place them in the tabernacle. Like the Early Church, we treasure the gift of the Eucharist as an enduring gift of Jesus. We reserve the Eucharist in the Tabernacle for purposes of personal prayer and for the distribution of Communion to the sick and homebound. In all of these actions, we are fulfilling the Lord’s command and showing our respect for Jesus in the Eucharist. In addition to the reservation of the remaining Eucharist in the tabernacle, we also show our reverence for any fragments by placing special cloths on the altar (called “corporals”) to preserve any possible pieces of the Host or drops of the Precious Blood that may accidentally fall.

 

Second, the twelve baskets would be immediately understood as a symbol for the restoration of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The act of gathering that took place was not only to ensure reverence for the gift of the Eucharist but also to demonstrate that, through the Eucharist, the New People of God are being constituted and the Church is being formed. The word Jesus used when He commanded the disciples to “gather” (Greek: Synagein) is the same word used by the early Christians in the first and second century to describe the “gathering” of the community of the Church.[3]  It should be noted that this term is only used in John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and indicates the author’s clear intention to connect the act of gathering with the formation of the Church. The people in this story first started to gather to Jesus because they saw the signs the Lord was performing.

 

Jesus wants us to be gathered to Him for a deeper reason of faith. Our Lord will ultimately gather all people to Himself when He is exalted on the Cross (see Jn 12:32), and that spiritual gathering continues by our participation in the mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection that is celebrated in the Eucharist. In order to be drawn to Jesus, disciples must develop the insight of faith that allows them see in the bread and wine the very reality and presence of Jesus’ Flesh and Blood (see Jn 6:53–57). When disciples share in the Eucharist with informed awareness and reverence, we are gathered to Jesus just as the fragments were gathered in baskets—and the Church is formed. The formative power of the Eucharist in constituting the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ was also taught by Saint Augustine who said, “Be what you can see and receive what you are”.[4]

 

What signs of respect and reverence for the Eucharist have inspired your faith? 

How do you show reverence for the Eucharistic presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle?  

When has the presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle been a focus of your prayer?  

Have you ever been distracted by someone’s lack of reverence for the Eucharist or for the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle and how was that lack of reverence demonstrated? 

How does Saint Augustine’s quote about the relationship between the Eucharist and the Church inspire you? 

How can a faith community help people understand the necessary and formative relationship between the Eucharist and the Church? 

What prevents the Church from fully experiencing the gathering Jesus desires through the gift of the Eucharist?

 

 

[1] Didache, Chap. X, 1.

[2] St Augustine, Confessions, Book I, Chap. 1

[3] This description can be seen in the Didache; 1 Clement, and Ignatius.

[4] St Augustine, Sermon, 272.


 

The Miracle of the Bread and Fish. Giovanni Lanfranco. Oil on canvas, 1620-1623. National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.
John 6:1-15

Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.
A large crowd followed him,
because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.
Jesus went up on the mountain,
and there he sat down with his disciples.
The Jewish feast of Passover was near.
When Jesus raised his eyes
and saw that a large crowd was coming to him,
he said to Philip,
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
He said this to test him,
because he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him,
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little.”
One of his disciples,
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”
So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments
from the five barley loaves
that had been more than they could eat.
When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
“This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”
Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off
to make him king,
he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

Eucharistic Revival
Please use the link below to access all of our Eucharistic Revival resources, including the Meaning of the Mass Study Guide available in both English and Spanish!
Eucharistic Revival Resources
THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY
IN ORDINARY TIME

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of Mark 6:30–34. In this reading we hear of Jesus calling the apostles to rest with Him. The crowds follow, and eventually Jesus responds by teaching them and feeding them like a shepherd caring for His sheep. This simple scene in the Gospel of Mark offers some important insights for us as we carry out our Lord’s ministry as well.
 

The word “apostle” means someone who is “sent out” and in Mark 6:7 we read about Jesus sending the Twelve on mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God in word and action. Now the Twelve (the “sent ones”) return to Jesus to report on their efforts. Jesus responds by inviting them to rest in a deserted place. The biblical notion of rest is founded in the Book of Genesis where God “rested” on the seventh day establishing the experience of rest as a gift to humanity (see Gn 2:2–3). This gift of rest is not primarily to alleviate exhaustion but to foster a contemplative appreciation for having shared in God’s creative and redemptive work. This spiritual rest is meant to foster and deepen our intimate relationship with the Lord so that our efforts of ministry are not just “working for God” but a “participation in God’s work”. There is a big difference between those two approaches to ministry. It is the experience of regular spiritual rest and appreciative contemplation with God that allows us to know the mind of Christ and to do God’s will with eagerness, generosity, and freedom. Jesus wanted the twelve apostles to have this experience of spiritual rest so they could better understand how their efforts participated in God’s divine will for the world. The passage then goes to tell us that the crowds kept coming in large numbers and so they sought to go away by themselves in a boat. The continuous needs of the crowds remind us that there is always more work to be done and that a disciple must balance the need for contemplative rest in Christ with the need for ministry to others. One dimension of discipleship is not possible without the other. If we only work tirelessly to serve the needs of others then we run the risk of becoming detached from the life-giving relationship with Christ that is the foundation of our identity as disciples. If we only seek to be withdrawn in contemplative rest with Christ then we can fail to accomplish the ministry of Jesus entrusted to us, which the world so desperately needs. It is important for disciples to balance these two important dimensions of their faith lives so they can be effective and responsive instruments of God.

 

What time do you set aside in your schedule for regular, contemplative, appreciative rest with God? 

How are you tempted to cut short your spiritual rest in order to carry out the overwhelming duties and responsibilities of discipleship? 

What opportunities exist for you to spend extended time with the Lord, and what holds you back from accepting those opportunities?

 

The crowd was perceived as an inconvenient burden by the apostles. We are told that they were not even able to eat because of the people who came to them in large numbers. The disciples responded by trying to evade the crowds so as to care for their own needs. Jesus perceives the crowds in a different way, however. Rather than being a problem, Jesus sees the crowds as a blessed opportunity that allowed the Lord to carry out His ministry. These two differing perceptions challenge us to be careful in how we perceive and respond to circumstances as well. Sometimes it can be easy for disciples to feel burdened by the questions or needs of others. Sometimes another person’s desire to explore faith can even become inconvenient and problematic for us because of the time and preparation it takes to respond. Jesus sees such moments as open possibilities for bringing the Gospel into people’s lives. The Lord is showing us in this passage that we should be eager and thankful when we have the opportunity to affect and influence people with the gift of faith.

 

When have the demands of a successful ministry experience felt problematic or burdensome to you? 

When have you experienced surprising success in a ministry that presented a ripe opportunity for you to bring the Gospel into people’s lives, and what personal sacrifices did you have to make in order to accomplish that ministry? 

Jesus understood that the presence of the crowds was a ripe moment that needed to be responded to lest it become a lost opportunity. What are ripe moments in the Church today that need urgent response and what are lost opportunities we are experiencing? 

When have you experienced the attitude of the apostles—the perception that ministry opportunities are a problematic burden—and what has been the effect of that attitude? 

Why do you think Jesus chose to teach the crowds rather than try to retreat once more with the disciples?

 

We are told that Jesus had compassion on the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Motivated by compassion, our Lord began to teach them many things. The image of God as a shepherd for Israel is deeply rooted in the Old Testament and features prominently in the first reading for this Sunday’s liturgy (Jer 23:1–6). Shepherds had four primary responsibilities: to gather the sheep, to guide the sheep, to protect the sheep, and to care for the sheep. Jesus presents Himself in this passage as the shepherd who fulfills all of these roles. The Lord gathered the crowds to Himself rather than sending them away and scattering them (see Mk 6:35). Jesus also teaches them in an action of loving direction and guidance for their lives (see Mk 6:34). The Lord cares for them by feeding them not only with His Word (teaching) but also with the Bread of the Eucharist (see Mk 6:37–44). Finally, the Lord protects them by confronting the efforts of those who would seek to dismiss them (see Mk 6:36–37) as well as through the ongoing ministry of healing and deliverance accomplished through the apostles.

 

How does Jesus continue to fulfill the responsibilities of being our shepherd today? 

In what specific ways do you need the protective, collective, caring, and guiding ministry of Jesus in your life? 

How can you make yourself open and receptive to Jesus as your shepherd? 

What can prevent people from wanting to be a member of God’s flock?

 

Lastly, it is interesting to note that the crowds followed Jesus for some time and over significant distances without being prepared for the journey. That is why they arrived at the end of the day with no planned provisions (see Mk 6:35–36). Obviously the crowds heard about Jesus and responded immediately to the possibility of meeting the Lord for themselves. It is rare that we would respond with such immediate initiative and lack of planning. The action of the crowd is not a statement of their irresponsibility but of the readiness of their discipleship. They were willing to drop everything in order to seek the Lord and spend time with Him. We too can be urgently motivated to respond immediately to all sorts of situations and opportunities but when it comes to disciples, we can be hesitant and even procrastinate in our response.

 

What urgent opportunity motivates you to drop everything and respond immediately? 

When do you find yourself responding so slowly to faith opportunities that the occasion passes before you can participate? 

How does the power of evil use the temptation of procrastination to rob people of valuable encounters with God? 

What can a faith community do to help people respond with urgency to faith opportunities?

 
 
The Penitent Magdalene. Tintoretto. Oil on canvas, 1598-1602. Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Mark 6:30-34

The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat.
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.

 
Eucharistic Revival
Please use the link below to access all of our Eucharistic Revival resources, including the Meaning of the Mass Study Guide available in both English and Spanish!
Eucharistic Revival Resources
THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY
IN ORDINARY TIME

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of Mark 6:7–13. In this text we read of how Jesus sent the Twelve on mission to do the same works our Lord was doing: proclaim the Kingdom of God, deliver people from the forces of evil, and heal their suffering. These ministries remain part of the Church’s fundamental mission even today. Let’s study this passage so that we can better understand how it challenges us to grow in discipleship and mission.

 

It is interesting that Jesus sent the disciples on mission while they were still being formed by the Lord. We might think that the disciples needed much more training and education before they could be sent to do the works of Jesus. After all, at this point in the Gospel the Twelve had been with Jesus for only a few weeks or so. We like to be fully prepared and credentialed before we are sent out on our own to accomplish a great work. That was true in much of the ancient world as well (remember that Aristotle spent twenty years learning from Plato before he founded his own school). In light of such lengthy times of preparation the Twelve must have felt very ill-equipped for the mission entrusted to them. However, Jesus knew that being a disciple is different from being a philosopher. Disciples can only grow as they practice and share what they themselves are in the process of receiving. Discipleship is not a program of study from which we graduate and are somehow certified for ministry; rather, discipleship can only move to a deeper level when we have learned to minister to others even as Jesus has ministered to us. Jesus called the disciples to Himself in Mark 3:13–14 for the explicit purpose that He could send them forth on mission. Now after hearing His teaching and watching His mighty works they were sent in fulfillment of the purpose for which they were first called. This passage is telling us that all disciples are, in fact, missionaries. Sometimes we can find ourselves wondering why we are not able to go deeper in our own discipleship, and this passage asks us to reflect on how well we have shared with others what we have already received. If we are keeping our experiences of faith enrichment and spiritual insights to ourselves then we are not fulfilling our missionary role as disciples.

 

How have you experienced Jesus’ teaching enlightening you, and what are your opportunities to share that enlightenment with others? 

How have you experienced the Lord liberating you from evil influences, and who might need to experience that liberation through you? 

What healing has Jesus effected in your life (physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual) and what are your opportunities to assist others in their healing process? 

When have you experienced growth in your discipleship because you willingly shared with others what you yourself were receiving from the Lord? 

 

Jesus then instructs the Twelve and prepares them for their journey. The word for “journey” is most accurately translated as “way” and indicates the original name for disciples of the Lord: they were known as “Followers of the Way” (see Acts 22:4, 9:2). The use of that word means that Jesus is not just giving an instruction for a temporary missionary journey but that the Lord is giving a lasting teaching on how disciples are to always carry out their ministry. The purpose of the walking stick was for support and protection as well as being a symbol of power and authority (see the staff Moses and Aaron carried). The commandment to bring no bread, no beggar’s bag, and no money in their belt was to remind them of their need to rely on divine providence. The beggar’s bag in particular was prohibited so as to distinguish the Twelve from other travelling philosophers and miracle workers (healers) who charged for their services and profited from their ministry. Jesus did not want His disciples to be people who sought personal gain from the ministry of the Gospel.

 

They were also to not wear two tunics, which may seem strange to us, and we need to remember that a tunic was an expression of who a person was (clothes were symbols of identity). The prohibition against bringing two tunics may very well have been an effort to prevent the Twelve from portraying multiple, confused, or even conflicting identities in their discipleship. It can be easy for us to have multiple aspects to our own identities based on nationality, religious confession, race, profession, family roles, civic involvements, and sports interests. This prohibition against bringing “two tunics” may be a challenge for us to define ourselves first and foremost as disciples of Jesus in every situation. Every other aspect of our identity is of lesser priority and should never confuse that primary identity.

 

Lastly, they were to wear sandals, which is a direct connection to how the Israelites were instructed to eat the Passover meal in preparation for their exodus from Egypt. This final command to wear sandals, in conjunction with the command to carry a staff (walking stick), implies that the Twelve were being sent by Jesus to announce a new exodus from slavery to freedom in the Christian way of life. This new exodus was the beginning of the new People of God (the Church) formed by the Twelve (representing and reconstituting the Twelve Tribes of Israel) in response to the rejection Jesus experienced in his hometown (see Mk 6:1–6).

 

How does the Church today continue the ministry of leading us in a new exodus from slavery to freedom? 

How does the image of carrying the staff (walking stick) help you to understand, interpret, and appreciate the ministry of the local bishop who carries a staff (crosier) as a symbol of his office? 

In what ways are we tempted to rely on our own strength rather than God’s providence for the success of our ministry and of the Church? 

How are you reminded in practical ways that God is in control of your life? 

How can the desire for personal gain by those entrusted with leadership responsibility diminish the credibility of the Gospel and effectiveness of ministry today? 

In what ways can our discipleship be compromised when other identities are allowed to be of equal or greater importance than being a disciple of Jesus (Particularly, when we try to wear “two tunics”)? 

 

Jesus ends His commission to the Twelve by instructing them on how to deal with both success and failure in their mission. When their message is received, they are to remain in that place and continue their ministry. It is only when their mission is unfruitful that they are to move on so that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God can continue. The reality is that the Twelve will experience both success and failure. Jesus does not want them to be surprised by that reality but to be prepared for it and to anticipate their response to it. The action of “shaking the dust from your feet” was practiced in Acts 13:51 as a warning to the people of Pisidian Antioch. This instruction acknowledges that even with the best efforts of the Twelve there will always be some people who freely choose to reject the message of the Gospel. Such rejection is not necessarily a sign of failure on the part of missionaries but of human freedom and hardness of heart. When confronted with such situations, the Twelve are encouraged to seek out other groups that will be receptive to their message rather than wasting additional time and resource trying to convert unwelcoming or unreceptive communities. This is an important message for us. We need to remember that not all of our missionary efforts will be effective or successful. Failure and rejection will be a part of the Church’s experience today just as it was the experience of Jesus and the Twelve. Rather than focusing our efforts, attention, and resources in ministries that are not working, this passage encourages us to re-focus our efforts in new ways that may be more effective. It can be safe and predictable to keep doing the same old thing, but when the same old thing isn’t working, it is time to change and grow. The Church has a responsibility to be creative and persevering in its efforts to bring the Gospel to all people. We cannot accomplish that mission if we are intent on continuing unsuccessful or unfruitful efforts.

 

How do you know when it is time to “move on” in your efforts to share the Gospel with others? 

What ministries of the Church are most successful in proclaiming the Kingdom of God? 

What ministries of the Church need to be re-focused so they can become more effective in accomplishing the goal of evangelization? 

How do you know when your best efforts have been put forth in a particular mission effort? 

Who are the “other communities” around you that are waiting to hear the Gospel through you? 

 

Lastly, this passage is an important opportunity to reflect on the ministry of the Twelve when they “anointed many sick people with oil”. This practice is also described in James 5:14–15 as part of the healing ministry of the early Church. Today we celebrate the Sacrament of the Sick by anointing with oil as well. Oil is the visible sign of the invisible healing grace of Christ. Oil (primarily olive oil) has natural properties that can assist in the healing process (see Lk 10:34 where oil was used to heal the wounds of the injured man in the Parable of the Good Samaritan). When people suffer a debilitating illness (physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual) then they experience loss of freedom, vulnerability, fear, isolation, and even abandonment. The practice of ritual anointing, and the prayer of the Church, gives strength, encouragement, healing, and spiritual grace to assist the person in their distress. It also assures them that the community of faith is standing by them in their illness and supporting them with their prayers. This prayerful support of the faith community is an important aid in helping a sick person experience weakness in a faithful way so as to grow in trusting dependence on God and others. The grace received in the Anointing of the Sick offers salvation and healing on a variety of levels.

 

How have you experienced the grace of the Anointing of the Sick? 

What fears or temptations have you experienced when you suffered serious illness or weakness? 

How can the prayer of the Church and this Sacrament help us overcome  our fears and temptations? 

This passage tells us that the Twelve both anointed people and healed them which implies two actions (one liturgical and one physical). Why do you think Mark wanted us to distinguish between the Sacramental act of anointing and the physical act of healing people?

 
 
St. Bonaventure Praying. Francisco de Zurbarán. Oil on canvas, 1628-29. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.
Mark 6:7-13

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits. 
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
but a walking stick—
no food, no sack, no money in their belts. 
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic. 
He said to them,
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. 
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them.” 
So they went off and preached repentance. 
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

 
Eucharistic Revival
Please use the link below to access all of our Eucharistic Revival resources, including the Meaning of the Mass Study Guide available in both English and Spanish!
Eucharistic Revival Resources
THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY
IN ORDINARY TIME

Our Scripture passage is from the Gospel of Mark 6:1–6. We read of Jesus returning to His hometown and teaching in the Synagogue. It is a significant moment for Jesus in Mark’s Gospel as it marks the last time our Lord enters a Synagogue—a place that previously He had frequented (see Mk 1:21, 1:39, and 3:1–6). The rejection Jesus experiences in this moment has something to teach us as disciples lest we become resistant to the Lord’s invitation to conversion in our lives. 

 

One of the reasons Jesus may have encountered difficulty in His hometown is because He acted differently from what people of His time expected of a prophet. It seems that the people were aware of our Lord’s “mighty deeds” that had been accomplished up to this point in the Gospel. These mighty deeds would include both His teaching and healing ministry. However, Jesus exercised this ministry in a way that troubled many religious people of His time (see the inclusion of Gentiles, women, and the “unclean” as members in the new family of God). When Jesus came to His hometown, He did so because He wanted those closest to Him to share in the inclusive Kingdom of God that He was establishing. However, many people did not want to be included in that Kingdom when they saw who else was already part of it! Sometimes we can approach our faith life in the same way and condition our association with Jesus on how well the Lord fulfills our agenda and expectations. However, that is not how the relationship of faith works. Jesus did not come to Earth so that He could be like us—but so that we could become like Him! Sometimes we want our Lord’s presence and attention (like the people of His hometown), but we don’t want to accept the changes of life and attitude that He asks us to undertake in order to remain in a committed relationship with Him.

 

How can people today have such strong expectations of Jesus that they end up turning away from Him when He doesn’t fulfill those expectations? 

When do you find it tempting to decide your participation in a parish ministry based on the other people who are involved? 

How does the phrase, “Jesus did not come to earth so that He could be like us—but so that we could become like Him” challenge you?

 

The other reason Jesus encountered resistance among the people of His hometown was because of His ordinariness. They not only knew Jesus and were familiar with Him but they knew Him to be from an unexceptional background (son of a carpenter and a member of an ordinary family). He was not part of the educated class who had the freedom and skills to dedicate Himself to the study of the Law. The Gospel of Luke relates that Herod actually hoped Jesus would perform some amazing miracles, demonstrations of power, or other extraordinary feats—but the Lord didn’t do that (see Lk 23:8). Nor was Jesus someone who was regarded as outstanding during His years as a child. It is precisely the ordinariness of Jesus that made it difficult for His hometown to accept that He was capable of great deeds. Great people in the ancient world were somehow known to be outstanding even from the moment of their births. The Scriptures tell us very little about Jesus’ life as a child. (It is true that the second century texts, The Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Protoevangelium of James, provided non-biblical stories about the childhood of Jesus. These narrations tried to satisfy the curiosity of early Christians who wanted to hear more about the deeds of Christ as a child. The Christian leaders of the early church easily disregarded these stories as an attempt to present Jesus more as a Greek hero rather than as the Eternal Word living among us.) Sometimes we expect God to act only in very extraordinary ways in our lives, yet the Lord is most often present in amazingly ordinary ways. The people of Jesus’ hometown wanted the Lord to prove to them that He was “special”, but He didn’t do that. He asked them to accept that God is present in the ordinary and to choose to respond to that presence. Jesus did not force people to accept Him or convince them of His divine nature. Sometimes we can find it easy to overlook the presence of God in the ordinary events and moments of daily life because we are looking for the extraordinary instead. This passage is a challenge for us to look at familiar things in a new way. Sometimes, too, people can experience similar difficulties of faith when the Church and individual disciples act in ordinary ways. This difficulty of faith is especially true when mistakes are made or situations of human weakness show forth on an institutional level.

 

When has a person of ordinary background and training shocked you with an extraordinary ability and what was your reaction? 

How can  we be tempted to dismiss excellent ministry opportunities because we are looking for something “better” or “more special”? 

What qualities or virtues do you think the people of Jesus’ hometown needed in order to accept the Lord? 

How do you experience the presence of God in ordinary ways? 

Some people say, “Seeing is believing”, but this passage invites us to reconsider the process such that “Believing is seeing”. If you knew that God would manifest Himself to you today in ten ordinary ways, how might that change the way you approach the ordinary situations you will face?

 

These difficulties caused the people to be “scandalized” by Jesus. Literally, they were “tripped up” in their ability to accept the Lord. This difficulty accepting Jesus seems to have included those closest to Him as our Lord indicates that a prophet is not without honor except “…among his own relatives”. Mark has already introduced us to the challenge of faith posed to those closest to Jesus in Mark 3:20–21 and 31–35. This inclusion of Jesus’ closest relatives in those who must make a decision about Him reminds us that discipleship is a personal conviction and that each person must make the choice to accept God in Jesus on our Lord’s terms. If Jesus’ family are to be His disciples, and they will be, then it will be because they have made that decision just as we must make that decision.

 

The passage then goes on to tell us that Jesus was unable to do any mighty deeds aside from curing a few sick people. It is not that Jesus needed people’s faith in order for Him to be capable of mighty deeds; rather, mighty deeds had a purpose, and where there was no openness to receive God on God’s terms, or where the very display of mighty deeds would become a further difficulty in accepting Jesus, then the Lord chose not to work those deeds. Mighty deeds are always meant to be an invitation to discipleship and not a cause of difficulty or scandal in our discipleship! Jesus never performed deeds to prove Himself or force people’s acceptance and belief. When the people of His hometown closed their hearts to Jesus, they also closed themselves to the action of God. Some people, however, were open to accepting Jesus, and for them He did perform mighty deeds of healing (see Mk 6:5).

 

Who is someone you think is close to Jesus today, and how can you learn more about their decision of faith in the Lord? 

What do you think would have been the result if Jesus had performed mighty deeds for the people of His hometown? 

When has a mighty deed of God led you to deeper faith? 

 

One final comment should be made about this passage because it contains the phrase regarding the brothers (James, Joses, Judas, and Simon) and the sisters of Jesus. There is a good deal written on this topic in both Catholic and non-Catholic Scripture commentaries. The question is not whether Jesus had brothers and sisters but what the term “brothers and sisters” means and whether those brothers and sisters were also children of Mary. Catholics believe that Mary maintained perpetual virginity throughout her life and so they interpret the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus to be either half-brothers and half-sisters or cousins. Evidence in the early Church does provide basis for such an interpretation. First, the belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity can be traced to the earliest times of Christianity. Second, Mark 6:17 uses the term “brother” to refer to the half-brothers (Herod and Philip) who were Herod’s children from two different mothers. Third, the use of the terms “brother” and “sister” for other relatives in the Jewish context was also explained by the first century historian Flavius Josephus.[1] Fourth, if Mary did have other children, there should have been no reason for Jesus to entrust her to the care of the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross (see Jn 19:27). These factors may not definitively settle the question but do demonstrate that the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity is both reasonable and historically founded. One of the reasons Joseph is usually depicted in Christian art as older than Mary is due to an ancient tradition that Joseph had other children from a previous marriage, and that accounts for the mention of the brothers and sisters of Jesus in this passage. It should be remembered that this Gospel passage mentions the family of Jesus, not to generate biblical debates, but to demonstrate how ordinary and well-known Jesus was to the people of His hometown.

 

When we allow ourselves to become sidelined in our faith by relatively minor issues then we are distracted from paying attention to the most important things. It’s important not to let such a distraction deter us in our lives as disciples. The topic of Jesus’ family is only one example of the many ways in which we can allow issues that are peripheral to the person of Jesus to distract us from focusing intently on the Lord.

 

What issues or topics in Church life or Scripture can distract people from focusing intently on following Jesus today? 

If you had to identify the three most important teachings of faith for a Christian disciple to focus on, what would be those teachings? 

What are methods you can use to keep your conversations of faith focused when they become distracted?

 

[1] Flavius Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae, Book 20, Chap. 9.

 
 
The Incredulity of St. Thomas. Caravaggio. Oil on canvas, c. 1601. Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam.
Mark 6:1-6

Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples.
When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished.
They said, “Where did this man get all this?
What kind of wisdom has been given him?
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house.”
So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.

 
Eucharistic Revival
THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY
IN ORDINARY TIME

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of Mark 5:21–43. Although this passage contains two separate healing accounts, these miracle stories are closely related and work together to communicate an important message. Common elements in the two miracle stories include the following: Both healings occur for women, both women were deemed “unclean” according to the Jewish purity laws, both are referred to with the title “daughter”, the healing for both is described as a “saving” event, faith is called for in both situations, both involve people falling before Jesus, both involve references to twelve years, touch (human contact with Jesus) is a central element for both accounts, and, finally, what was considered unclean did not contaminate what it touched but was made clean by the power of Jesus. In short, both women are invited into relationship with the Lord. With so many common elements, Mark wants us to see these two healings in relation to each another as complementary manifestations of faith—the faith of those who are healed (saved) and the faith of the community around them. 

 

The first healing takes place in the woman who suffered a hemorrhage for twelve years (Gynecologic bleeding). The Book of Leviticus contains the various purity norms pertaining to such women (see Lev 15:19)—they were deemed “unclean” and anything they touched was unclean. This hemorrhage would have prevented her from having children and could have been grounds for divorce. Indications are that she had no one to care for her because she had to use “her resources” to pay for physicians. She was in a truly desperate situation: physically ill, socially and religiously rejected as “unclean”, nearly impoverished, and alone. She has exhausted every hope that the medical arts and religious practices of her time offered—with no relief. Her only hope is this person named Jesus about whom she has heard minimal information. Regardless of how little information she received about Jesus, she acted on it nonetheless! This entire scene leads to her touching Jesus’ garment. Such an action violated the purity codes of her time and demonstrated her initiative and courage.

 

We are then told that she said to herself, “If I but touch the tassel of his cloak I will be saved (healed).” It is at this moment that Jesus seeks her out to speak to her. What the Lord wants to give her is more than just physical healing; Jesus wants to give her a relationship with Him (relationship is indicated by the familiar use of the second person singular pronoun “you”). Jesus wants her to know that her healing was not the result of her own cunning but of His grace and her faithful initiative and courage. Her determination led her to overcome the social and religious barriers that would keep her from the Lord. Jesus broke social customs as well by speaking to her in public. Nothing will stop the Lord from offering the gift of relationship to this woman who approached Him in faith. She did not “take” anything from Jesus; she received grace and the Lord led her to Himself. In Mark 3:31–35 we were told that those who approach Jesus in faith will be members of the family of God. Now Jesus calls this woman “daughter”—a term of faith and relationship as a member of God’s family. Her healing may have restored her former life, but Jesus wants to introduce her to new and more abundant life as a disciple.

 

In response to what has taken place in this woman’s life, Jesus can say to her “your faith has saved you”. In this scene, Jesus is teaching us something about what it means to be a member of God’s family, the Church. In the example of the woman’s faith, we are not defined by rules and regulations but by the grace of God and our relationship with Jesus. No one is so unclean that our Lord cannot make them clean. Jesus has nothing to fear from our woundedness—and neither should we as long as we take the initiative to approach Him with determination, honesty, and courage seeking His healing grace. We should also expect that the Lord wants more than simply to be the source of our healing; Jesus wants to enter into a deep relationship with us as He did with this woman. He wants to give us new life and not merely to restore our former life. Every encounter with God’s grace is an invitation to this relationship with Jesus.

 

What have you heard about Jesus that makes you want to meet the Lord, and what keeps you from acting on that desire? 

The woman had to overcome the social barriers of her time in order to approach Jesus in public because she was considered “unclean”. What are some of the social barriers or expectations of others that can hinder  us from following  our desire to meet the Lord? 

What does courage and initiative look like today in our faith lives? 

How has an experience of God’s grace initiated for you a deep and life-giving relationship with Jesus? 

What is it about this woman’s story that most inspires you and why? 

For what situation have you spent years of your life trying to overcome, and how can that situation become a motivation leading you to Jesus? 

In what ways can people seek the gift of God’s grace but then turn away from the invitation to a deep relationship with the Lord?

 

Jairus, the synagogue leader and father of the ill girl, has been with Jesus the whole time and presumably has seen what took place. Now he will be called to even greater faith. Messengers arrive to inform him that his daughter is no longer sick but is now dead. In response, they encourage him to not “bother” the one they call “the teacher”. Jairus knows that Jesus is much more than a teacher and he must make a decision—Does he go against the recommendation of so many people or does he continue to accompany Jesus in an act of trust and confidence? Jesus calls Jairus to choose faith rather than fear and so they arrive together at Jairus’ home. As a person of faith, Jairus is asked to enter (with those who believe) into the house with Jesus. Jesus then removes from the house anyone who does not have faith—the mourners. At this point, Jairus has chosen to accept the ridicule and accusations of those closest to him and to persevere in bringing Jesus to his daughter. He rises above these obstacles and his faith is not disappointed. Jesus touches the corpse of the child and in doing so He breaks another purity law (for the prohibitions of anyone except a family member touching a corpse, see Lv. 21:1; or even entering the place where the dead person lies, see Num. 19:11–16). However, it is not Jesus’ touch that saves the girl; rather it is His Word when He commands her to “rise”. That is the same verb used for the Resurrection. She was not only restored to life but she now shares in the resurrected life of Jesus! Like the woman in the first healing, Jesus is giving to Jairus’ daughter more than just restoration to a former way of life; Jesus is giving her a new and abundant life in Him. Jairus demonstrated faith and trust even in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations and went against the recommendations and expectations of others.

 

The passage ends with Jesus giving a peculiar instruction to those in the house: they are to give the girl something to eat. In order to understand this instruction we have to recall some significant elements of the passage: Jairus chose Jesus over his friends, Jairus and those who believe were inside the home with the Lord, and in that context someone who was previously dead received a sharing in Jesus’ resurrected life. All those elements point towards this moment as a teaching for the early Church on what being a disciple means: having faith that chooses Jesus in the face of ridicule and rejection, trusting in the Lord’s power to address the most hopeless of situations, and welcoming everyone who has been given a share in Jesus’ risen life by feeding them. With this understanding, the food that Jesus instructs them to give is His Word and the Eucharist. This girl, who once was dead and the most unclean of all people (corpse), is now to be an equal in the Christian community because Jesus has touched her. Jesus offers a relationship to her through the disciples who will teach her His Word and share with her our Lord’s Eucharist. If it were up to the disciples they would never have touched the girl, but Jesus did and now He commands them to help her in developing her faith life. The girl had neither an idea of what preceded Jesus’ grace in her life nor what she was supposed to do with that grace—she had to learn a great deal, and the care the disciples give her after she “rises” at Jesus’ command will be instrumental in helping her become a mature disciple. This second story challenges us in our discipleship as members of the larger community. Sometimes we can find it difficult to welcome as brothers and sisters all those whom Jesus has touched. Sometimes, too, we can ignore the responsibility we have to give one another “something to eat” that will nourish their relationship with the Lord; rather, we sometimes think it’s their responsibility to feed themselves. Jesus wants our cooperation in helping provide nourishment to those who have recently come to know Him so that they can become mature in their faith as well. Being “touched” by Jesus isn’t the goal of a Christian life; it’s only the beginning.

 

How does the faith of Jairus inspire you? 

The girl had so much to learn about the Lord after He raised her; In your life who has been touched by the Lord and needs to learn more about Him, and how can you be the one who “gives them something to eat”? 

How are parents today ridiculed for going against popular expectations and choosing Jesus for their children rather than the recommendations of the world around them? 

The girl received the saving grace of Christ because of the intervention of her father. Who is an example of such faithful perseverance for you? 

What are evangelization ministries today that can bring Jesus to us and  us to Jesus so the Lord can touch  us and  we can gain a greater share in His life and grace? 

What opportunities or ministries in our faith community can feed us to help us mature in faith after we have been touched by Jesus?

 
 
The Daughter of Jairus. Carl Bloch. Oil on canvas, 1863. Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen.
Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat
to the other side,
a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea.
One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.
Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying,
“My daughter is at the point of death.
Please, come lay your hands on her
that she may get well and live.”
He went off with him,
and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.
She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors
and had spent all that she had.
Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd
and touched his cloak.
She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Immediately her flow of blood dried up.
She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him,
turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?”
But his disciples said to Jesus,
“You see how the crowd is pressing upon you,
and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?'”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
The woman, realizing what had happened to her,
approached in fear and trembling.
She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.
Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

While he was still speaking,
people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said,
“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”
Disregarding the message that was reported,
Jesus said to the synagogue official,
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside
except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official,
he caught sight of a commotion,
people weeping and wailing loudly.
So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”
And they ridiculed him.
Then he put them all out.
He took along the child’s father and mother
and those who were with him
and entered the room where the child was.
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.
At that they were utterly astounded.
He gave strict orders that no one should know this
and said that she should be given something to eat.

 
Eucharistic Revival
Please use the link below to access all of our Eucharistic Revival resources, including the Meaning of the Mass Study Guide available in both English and Spanish!
Eucharistic Revival Resources
THE TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Our Scripture reading comes from the Gospel of Mark 4:35–41. This passage seems like a simple story of a difficult journey that highlights the disciples’ fear and Jesus’ miraculous intervention. However, there are profound lessons of discipleship being taught in this text, and Mark has imbedded these lessons in very subtle ways. Let’s look at some of these lessons to see what challenges they offer us.

The reprimand of Jesus to the fearful disciples (see vs. 40, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”) is an important key for interpreting this passage: It is a teaching about the need for faith in the face of concern. In the verses that preceded this passage we read about Jesus teaching the crowds on the need for confidence and patience while the seed (Kingdom of God) quietly grows. The disciples heard that teaching and even received private explanation to ensure that they properly understood the message (see Mk 4:34). It is one thing to understand our Lord’s teaching, but it is something quite different to be able to live that teaching. This scene of the disciples crossing the sea in the midst of the storm shows how quickly they lose confidence and patience when their faith is tested. To use an image from our current educational system, the disciples may have passed the class but they failed the lab!

For all disciples, our faith must effectively move from the world of theory into the practical experiences of every–day situations. Faith is an act of trust, and faith is demonstrated most in difficult situations when we are tempted to lose confidence and patience. Jesus could command obedience from the wind and the sea. Our Lord could even command obedience from the unclean spirits (see Mk 1:27 and 3:11–12) and physical ailments (see Mk 1:42 and 3:5). However, through the gift of free will it is up to each of us to choose to obey what the Lord says to us. (Note: The Greek word for “obey” is an intensification of the verb “to hear”; Greek: upakouei.)  This contrast between the disciples who only hear Jesus and the other forces that actually obey Jesus invites us to consider the ways in which we have fallen short of conforming our lives to the message we have received. Jesus could say to the disciples, “Have you no faith?” not because He was challenging their lack of intellectual knowledge but because He was demonstrating their lack of ability to live a life conformed to that knowledge. Proper faith, then, is trusting God with courageous actions even when facing the most distressful situations.

What helps you translate your faith from the world of theory into the practical experiences of every day? 

What experiences have most tested your faith? 

When have you felt like you had no faith? 

When have you lost confidence or patience in the midst of a distressful situation? 

How does the connection between “hearing” and “obeying” help you better understand the challenge of discipleship?

This Gospel account is carefully crafted to communicate an important message about God’s intervention and care for His people. Notice that it is only when the disciples say, “do you not care…” (see vs. 38) that Jesus rises and calms the wind and the storm (the causes of their fear). That phrase, “Lord, do you not care…” is not so much a question as it is an accusation. The disciples interpreted the contrary forces of wind and waves as a sign that God had abandoned them and forgotten about them—that the Lord doesn’t care. It is at that moment that Jesus rises and brings great calm where there was previously a great storm. That statement, “Lord, do you  not care…” is one of the most dangerous and destructive thoughts that can cross our minds. It is terrible to think that someone doesn’t care what happens to us. Human relationships die when we sense that others don’t care about us. How much more so when it is the other person who has put us in the very situation of distress that threatens to destroy us. Remember, it was Jesus Himself who instructed the disciples to cross the sea to the other side (see Mk 4:35) and now they think they are about to die because of it. The disciples must have wondered why they were wasting their time fighting for their lives while trying to do what Jesus asked of them if God doesn’t care. Jesus knew their thoughts. He knew their individual resolve was being eroded because they felt abandoned and uncared for. Perhaps they even felt used for nothing more than a convenient means of transportation.

And so Jesus rises and manifests Himself to them so they could know that He had not abandoned them; rather, He had been with them all along deep in the hull of the boat. As Christians, we are sent by Jesus and are asked to take the risk of faith and become part of the mission of the Church. Like the disciples, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the situations we face. Sometimes we can find ourselves like the disciples, wondering if God cares. In those moments, we need to search for Jesus in the same place the disciples did—they found Jesus in the nave, the hull of the boat, and they went to Him. It is no accident that we refer to the Church as a boat—even in our sacred architecture we call the central hall of a traditional church building the “NAVE” (meaning “boat”). This is our boat and Jesus reposes deep in our hull as well. He is there in the tabernacle awaiting us, reminding us that He is with us, that He cares for us, that He personally knows our distress, and that He does not ask us to go anywhere that He himself has not gone before. The disciples could find the Lord because they knew where He reposed. As disciples, we have a particular responsibility to be witnesses of God’s presence and love in the world. Oftentimes that means recognizing when others are being overwhelmed by the challenges of life and faith and being there with them and for them in the midst of their difficulties.

When have you felt overwhelmed—and that no one cared—not even God?

Who was there for you? 

How can you be there for someone going through a similar situation? 

When have been comforted and encouraged by spending time with Jesus in the nave of your church?

The fear of the disciples and the dire reality of their situation would have meant very much to Christians of the first century. Mark’s community was facing the fierce persecutions of the Roman Emperor Nero. Certainly they understood the cry of the disciples who called out, “…we are about to perish”. It is no accident that we are also told about the storms that raged as the disciples tried to make their way to the “other side” of the Sea of Galilee. That is because the “other side” was the Gentile side, and the mission of Christianity to the non-Jewish world was filled with obstacles and controversy. Jesus had welcomed the Gentiles as part of the crowds who heard Him teach but that was not enough; Jesus wanted to bring the message of the Gospel into their land. The Acts of the Apostles describes the many controversies that surrounded the efforts of Paul to welcome Gentile converts into the Christian community (see Acts 15).

Sometimes the storms that cause us peril come from outside the Church as in Nero’s persecution, and sometimes the storms come from inside the Church through dissention, bickering, scandal. This passage of Scripture teaches us that storms will come from one source or another. These moments are not signs that we are going in the wrong direction. Rather, storms are sometimes the inevitable result of following God’s will. There are times when we can feel like we are about to perish from such storms. These situations can happen in families when parents do the right thing but their children do not accept it. The storms can happen in marriages when one spouse is responding to the will of God but the other does not support it. Storms can also oppose us and threaten to tear us apart in our professional, political, and social worlds. Jesus reminds us that no storm will be capable of stopping the mission of the Gospel—as long as we are willing to persevere and call out for God’s help in moments of distress.

What makes us think that storms mean we are going in the wrong direction?

If storms are sometimes the inevitable result of God’s will, what is the Christian understanding of peace and stability?

What personal experiences of distress can actually be the means of our salvation?

One last peculiar item to note in this passage is found in vs. 36 when we are told that the disciples took Jesus with them “just as he was”. In vs. 38 we are told that the disciples addressed Jesus as “Teacher”. These clues tell us that the disciples took Jesus with them in the boat with an insufficient understanding of who He was. They had seen the Lord heal people as well and cast out demons so they also considered him a miracle worker, healer, and sage. Perhaps they may have even had the insight to consider Jesus a prophet or anointed by God. By bringing Jesus with them “just as he was”, they thought they were bringing a friend, teacher, healer, and wise man—but that was not helpful when they faced life-threatening storms in the midst of the sea. It is in the course of their journey, when they thought that they were on the brink of peril, that they discover who Jesus really is and what the Lord can do in their lives. This discovery happens when they rouse the Lord (literally, “make him rise”).

The passage then tells us that when Jesus rose, he commanded the wind and the sea and they obeyed. The use of the term “rose” is intentional and is the same verb used of the Resurrection. Jesus is more than just a friend, teacher, healer, wise man, prophet, or anointed one of God: Jesus is the very Son of God risen from the dead who is Lord of Heaven and Earth. Now HE is someone we all want in our boat especially if we have storms to face. The Risen Lord Jesus Christ has the power to turn even great storms into great calm and to save us from certain peril. There is a catch, however. When the Risen Lord enters our lives, His presence warrants our complete obedience and unwavering trust. As disciples, it is not enough that we allow Jesus into our lives as a friend, teacher, healer, wise man, prophet, or anointed one; we are called to give Him total dominion over every aspect of our lives as the Risen Lord and trust Him in the midst of any storm.

What aspect of Jesus’ personality attracts you the most and why?

What does it mean to call Jesus ‘Lord’?

What part of your life is difficult to surrender to God’s healing love and direction? 

How can people today misunderstand the presence of Jesus in such a way that it  diminishes their ability to trust the Lord?

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Rembrandt. Oil on canvas, 1633. Unknown gallery.
Mark 4:35-41

On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us cross to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet!  Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

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THE ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of Mark 4:26–34. In this text our Lord continues to teach important lessons about discipleship and the Kingdom of God through the use of parables. Let’s study each of these teachings to better understand the implications for our lives today.

Jesus uses the parable of the seed and the harvest in order to draw out several points. First, after the seed is planted it seems to grow of its own accord. This growth was a mystery to the people of Jesus’ time and indicated God’s guidance and control of the process. Second, when it is planted the seed is always relatively small and insignificant compared to the fully mature plant that springs from the Earth. This contrast between the seemingly small and powerless initial appearance and the much larger eventual manifestation describes both the experience of Jesus and the experience of the early Church. Jesus was revealed in Mark’s Gospel as the Stronger One (Greek: Ischuroteros see Mk 1:7) yet our Lord’s Passion, Suffering, and Death on Calvary did not reveal His power in that moment; rather, His true power as the Stronger One would be manifested in the Resurrection. The early Church experienced a similar small beginning in the midst of persecution, rejection, and resistance yet the disciples were called to trust that mysterious growth was taking place nonetheless. In short, this parable teaches us to trust that the mission of the Gospel is real, effective, and growing even when we only see small results or even seeming failure for our efforts. Growth is taking place in those moments, and God is the one who is in control of it, not us. Third, the seed grows gradually into the fullness of a plant for a purpose and that purpose is to bear an abundant harvest. This process may take time (“first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear”) and we should be careful not to become complacent until the process has reached its mature and intended fulfillment in the harvest. That is an important message because the harvest is the very reason a seed is planted. Imagine how disappointed the farmer would be to have a field full of beautiful, healthy plants that produced no harvest! Sometimes that is how a disciple can be when we are self-centered and self-focused rather than God-centered and other-focused.

This parable reminds us that we have received the gift of faith (seed) for a reason and that reason is so that we will ultimately bear a rich harvest for others and not just care for ourselves. Each of these three points is important for our lives. The growth of faith is, first of all, a work of God while the role of a disciple is to cooperate fully with that work. Human actions, separate from the will of God, may neither hasten nor delay the coming of the kingdom Jesus initiated (planted). There are times when we can feel frustrated by lack of success or seemingly small results in our faith life. This parable gives us confidence that real growth is taking place even in such circumstances and that patience and perseverance are required of Christians. It also challenges us to realize that people may not be impressed with the growth but that they will be impressed with the harvest and that we have a responsibility to continue our growth in discipleship until we are bearing a manifold harvest for God. The Kingdom of God may be overlooked now because it is small and ordinary, but it will grow into a glorious reality. Oftentimes, we are called to accept God’s reign in our lives in very small and relatively insignificant ways. By doing so, the kingdom grows within us until we eventually accept God’s reign in large ways. If we wait for “greatness” before responding to the challenge of faith, then greatness will never come. By responding to the small moments and relatively insignificant opportunities for faithfulness, we are encouraging the Kingdom of God to grow to maturity.

What are some of the small ways in which you can allow faith to grow in your life today? 

What are some of the small ways in which you see God’s will being done in the world around you? 

What are the ways in which people are tempted to search for the great manifestations of the Kingdom of God such that they end up overlooking the small manifestations?  

Why do you think Jesus needed to remind the disciples of the importance of seeing the Kingdom of God in small ways rather than expecting it to always be manifest in great ways? 

What temptations can cause disciples to become complacent in their growth before they a harvest is produced?

How have other people seen a harvest take place in your life of faith? 

The second parable is that of the mustard seed that becomes a bush. That is a really strange image to describe the Kingdom of God! The mustard bush was a common plant along the Sea of Galilee where it grew to a height of four to six feet tall. It was known as being a hardy plant good for the health that germinated quickly and was capable of taking over a garden.[1] Certainly there are reasons why this plant would be an apt description for the Kingdom of God. Aside from the small beginnings and enormous growth referenced in the first parable, the Mustard Seed was also an image of perseverance (hardy) in adverse situations, good for people (Gospel), spread quickly (missionary), and was difficult to destroy or eradicate (perseverance). It is also important to note that the use of plant imagery to represent powerful kingdoms was common in the ancient world (see Ez 17:22–24 and Dn 4:20–21). That’s one of the reasons this parable is so surprising—that Jesus would use the image of a mustard bush to describe the Kingdom of God. You see, kingdoms in the time of Jesus did use the image of trees for self-description, but they always referenced trees that were perceived as symbols of power (like the Cedars of Lebanon, or the mighty Oak). To use the image of a mustard bush to describe a kingdom would have been a joke. That may be precisely the point: what the world considers insignificant and powerless is, in fact, God’s work that will grow to greatness.

Lastly, Jesus points out that the mustard bush also bears a certain harvest and that its branches provide shelter for the birds. Sometimes we think of this image as referring to bird nests elevated above the ground in the branches. Although this image has been used in Christian iconography as in the apse mosaic of the Crucifix in the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome, the mustard bush actually provided shelter for birds that lived on the ground and sought protection under low-lying branches. These birds were considered to be more vulnerable than others. This final insight points to the “fruit” the Church bears when it cares for the poor and vulnerable in our world as well. It is the “harvest” of charity that is a necessary sign of authentic faith and mature discipleship. The mustard bush may look great, but it is only of value as it provides protection, security, and benefit for others. Such charity may not mirror the powerful kingdoms of the world but is a manifestation of God’s reign.

What quality of the mustard seed do you think most motivated Jesus to use it as an image of the Kingdom of God? 

How can disciples be tempted to become content with their growth and stop short of producing a harvest of charity? In what ways do you think the description of a mustard bush by Pliny the Elder most accurately describes the Christian disciple (for example: “hardy”, “good for health”, “spreads quickly”, “invasive”, and “tenacious”)? 

In what ways can disciples in the Kingdom of God be tempted to imitate the standards of power and glory as manifested by secular kingdoms in the world? 

Most people today are not very familiar with mustard bushes. If Jesus were to use a more contemporary image to communicate to us the same analogy for the Kingdom of God, what do you think it would be and why? 


[1] Pliny the Elder, Natural History. New York: Penguin Classics, 1991.

St. Anthony of Padua with the Infant Christ. Oil on canvas, 1656. Private Collection.
Mark 4:26-34

Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”

He said, “To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.
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THE TENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of Mark 3:20–35. Due to the various possible dates on which Easter can fall, this Sunday is rarely celebrated in the normal course of a liturgical year and so it is not often that we hear this reading. However, this passage offers some very challenging and insightful messages of faith for us as disciples and reminds us of how easy it is to misunderstand and misidentify the work of God.

The event that triggered the reaction of Jesus’ family and the Scribes was the crowd that assembled and filled the house where the Lord and His disciples were staying. This is the same crowd that we heard about a few verses earlier in Mark 3:7–8 and they were composed of both Jews and Gentiles (people from Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, as well as Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and Tyre and Sidon). The inclusive nature of the crowd explains why they “could not eat” because sharing a meal with Gentiles was a violation of Jewish purity laws (Gal 1:19 and Gal 2:1–14). Our Lord’s inclusive mission has begun and not everyone is happy about it. Jesus’ family thought that our Lord was out of His mind, (Mk 3:21) which, for them, explained His religiously and culturally offensive action of inclusivity. The Scribes, who were sent from the powerful leaders in Jerusalem, accused Jesus of acting out of evil intent. It is almost always shocking when great people of faith challenge the cultural world of their time. Saint Francis of Assisi was called “Il Pazzo” (Italian meaning “the crazy one”) because of his radical commitment to the Gospel and the evangelical vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Saint Catherine of Siena was considered a woman of disrepute by some of her contemporaries because of her nighttime missions of mercy to the sick, the suffering, and the condemned. Saint Damian Molokai was defamed by those who were threatened by his radical ministry of mercy and solidarity to the lepers of the Hawaiian Islands. Certainly the list can go on. Sometimes people of profound faith are called to witness God’s love and mercy in a way that challenges the comfortable expectations of the world around them. When that happens, there is always a response of rejection, defamation, or accusation. Jesus was willing to withstand such misunderstandings, even by those closest to Him (His own family) for the sake of fidelity to the Father’s will. When have you been misunderstood or falsely accused because of a faith-filled action? How do you process that feeling? How does the threat of being misunderstood prevent us from acting on inspirations of faith? Do you think Jesus knew the risks of being misunderstood, and how do you think our Lord overcame the negative response of others? It is the accusation of the Scribes that evokes our Lord’s most serious response. It is one thing for His own family to think that He was out of his mind, but it is another thing for someone to label His actions as a manifestation of evil. In response to this accusation, Jesus presents a simple parable about what happens when a house is divided against itself; it is destroyed. The power of evil was obviously alive and well so that means it had not been destroyed by division. The enduring presence of evil indicates that our Lord could not be acting on behalf of Beelzebul after all  (a reference to Satan ‘, Lit. ‘Lord (ba’al) of Flies (ze’bul)’ and meant to be a derogatory term since flies feast on feces and basically means “Lord of Nothing Worthwhile”). The people of Jesus’ time were all too familiar with stories of how divided households fell. The House of Herod the Great came to an end after his death in 4 bc due to infighting. Even the imperial household was not immune from the fatal effects of internal division as three emperors attempted to reign during the years ad 68–69 following the death of Nero—all of them having met tragic ends due to internal divisions. Our Lord’s teaching would have been immediately acknowledged as true. The other point in our Lord’s teaching is equally important. Since our Lord has the power to overcome evil without becoming like it, we are left with the conclusion that He is the “stronger one” who can take control. Jesus was first introduced as the “stronger one” by John the Baptist in Mark 1:7 and is demonstrating His greater power over the forces of evil (see Mk 1:21–28). How can a disciple share in the Master’s ability to overcome evil? What barriers are you challenged to overcome and what benefit can that new freedom bring to your life? Evil destroys communion and is made evident in division. What areas of your life keep you from receiving the gift of communion?  The accusation of the Scribes was particularly dangerous because it basically accused Jesus of practicing magic (demonstrating powerful actions through the authority of evil), which was punishable by death or exile. For this reason, Jesus could not ignore their charge. After our Lord demonstrated why their charge could not be true, Jesus goes on to warn them of the seriousness of their accusation for their own souls: They have committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit for which there is no forgiveness. This warning has given rise to all sorts of speculation about what exactly constitutes “blasphemy” against the Holy Spirit. This speculation has caused substantial controversy among numerous religious scholars over the ages. In order to properly understand our Lord’s warning, we need to remember that Jesus is speaking to the trained religious leaders of His time who were regarded as the authoritative interpreters of tradition. These are people who should have known what the action of God looks like and endorsed it as good (healing the sick, freeing the possessed, and forgiving sins). Instead, they mislabeled as evil what was in reality good. A trained, educated, and influential religious leader and teacher should have known the difference, and so the accusation of the Scribes revealed that they were not open to the action of God (Holy Spirit) in the world. It is that rejection of God’s action, which constitutes an unforgivable sin, because one who is closed to divine intervention is also closed to that forgiveness which comes from the Lord. It can be easy for us to sometimes misinterpret the good actions of others by attributing evil motivation. This passage cautions us to interpret good actions with a principle of charity that seeks to give others the benefit of the doubt rather than rashly concluding sinister motives. Past experiences can give rise to preconceived notions and prejudices. In dealing with others, how is your objectivity diminished because of negative presumptions you make about their motives? How can charity help you regain clarity and openness about others’ intentions?  For whom do you find it difficult to attribute good and wholesome motives for their actions? The final part of this passage returns to the topic of Jesus’ family who came to see Him. In response to this information, our Lord announces that His new family is composed of those who do the will of God. This qualification is a redefinition of discipleship and a clarification of that quality which allows a person to be “close” to Jesus and to have access to Him. This new definition is not based on blood lineage or any other accidental claim, but on active fidelity to the will of God. In the ancient world of Jesus a person’s family was perceived as having a natural claim on an individual’s life, and it was expected that a person conform to the values and habits of their household. Jesus was acting in a way that was contrary to the established customs of His family, so they could not readily understand our Lord’s actions and intentions. Jesus would allow Himself to be governed only by the will of the Father rather than by any other human affection or earthly connection. This clarification of discipleship was important for Christians in the early Church because many of them had to leave behind their families in order to follow Jesus. If they complied with the demands of human affections or earthly connections, they might not have been able to persevere in following the Lord when the mission of the Gospel challenged them to go against the expectations and established customs of those around them. It is significant that Mark contrasts those who are inside the house and are close to Jesus (disciples) and those who are outside the house and more distant from Jesus (Scribes and family). This contrast is not only a physical differentiation but also a statement of faith attachment (discipleship) to the Lord. If we want to be close to Jesus then we must go beyond emotional attachments or communal association and commit our lives in active fidelity to the will of God as revealed in the life, ministry, and teachings of our Lord. This is a challenging definition of discipleship! Sometimes people can be tempted to think that the quality of their faith life depends primarily on the feelings they experience in prayer, their involvement in various ministries, the number of religious images they have in their home, or other secondary factors. In this passage, Jesus challenges us to primarily evaluate our faith lives based on how well we do the will of God. How can people deceive themselves into falsely thinking they are close to Jesus? Which conditions are typically required in order for you to enjoy prayer and participation in the liturgy? How can comfort and predictability prevent you from living your faith in a different way? How does it inspire you to know that you can be part of Jesus’ family?
The Heart of Mary. Oil on canvas, circa 1750. Bowers Museum, California.
Mark 3:20-35

Jesus came home with his disciples. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”

Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder the house. Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” His mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
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CORPUS CHRISTI

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of Mark 14:12–16 and 22–26. This account of the Last Supper on the Feast of Passover provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the gift of the Eucharist and to deepen our appreciation of the importance of this Sacrament for disciples. It is through this meal that Jesus establishes the New Covenant with us in His Blood. Through the prophetic instruction of His words and the identification of Himself with the bread and wine, Jesus is teaching us about the meaning of the Eucharist and its intended effect in our lives.

It is significant that the Last Supper takes place in the context of the Passover meal. The Passover meal not only recalled the events of deliverance from Egypt but also allowed the people sharing in the meal to become actual participants in those events of liberation. Jesus redefines the traditional Jewish Passover meal to give it a new significance when He identifies the bread and wine as His Body that will be broken and His Blood that will be poured out. That is a reference to the Cross. The sharing in this meal, then, is a ritual sharing in the sacrificial Crucifixion and Death of Jesus Himself. Saint Paul points to this meaning of the Eucharist when he says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s Death until He comes” (1 Cor 11:26). Our Lord’s Death has a saving purpose that perfects the role of the lamb in the traditional Passover meal; namely, the Death of Jesus will bring salvation for much more than one night or deliverance from temporal oppression—the Lord’s sacrificial Death will bring salvation for eternity and liberation from the very forces of sin and death. By sharing in this meal, disciples continue to participate directly in the saving effects of Calvary. For this reason the Eucharist has been referred to as the “Unbloody Sacrifice of Calvary.” Every time we receive the Eucharist we are accepting in ourselves the salvation won for us in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. That is the power of the new ritual meal Jesus gave to disciples throughout history so that all Christians could share fully in the grace of our Lord’s redeeming Death. To help the priest deepen his devotion during the Eucharistic Prayer, a Crucifix is normally placed on the altar so that as he consecrates the bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of the Lord, he is reminded of the sacrifice of Calvary and the New Passover that he is celebrating. It is important to note that the celebration of the Mass does not repeat the Death of Jesus but allows people of all time to participate in our Lord’s one eternal sacrifice.

Jesus associated His Crucifixion with the giving of His Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine. How does having a Crucifix near the altar help you focus on the Lord’s sacrifice present in the Eucharist?

The Passover was the defining experience of faith for the Hebrew people. In what ways is the Eucharist meant to be the defining experience of faith for Christians? 

From what do people today need deliverance and salvation and how can they receive that liberating grace through the Eucharist? 

It is also significant that our Lord defines this meal as a covenant in His Blood. Covenants were important moments in the life of the Jewish people. The first covenant in the Old Testament was made with Noah (see Gen 9:8–17) in which God expressed His divine desire for humanity to flourish. The second covenant was made with Abraham (see Gen 17:1–14) in which God promised that Abraham will be the father of a special nation that will have a divinely appointed future. The third covenant was made with Moses (see Ex 19–24) in which the Ten Commandments are given as a special bond between God and the People who ratify that bond by proclaiming, “all that the Lord has said, we will heed and do”. The fourth covenant was made with David (see 2 Samuel 7) in which God promised to raise up a kingdom for his offspring that will be established forever. Finally, the Lord promised a new covenant in Jer 31:31–33 that will be written upon people’s hearts. This new covenant was necessary because of the infidelity of Israel to previous covenants. For hundreds of years the people waited for this “New Covenant” to be realized. When Jesus presides at the Last Supper and announces the New Covenant in His Blood, every disciple around the table would have understood that our Lord was fulfilling the anticipated prophecy of Jeremiah.

Covenants are important in the Old Testament. Covenants were the expression of an enduring relationship with mutual rights and responsibilities. In previous covenants the people were unfaithful to their side of the relationship. In the Last Supper, Jesus represents both God and Man and so He is able to finally fully re-establish our lost relationship with God because He is both human and divine. Jesus, in Himself, is the New Covenant and invites us to participate in that covenant by receiving His Body and Blood. In order to understand the importance of blood in relationship to covenants, we have to remember that all covenants were sealed with a sacrifice that involved the shedding of blood. As the text from Exodus 19–24 indicates, Moses sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on both the altar and the people thus establishing a sharing of life through the sharing of blood. The shedding of blood was really a way of sealing a person’s commitment to a covenant; it was a way in which each party pledged their life blood for the other. It is significant that Jesus calls the Eucharist a covenant rather than a “gift”. That is because a covenant has mutual rights and responsibilities whereas a gift is something we only receive. The Covenant of the Eucharist is Jesus’ pledge of God’s life to us, and it requires the complete pledge of our lives to God in return.

How does understanding the Eucharist as a covenant rather than a gift change the way you receive it?  

In our lives, what right does God have to our lives because we share in the covenant of the Eucharist? 

What daily responsibilities do we incur as part of our covenant relationship with God? 

How does Jesus fulfill His part of the covenant with us? 

At what point in the Mass do you renew your participation in the New Covenant of Jesus? 

One of the most striking parts of this passage is when Jesus identifies His very Body and Blood with the elements of bread and wine. This would have been a very disturbing statement for the disciples. They could have easily understood Jesus if he were speaking in a symbolic sense, but that is not the case. Jesus makes an explicit identification of His very self with the elements of bread and wine. He didn’t say, “This is ‘like’ my body”; rather He said, “this IS my Body” and “this IS my Blood.” The disciples would have been very troubled by this explicit identification with Jesus’ Body and Blood because of the law in Lev 17:14 which prohibited the ingestion of flesh with blood. This radical identification of the Eucharistic bread and wine with the very Body and Blood of Jesus led to absurd accusations of cannibalism against Christians in the second century. Of course, the Christians of the Early Church responded by both affirming their belief that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist but in the form of bread and wine. We see this affirmation in the writings of Saint Paul when he exhorted the early Christians of Corinth to be aware of the awesome reality in which they are participating: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?  Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (see 1 Cor 10:16).

Paul further stresses the importance of reverencing the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist when he cautions the community to be aware of Who they are receiving (see 1 Cor 11:29, “A man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not discern the body rightly”). The Didache, an early Christian writing from the late first  century, affirms the belief that the Eucharist really is the Body and Blood of Jesus when it taught, “Let no one eat or drink of the Eucharist with you except those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord; for it is in reference to this that the Lord said, ‘do not give that which is holy to dogs.’”[1]  Saint Ignatius of Antioch in the early second century expressed this same belief when he wrote: “I desire the Bread of God, which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire His Blood, which is love incorruptible.”[2]  The metaphysical process by which ordinary bread and wine become the Divine Presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood was most famously promoted by the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas when he articulated the teaching of “transubstantiation” in which the essence of something (its “being” or substantial form) is replaced while the secondary qualities of that reality (its accidental forms of texture, taste, and appearance) remain the same. Following this teaching he also reminded us that this is a matter of faith and in the famous Eucharistic hymn Pange Lingua he wrote, “Let faith provide a supplement for the failure of the senses!”[3]

How do disciples show respect and reverence for the Divine Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? 

What experiences have awakened within you a realization of the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?

What spiritual graces can  we experience when we pray in the presence of the Eucharist that we cannot as readily experience away from that presence? 

What can a faith community do to help deepen their awareness of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? 

How do you respond after receiving our Lord in the Eucharist? 

Lastly, receiving the Eucharist and sharing in the Last Supper has implications for disciples. These implications are not always known in advance as is the case in Mark 14:23–24 where the disciples share in the cup before Jesus explains to them what it means. This is an important teaching for us because we don’t always know the implications of discipleship before we commit to the Lord either. Certainly the Christians of Mark’s community in first century Rome wondered why they were being persecuted by the empire for choosing to follow Jesus—but they were. It was an unforeseen consequence of their commitment to discipleship. They accepted that consequence nonetheless. To share in the cup of Jesus means that we may be called to share in His cup of suffering, trial, or difficulty as well. We like to know the implications of our commitments before we oblige ourselves, but the life of discipleship calls us to make an irrevocable and complete act of trust without such advance knowledge of where the Lord will lead us. Some other implications for discipleship are articulated in the writings of Saint Paul where he reminds the Christian community of the need to lead a “worthy life” because they share in the Body and Blood of the Lord. In doing so, Paul explicitly connects the reception of the Eucharist with the necessary moral conversion of all who receive it (see 1 Cor 10:14–22). In short, we must become conformed to the presence of Christ we receive.

Additionally, Paul teaches the Christian community that the Eucharist is the source of communion within the Church when he says, “because there is one bread, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share in the one loaf” (see 1 Cor 10:17). We are accustomed to understanding the Eucharist as a great gift, which it is; but this gift has implications for our lives, and it is important that we understand those implications to the best of our ability and strive to faithfully fulfill them (lest we receive the gift but prevent its transforming grace from having the divinely intended effect). The greatest implication of receiving the Eucharist is that we ourselves become a “living tabernacle” carrying Jesus to the world. Saint Paul understood the challenge of living a Eucharistic life and summarized well the obligation of a Christian to be a living tabernacle when he wrote, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Cor 4:7). Ultimately the Eucharist is what should form every aspect of a Christian disciple’s life. Saint Paul saw the connection between the Church and the Eucharist because both were revealed to be the Body of Christ (see 1 Cor 12:27). Saint Augustine further explained the formational power of the Eucharist and its relationship to the Church when he taught:

If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying ‘Amen’ to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear ‘The Body of Christ’, you reply ‘Amen.’  Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your ‘Amen’ may ring true! … Be what you see; receive what you are.”[4]  

When have you been asked to make a commitment without knowing the implications and what was that experience like? 

What are some of the ways in which receiving the Eucharist should lead to practical moral changes in people’s lives today? 

In what ways can disciples be tempted to form a communion with one another and share in the New Covenant of the Eucharist that is based on something other than radical commitment to Jesus? 

How does the image of being a “living tabernacle” inspire and encourage you in your life throughout the week? 

How does the quote from Saint Augustine inspire you? 

Paul taught the early Christians that the Eucharist is the source of their communion as a Church. How far do you think the early Christians extended that sense of communion and how did they express it?


[1] Didache, IX, N. 5.

[2] St Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans, Chap. VII.

[3] The Latin text reads, “Præstet fides suppleméntum Sénsuum deféctui.”

[4] St Augustine, Sermon 272 on the Nature of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Part 3, Vol. 7, trans. Edmund Hill, O.P. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1993), pp. 300-301.

The Fount of Life. Ramón Mujica et al. Oil on canvas, circa 1700. St. Michael the Archangel Church, Cayma, Peru.
Matthew 14:12-16, 22-26

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him. Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”‘ Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there.” The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.

While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

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TRINITY SUNDAY

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of Matthew 28:16–20. In this text we read of Jesus’ Great Commission to the Church to go forth and make disciples of all nations. Following this Great Commission, Jesus then goes on to specify the two particular ministries that are necessary in order to make disciples: Baptism and teaching. These two ministries are analogous to necessary ingredients of a recipe. Let’s look at each of these ministries so as to better understand how we can fulfill our Lord’s Great Commission and make disciples in our world today.

The first ministry Jesus commands His disciples to carry out is that of Baptism. Baptism is more than just a religious ceremony or ritual; rather, Baptism is the means by which we become sharers in the Divine Life of God. This gift of Divine Life involves all the Persons of the Holy Trinity. In Baptism, we become adopted children of the Father in the family of God (see Eph 1:5, Gal 4:5–7, Rom 8:14–19, Jn 1:12). Because of that adoption we can call God our “Father” in the Lord’s Prayer and refer to one another as brothers and sisters. Baptism also makes us a living Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16–17) as we are born again of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5). We also become members of the Body of Jesus Christ on earth (1 Cor 6:15–20, 1 Cor 12:27) and a spiritual edifice dedicated to the honor and glory of God in Jesus (Eph 2:19–22, 1 Pt 2:5). Baptism changes our very identity as we die to our former way of life so as to live the new life of grace. Saint Paul speaks to this change of identity and new life when he tells us that in our Baptism we clothed ourselves with Christ (Gal 3:27) and that in the waters of Baptism we were buried with Christ and rose with Him (Rom 6:4; Col 2:12). Saint Paul develops this thought even further when he says in Gal 2:20 that it is Christ who lives in him. With this fundamental change of identity comes a correlating change in mission and destiny; we are to do the works of God until one day we stand in God’s presence.

This Baptismal incorporation into the life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit has additional effects in us. It heals us from the wound of Original Sin and washes clean all other faults (see Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Eph 5:26). It also gives us grace and strength to live the Christian life through the infusion of supernatural grace, gifts, and virtues. Not only does Baptism incorporate us into fellowship with the Holy Trinity but it also brings us into communion with the Church and the People of God. As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we not only call to mind the mystery of who God is but we also remember that God has invited us to share in His Divine Life through our Baptism. As disciples, it is important for us to remember that each day we are called to live and move and have our being in the Lord (see Acts 17:28). Saint Thomas Aquinas reminded us that our souls are conformed to God by grace so we can assimilate the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the love given by the Father through the Son.[1] Once God’s love is in our hearts, we grow in union with Him and replicate that same unity in all that we do. We, then, become healers of fractures and divisions; in other words, true disciples of Christ. In this way, the communion of persons we find in the Trinity becomes the model for unity in our families, congregations, relationships, and society. These divine actions are known as “Trinitarian Missions” because they reveal the natural internal and external movement of love, which always tries to reach out and repair what is broken. What an awesome gift! Baptism is not a mere religious ceremony; it is the beginning of a Christian’s life by which we are drawn to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

How does the above reflection inspire you to learn more about the Holy Trinity? 

With which Person of the Holy Trinity do you relate most frequently in your daily life?

About which aspects of Baptism would you like to learn more?

When are you most conscious of the fellowship of the Holy Trinity into which you are invited?

With which Person of the Holy Trinity are you most unfamiliar and how might you learn more? 

The second ministry Jesus instructs His disciples to carry out is that of teaching the newly Baptized to observe everything our Lord commanded. It is significant that Jesus didn’t state that the disciples should teach them by making them memorize everything the Lord said. When Jesus commanded that the newly Baptized be taught to observe His commands, He is emphasizing the necessity of living a life conformed to the Gospel. It is one thing to receive the gift of Baptism (see previous reflection) but it is another thing to know how to live it. That is why teaching is so important—it actualizes our new identity in a life conformed to the Gospel. One of the distinctive aspects of Christianity is this necessary integration of belief and practice. Jesus taught His disciples how to love God and Neighbor in a very practical way. He taught them how to care for one another in the community of the Church. He taught them the priority of mercy and forgiveness in their relations with one another. He even taught them to love their enemies, pray for those who persecute them, and give to those who will not repay. Indeed, Jesus taught us to live as children of our heavenly Father (see Mt 5:45). It takes perseverance and encouragement to live well our Baptismal identity by observing in daily practices the way of life Jesus taught. It also requires mentors who are willing to serve as examples and guides to show us how to live our Baptism.

The fellowship of the Most Holy Trinity is the foundation of a solid Christian life. When we learn to live as children of the Father, we become brothers and sisters in Jesus who are united in that love which is the Holy Spirit. Our companionship with Jesus sustains us and gives us encouragement to face challenges. Our identity as children of a loving Father inspires us to please the Father in all that we do. The enthusiasm of the Holy Spirit leads us to seek God’s will for our lives in each situation. This ministry of teaching Christians to observe what Jesus has commanded is all encompassing. It is not only for teachers or catechists or parents or priests; we all influence one another in our daily actions and so each of us bears the responsibility of helping others observe what the Christian life calls for in specific situations.

Who taught you what it means to live as a child of God? 

In what situations do you find it most difficult to “observe” Jesus’ commands? 

How do you see the everyday life of a Christian immersed in the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity? 

Sharing in God’s life is not only an emotional feeling or inspirational sentiment but is meant to have real effects in how we live each day. What happens when someone tries to keep their religious beliefs  from affecting their daily life? 

What happens when someone receives the gift of Baptism but is not taught to observe Jesus’ commands?

Lastly, the final words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew are a promise of His lasting presence with the Church when He says, “I am with you always until the end of the world.” At the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, we were told that Jesus would be “Emmanuel”, a name that means “God with us” (see Mt 1:22–23). Now, Jesus promises to be “God with us” and thus reveals Himself as Emmanuel in this final verse. We are never alone when we carry out the mission that Jesus entrusted to us. The Lord accompanies disciples who are living out their discipleship and mission. Sometimes it is possible for us to feel forsaken by the Lord in our mission. It is easy to get accustomed to feeling or experiencing God in one way, and when the circumstances of our lives change, our awareness of God tends to fade. In these moments we may face the temptation of walking away from the mission Jesus has given us, and we may even risk our communion with the Lord. Instead of praying, “Lord, why aren’t you with me”, maybe we should be praying, “Lord, how can I be with you in this moment?” Here the words of Jesus imply both the promise of His fidelity to us and the invitation for us to persevere in Him. He promised us His presence “where two or three are gathered in His name” (see Mt 18:20) and that we would find Him in the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned, and the homeless (see Mt 25:35–45). Indeed, the Lord is with us always.

How have you experienced the presence of Jesus in your practice of discipleship? 

When do we tend to doubt the presence of Jesus and how does this understanding of Jesus’ promise shed light on those situations of doubt? 

How have you experienced Jesus with you in the Sacraments? 

How have you experienced the presence of Jesus in the work of ministry?

Eternal God, eternal Trinity, you have made the blood of Christ so precious through his sharing in your divine nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find, the more I search for you. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, and I grow more famished for your light. I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are. I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery and the beauty of your creation with the light of my understanding. I have clothed myself with your likeness and have seen what I shall be. Eternal Father, you have given me a share in your power and the wisdom that Christ claims as His own, and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you. You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. You have made of me a new creation in the blood of your Son, and I know that you are moved with love at the beauty of your creation, for you have enlightened me. Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light and causes me to know your truth. By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, I recognize that you are the highest good, one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love. You are the garment which covers our nakedness, and in our hunger you are a satisfying food, for you are sweetness and in you there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God!

Saint Catherine of Siena’s Prayer to the Blessed Trinity

(From her reflections on Divine Providence, Cap. 167, Gratiarum actio ad Trinitatem)

[1] St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, Q. 43, art. 5.

Holy Trinity. Hendrick van Balen. Oil on panel, circa 1620. St. James’ Church, Antwerp.
Matthew 28:16-20

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

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PENTECOST SUNDAY

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of John 20:19–23. It is the scene of the Risen Christ sending the Apostles and “breathing” on them. It is an appropriate passage to reflect on as we celebrate the moment when the first disciples were enlivened by the Holy Spirit and filled with enthusiasm to continue the mission of Jesus.

The word “enthusiasm” comes from the two Greek words meaning “God within” (en theos). It refers to the experience a person has when they are “filled” with the Spirit of God. In the Greek world it was originally perceived as an arbitrary invasion of God into the psyche that filled the individual with an indomitable energy. This was the way the Greeks explained divine inspiration. In the Christian faith, however, to be enthusiastic is not only to be energetic; it is to be courageous, motivated, and committed. The disciples had that experience and thus began to carry on the mission of Jesus fearlessly as His witnesses even unto death. Because of their enthusiasm, they were able to do the things that Jesus did. The gift of the Spirit transformed their fear into faith. It motivated them from being self-preserving to becoming other-serving, and it changed the mission of the Church from merely a human organization into a holy endeavor. Wow—the Spirit can transform lives and communities!

When in your life do you experience “enthusiasm” in the religious sense of being “filled with God”?

What works of faith, as in the Mission of Jesus, have you been led to do as a result of your enthusiasm? 

What fears can cause people today to be “paralyzed” in their witness of faith and dampen their enthusiasm? 

How can people fulfill their religious observances with a “self-preserving” attitude rather than an “other-serving” attitude? 

In John 19:22 we are told that Jesus “breathed on them.” That is an important statement for several reasons. First, it is a direct allusion to the action of God in Genesis 2:7 when the Lord first created humanity with an infusion of Divine Life. This connection to the first creation is reconfirmed in Ezekiel 37:9–10 and Wisdom 15:11 and speaks to the power of the Holy Spirit in the transformation of individual Christians. Jesus’ action of breathing on the disciples is a statement that a new creation is taking place in the life and mission of the Church and that humanity is regenerated by the life-giving action of the Holy Spirit. This life-giving spiritual regeneration occurs in the Sacraments through Baptism (see Jn 3:5), through the gift of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, and in the Eucharistic banquet where Tradition tells us that if we, with faith, eat the Body of Christ, we eat “Fire and Spirit” because it is the Holy Spirit we invoke over the gifts during the consecration.[1]

Second, the gift of the Spirit makes the community of believers, the Church, a fundamentally spiritual reality that carries out the works of God. These are not mere human efforts. When our Lord breathed on the disciples, He gave them the Spirit that could continue to mediate His Divine Presence even in His physical absence. The Church, then, is the Mystical Body of Christ in the world through which Jesus continues His ministry (See 1 Pt 2:5 for a similar understanding of the Church as a “spiritual edifice”).

Third, the gift of the Holy Spirit draws the disciples into the communion of life and love, which is the Holy Trinity. This incorporation into the Divine Mystery is manifested by the ability to know the mind of Christ and speak with a prophetic voice in our time (see Joel 3:1 [alt. 2:28], 1 Cor 2:6–16, Jn 15:26–27 and 16:12–15).

How is the prophetic ministry of the Church, that is speaking on God’s behalf so as to interpret events from God’s perspective, carried out today both in the lives of individual disciples and through the institutional body of the Church? 

What ministries in your faith community most clearly carry out the work of Christ today? 

What is a new work Christ wants to accomplish through your faith community? 

What prevents people from being able to fully receive and live the spiritual regeneration of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist? 

The Holy Spirit’s presence in Acts 2:1–11 was manifested by the ability of people to hear the message of the Gospel despite “foreign tongues” (different languages). That means the Holy Spirit is able to bring about a deep communion of faith that crosses the divisions of language and culture. As Saint Paul teaches us, when one member of the body suffers, the other members suffer with it; when one member rejoices, all the members rejoice (see 1 Cor 12:26). That is a statement of deep communion of life lived on a global scale. Sometimes, however, we can have narrow vision and become shortsighted when it comes to understanding and embracing the universal communion of the Church. When we give in to a narrow vision, we become selective and limited in our charity and concern.

When have you experienced your faith as something that unites you deeply with those whom you have never met? 

When do you most tangibly experience the “universal communion” of the Church? 

What are some of the attitudes or actions that can cause us to lose sight of the universal nature of the Church? 

How do you express your universal communion with those whom you have never met? 

Jesus sent His disciples to be witnesses to the world, and that means they were to go beyond the safe confines of their own community so that others could experience the joy and peace they themselves had received from the Lord. What parts of our world most need Christian witnesses today?

In Assisi, every year on the Feast of Pentecost, Saint Francis of Assisi used to gather with his followers to pray for the Holy Spirit to be with them and guide them. Francis believed that the power of the Holy Spirit could change the world. Through Francis, the Holy Spirit indeed did change the world. The Holy Spirit is able to transform fear into courageous faith, anxious concern into peace, alienation into reconciliation, and disciples into missionaries! That’s quite a powerful work!

When do you pray to the Holy Spirit? 

Through whom is the Holy Spirit working in a particularly powerful way to transform the Church and the world today? 

What do you feel prompted to do by the Holy Spirit in your own life of faith?

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:3b–7, 12–13), he specifies that there are many gifts given by the Holy Spirit to individuals, but that those gifts are for the benefit of everyone and not just the personal benefit of the one who receives the gift. Thus, God equips us and asks us to work together as one body (the Body of Christ) so that the ministry of the Gospel can be accomplished through the Church. Each of us is given some gift that we can use to help carry out that mission. Remember: There are no spare parts on the Body of Christ! If we are not actively engaged in the work of ministry, it is because we haven’t found our place and not because there is no place for us.

What are some of the gifts, talents, or skills with which you have been entrusted, and how can these be used for the common good and the mission of the Church? 

What gifts do we most need in the Church today to better carry out our mission? 

What gifts, talents, or skills are you still seeking to use in the service of the Gospel?

Jesus says to the disciples, “As the Father sent me, so I send you … Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit is given so that we can continue the mission of Jesus in the world. Jesus was sent to make God known, and in order to do that He had to make love known (because God is love). To make love known, He died on the Cross for us in an ultimate witness of self-giving and sacrificial love for others even in the face of hatred, rejection, and persecution. The Holy Spirit empowers us to carry on the mission of making God known in our world through the same demonstration of love. Others come to know God (who is love) through us. That is why Jesus was sent—and that is the purpose for which He sends us.

Who in our time most needs to know the love of God?

How have you come to know about the love of God through the witness of someone else?

If Jesus appeared to us this Sunday and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit … as the Father has sent me so I send you,” how do you think that personal challenge of Jesus would practically affect your community and its ministries?

Take time this Sunday to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit and to be accepting and responsive to that gift when it is given.

 

Breathe into me, Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.

Move in me, Holy Spirit that my work, too, may be holy.

Attract my heart, Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.

Strengthen me, Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy.

Protect me, Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy.

Saint Augustine

 


[1] St Ephrem as quoted by Pope St. John Paul II, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” in AAS 95(17 April 2003), N. 17.

Sequence

Veni, Sancte Spiritus

Come, Holy Spirit, come! And from your celestial home Shed a ray of light divine! Come, Father of the poor! Come, source of all our store! Come, within our bosoms shine. You, of comforters the best; You, the soul’s most welcome guest; Sweet refreshment here below; In our labor, rest most sweet; Grateful coolness in the heat; Solace in the midst of woe. O most blessed Light divine, Shine within these hearts of yours, And our inmost being fill! Where you are not, we have naught, Nothing good in deed or thought, Nothing free from taint of ill. Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour your dew; Wash the stains of guilt away: Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray. On the faithful, who adore And confess you, evermore In your sevenfold gift descend; Give them virtue’s sure reward; Give them your salvation, Lord; Give them joys that never end. Amen. Alleluia.
PentecostFidelis Shabet. 1867. Catholic parish church of St. Gordian and Epimachus, Leutkirch, Germany.
John 20:19-23

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

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SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER ASCENSION

Our Gospel passage is taken from Mark 16:15–20. In this passage we hear Jesus’ final instruction to the disciples before the Lord ascends. These instructions provide a lasting lesson for the Church and all disciples as we strive to carry out the mission entrusted to us. Let’s look at this passage and reflect on some particular aspects of it.

The first thing to note about this passage is the emphasis that Jesus places on the importance of the universal mission: The world’s salvation depends on it. The disciples cannot casually dismiss or limit the commission to proclaim the Gospel. Believing the message of Jesus won’t just make our lives more peaceful, or more inspired; rather, believing the Gospel and being Baptized will be the source of the world’s salvation! That is an awesome responsibility that the disciples now bear, and their failure to effectively carry out that mission will be the basis of their own judgment. If the disciples choose to proclaim the Gospel to one group but not another, they fail to fulfill the Lord’s command to be universal in their mission. Thus, they must be careful never to limit or restrain their missionary mandate. Also, it should be remembered that the messenger must be credible in order for the message to be credible. The challenge to proclaim the Gospel, then, requires more than just words; it requires an authentic life and integrity of faith that is conformed to the message. The Gospel isn’t fully proclaimed until both the messenger and message are completely and authentically representing the person of Jesus. That is a very powerful challenge for us as disciples who have inherited our Lord’s commission through our own Baptism. Jesus continues to send us out “into the whole world” so that we can proclaim the Gospel to “every creature”. We can sometimes be tempted to only bring the message of faith into safe or predictable circumstances of success and to avoid those settings about which we are unsure or perceive to be hostile. Sometimes we can even choose to limit our witness so as to avoid those with whom we do not wish to be associated. When we create such limits then we disregard our Lord’s command to be universal and comprehensive in our mission. Also, we are challenged to be credible messengers who are radically conformed to the message of the Gospel. Most people have an instinctive ability to detect inauthenticity and insincerity; if we are not authentic messengers of the Gospel then others will not listen to our message.

How does the message of the Gospel suffer today because of a lack of credibility in the messengers? 

What are ways in which we set limits to our missionary efforts so as to choose some settings to witness the Gospel but exclude others?

Jesus places on the disciple the responsibility of effectively proclaiming the Gospel. With whom do we tend to place blame when others don’t believe the Christian message? 

In what ways does our faith community do a good job of proclaiming the Gospel “to all the world” and in what areas do we fall short?

Next, Jesus lists the various signs that will accompany those who believe. These signs have sometimes been understood as extraordinary powers that were promised to the apostles. However, the Biblical text indicates that these signs will be manifested collectively by those who believe—that is a group of believers that transcends time and includes us! These signs are not for the benefit of the individual but are given for the authenticity and credibility of the mission. Many of these signs relate to the ministry of Jesus Himself and the experience of the early Church. Let’s look briefly at each of these signs to see what they might mean for us today.

●     Drive out demons—On several occasions in Mark’s Gospel Jesus is presented as driving out demons (see Mk 1:25–26, 1:34, 3:10–12, 5:8, 9:25–26). Our Lord even commanded His disciples to do the same as part of their sharing in His mission (see Mk 3:14–15, 6:7). For instance, Mary Magdalene, one of the greatest of the early disciples, was someone from whom demons were exorcised (see Mk 16:9). It is important to recall that Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God, which is necessarily opposed to the power of evil. Christian disciples are called to continue this confrontation with the forces of evil in whatever contexts they exist. For the Church to carry out its authentic and credible mission, we must be disciples who continually strive for holiness by rooting out situations of sin and evil in our own lives and in the lives of others.

How can disciples be tempted to become complacent with sinful situations rather than confront sinful situations in their own lives and in the lives of others? 

How can Christians today be deceived into believing that the power of evil does not exist, and what is the danger of such an errant belief? 

How does the power of evil attempt to discredit the message by corrupting the messengers? 

●     Speak new languages—The ability to learn new languages was necessary for the early Church to carry out its universal mission. The disciples lived in one small part of the world with only one cultural experience. In order for the message of the Gospel to be proclaimed to the whole world, it would be necessary for the disciples to go beyond the boundaries of their own familiarity and find ways to effectively communicate the Gospel in different languages, cultures, and life situations. An effort such as this requires creativity, flexibility, and perseverance. As disciples who live in the twenty-first century, we continue to experience this same challenge. For the mission of the Gospel to be authentic and credible, we must learn to make the message of Jesus intelligible and relevant in various cultures and individual life situations. Jesus reached out and effectively communicated with others who were “outside” the Jewish world. For example, His healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter in Mark 7:24–30 and the Gerasene Demoniac in Mark 5:1–20. He expects us to go beyond the world of our comfortable familiarity as well.

What are some of the cultures or life situations in our world that present challenging situations when it comes to effectively proclaiming the Gospel? 

What are some of the “languages” (ability to relate) we need to develop in order to communicate with others more effectively in our world?

 

●     Pick up serpents and drink deadly things without harm—A similar promise of protection from serpents and poison is also found in Luke 10:19 and Luke 11:11–12. In the Acts of the Apostles we see Paul experiencing this promise as he is preserved from harm despite being bitten by a snake while shipwrecked on the island of Malta (see Acts 28:1–6). Snakes are oftentimes understood to be a symbol of evil, yet the context of this promise suggests a more natural rather than supernatural preservation from danger. (Notice that the promise to be preserved from harm is associated with both the handling of serpents and the ingestion of a deadly thing. Because of this association, it is possible that the “deadly thing” referred to in this passage is actually that of snake venom rather than a different poison.)  This sign most likely refers to the promise of protection from all other forces or situations that might oppose the Church or frustrate the mission of the Gospel. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus gives a similar promise to Peter that the powers of Hell shall not prevail against the Church. According to this interpretation, this sign would refer to the ability of believers to persevere despite whatever obstacles, opposition, or danger they may face. That very perseverance in the face of adverse situations adds credibility and authenticity to the Gospel message itself. Throughout history the Church has faced opposition and even poisonous influence from a variety of sources but disciples persevered nonetheless. Not even the forces of death can stop the Christian proclamation of the Gospel. Some historians believe that it was the courageous witness of the martyrs that even converted pagan Rome.

How are you inspired when you see someone persevere in faith despite adverse situations? 

What dangers exist for believers today, and how is the message of the Gospel being obstructed or resisted? 

What are some of the poisonous attitudes or behaviors that can weaken disciples and diminish the effectiveness of the Gospel message? 

How do you see God preserving disciples from harmful situations in very practical ways?  Most people experience an instinctive fear when they see a snake and they respond by drawing back. What fearful situations can cause us to draw back from witnessing the Gospel or carrying out the mission of the Church in a particular moment? 

●     Lay their hands on the sick and they will recover—One of the central ministries of Jesus was that of healing the sick. There are too many occurrences of our Lord’s healing action to recount in this space. Jesus makes it clear that authentic disciples will continue His healing work in the world. We see Paul carrying out this work of healing through the laying on of hands in Acts 28:7–8 after he is saved from the serpent’s bite. Caring for those in distress, even at risk to one’s own personal safety, is a hallmark of selfless love. Christianity is not a private relationship that affects only the believer. Rather, Christian disciples actively allow the love of God to work through them to make a concrete difference in the lives of others. An enduring central ministry for Christians is that of alleviating the suffering of others. Healing is carried out in a variety of ways ranging from personal care to faith-based health care institutions. Healing can occur on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. Virtually every one we meet, including each of us, is wounded in one way or another. As disciples, we are assured that the Lord will continue His healing ministry through us—if we will only cooperate and be His instrument of personal contact with others.

How do you see the healing ministry of Jesus being carried out in the lives of disciples today? 

Why do you think Jesus chose to include healing as one of the four signs of authentic and credible faith? 

What are symptoms that someone is experiencing a need for emotional or spiritual healing? 

What makes the healing ministry of a disciple different from the healing work of social service agencies or for-profit health care institutions? 

What challenges do disciples face today in carrying out the healing ministry of Jesus?

Disciples who believe and are Baptized will continue the very ministry of Jesus in the world. The Lord will give them the tools and the necessary protection to ensure the success of their missionary efforts. With that promise and assurance of divine protection, the disciples were motivated to begin their ministry as fearless and faithful messengers. The same should be true for us as well.

The Ascension of ChristAttributed to Dosso Dossi. Oil on panel, 15th c.
Mark 16:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.

Eucharistic Revival
Please use the link below to access all of our Eucharistic Revival resources, including the Meaning of the Mass Study Guide available in both English and Spanish!
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SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of John 15:9–17. In this passage Jesus continues His instruction on love as the defining quality of discipleship. In order for disciples to remain in the abiding love, life, and joy of Jesus, they will need to keep His commandments. A disciple can be obedient out of a variety of possible motivations. In this teaching Jesus reminds us that our primary motivation for keeping His commandments should be our relationship with the Lord as friends rather than servants or slaves. The Greek word doulos is often translated as either “slave” or “servant”. Both translations are valid and each term offers insights into some distinctive aspects of discipleship. It should be noted that many great people of faith in the Old Testament and the New Testament were described as being the doulos of God. Some examples include Moses in Deuteronomy 34:5, Joshua in Joshua 24:29, David in Psalm 89:20, Paul in Titus 1:1 and James in James 1:1).

The image of being a slave emphasizes some specific aspects of discipleship. A slave serves in an act of complete obedience to the will of the master. In Mark 10:44 and Matthew 20:27–28 Jesus taught the disciples that they must become the “slave” of all. Jesus even referred to Himself in similar terms. Paul used the term to refer to himself and his obligation to preach the Gospel. Slaves fulfill their duty because of who they are. Christians are called to serve others because of their identity as well. Paul tells us that through our Baptism we owe a “debt” of love to one another (see Rom 13:8–10). In this sense, Christians are called to willingly place their lives in obedience to Christ and unlimited, loving service to others. A slave has no private life of his own; all that he is and all that he has belongs to the master. A slave even surrenders his future to the master’s will. This life-long, all-encompassing duty is an obligation and not a choice for disciples. However, the image of being a slave also has some negative aspects to it. Slaves perform their duties mostly out of a desire to avoid punishment. Thus, a slave’s obedience to the master’s command was often based on fear. Also, a slave simply followed the instructions of the master whether those orders reflected the individual slave’s will or not. As disciples, we do owe a debt of love to the other people God has placed in our lives. That debt can never be fully repaid. We also are called to serve the Lord out of duty as part of our Baptismal identity and to even be obedient when God’s will takes us where we ourselves would not choose to go. But something can be missing when a person is motivated primarily by a fear of punishment. Sometimes Christians can be motivated in their discipleship for the sole reason of wanting to avoid the wrath of God.

Why do you think Paul used the term doulos in a positive way to describe his relationship to God? 

Which aspects of the image of a slave can positively inform and inspire your discipleship? 

When are you motivated by fear of punishment in your faith life? 

What is it about the image of a slave that you do not like?

The image of being a servant also emphasizes some specific aspects of discipleship. A servant exercises his free will and decides to serve the master. Jesus often used the image of a servant in his parables so as to teach lessons of discipleship. Servants have freedom to come and go on their own terms. Servants can choose the employment they want. Servants can even have their own private lives and make their own decisions for their futures and the futures of their families. The image of a servant focuses on the power of individual autonomy in choosing to serve others. Certainly disciples must choose to place their lives in God’s service on a daily basis and so faithfully exercise that same free will and autonomy. As servants, we bear the responsibility of managing our lives and making decisions for the good of others. However, the image of being a servant also has some negative aspects to it. Servants carry out their duties and fulfill the master’s will because they desire reward and recompense. Servants can even think that they deserve their just remuneration. Because servants have greater freedom, they can choose when they serve and when they don’t. Similarly we are called to be servants who make a free choice each day to place our lives in the service of God and others. Sometimes, like servants, disciples can be tempted to follow the Lord for the sake of reward or to think that God owes them certain blessings and favors. This attitude can be detrimental to the spiritual life and cause frustration and disappointment in disciples. Oftentimes, this attitude is manifested by resentment when difficulties occur and a person feels unjustly treated by God because they “did all the right things” and think they deserve to be preserved from difficult situations. Disciples who are motivated primarily by desire for reward remain self-centered in their attitude. Also, being a disciple is not just something we do forty hours a week like a job; being a disciple requires more commitment than simply being a hired hand for the Lord.

Which aspects of the image of a servant can positively inform and inspire your discipleship? 

When do you find yourself being motivated in your faith life by a desire for reward or in order to earn God’s good favor?

What is it about the image of a servant that you do not like? 

Why do you think Jesus used the image of a servant so often in his parables?

Jesus then tells His disciples that He wants them to be “friends” rather than servants or slaves. This image of discipleship is rich and challenging. Friends care for one another out of love rather than fear of punishment or desire for reward. Friends are friends all day, every day, even when they are not in the presence of one another. Friends want to understand the other person’s perspective so they can have a common vision and share a common will. Friends want to spend time together and make such occasions a priority in their schedules. Friends choose to go out of their way for the other person and to help them in any way they can. Friends love one another and know that they are loved by each other. Friends will respond at any hour of the night or day to the other’s need. Friends want the other person to be a part of their personal lives. Friends put up with each other’s shortcomings and weaknesses while encouraging growth and improvement. Friends know what brings the other happiness and go out of their way to carry out those joy-giving actions as a celebration of their relationship. There are so many great reasons why Jesus chose the image of “friends” to be His lasting definition of discipleship. That’s the relationship Jesus wants with us!

Which aspect of the image of a friend can positively inform and inspire your discipleship? 

When do you find yourself being motivated in your faith life primarily by love for God? 

What is most challenging about the image of being a friend of Jesus? 

How do you make time to spend with Jesus in the course of your day? 

When do you go out of your way to do something simply because you know it brings God joy?

These various images of discipleship are all given as part of Jesus’ commandment to love one another as He has loved us. This is more than a commandment to love. It is also a lasting definition of what love means. The definition of love can vary from one person to the next. It can be easy for us to love others—as long as we get to love them on our terms! Jesus wanted to clarify and establish once and for all what true love looks like and so He defined it for us on the Cross. This definition is meant to prevent any misunderstandings of what Christian love is. While we usually pay attention to the first half of that commandment “Love one another”, it is really the second half of the verse that gives the whole verse its meaning: “As I have loved you”. The love of Jesus was powerful indeed. He washed the feet of those who denied Him and shared the Last Supper with those who betrayed Him. He forgave those who crucified Him and healed those who were arresting Him. He cared for the needs of others even as He Himself was dying. He loved people regardless of whether they appreciated it, reciprocated it, or even wanted it. He manifested the love of God that is creative, redemptive, sanctifying, and sacrificial. If disciples are His “friends,” then disciples will manifest the same love in their lives that Jesus manifested in His life. It’s significant to note that Jesus directs the disciples’ love to one another rather than to Himself. That’s because Jesus will be present in the world through the lives of His disciples. Thus, disciples are to continue their love for Jesus in their relations within the Christian community and in doing so manifest their love of God and Neighbor in one and the same moment. As “Friends of Jesus,” we are also called to be friends of all others. That challenge of discipleship requires us to love not only the people with whom we want to share our lives but all those the Lord has placed in our midst—whether we choose them or not. They, too, are Friends of Jesus.

How do most people define the meaning of love? 

Do you know someone who has demonstrated the same love Jesus showed us through His Life, Death, and Resurrection? 

When do you find yourself trying to limit the commandment of love so it refers only to those you choose rather than to those God has placed in your life? 

Who most needs to be cared for and loved in our world today because they are Friends of Jesus, and how can we show our love for them? 

What are ways in which you lay down your life for others through the menial tasks of each day? What aspects or qualities of Jesus’ love do you find most difficult to witness in your life?

(A good, personal follow-up to this reflection would be to read various works on the topic of holy friendship from select spiritual authors. A great place to start this follow-up reading would be the treatise written by a Cistercian monk, Aelred of Rievaulx, on Spiritual Friendship in which he wrote, “Here we are, you and I, and I hope a third, Christ, in our midst.”[1]   Also, Teresa of Avila understood the importance of sanctifying friendships in a disciple’s life, and one of the great insights she received in her prayer was this phrase: “I will have you converse now, not with men, but with angels.”[2]  Teresa’s insight teaches us that God perfects and sanctifies our human relationships as we grow in divine friendship with Jesus.)


[1] St Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, Book I, 1 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010), p. 55.

[2] St Teresa of Avila, Life. Trans. By E. Allison Peers, Chap. XXIV (Garden City: Image, 1960), p. 138.

The Apostle St. John the EvengelistPeter Paul Rubens. Oil on canvas, 1610-1612. Museo del Prado, Madrid.
John 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.”
Eucharistic Revival
Please use the link below to access all of our Eucharistic Revival resources, including the Meaning of the Mass Study Guide available in both English and Spanish!
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FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of John 15:1–8. This passage contains another one of the famous “I AM” statements of Jesus in which He identifies Himself as the Vine and defines the disciples as the Branches. This image, as well as the actions and relationships associated with it, offers an important instruction for us as disciples. One of the first images Jesus uses in this passage is that of pruning the vine. Pruning was done for various reasons. First, pruning was a way in which the vine grower could direct the growth of the plant by allowing new sprouts to develop only in certain areas. This image of pruning is especially important in interpreting the movement of the Holy Spirit directing the life of the Early Church. The experience of being pruned or cut back is rarely pleasant but is intended to promote and direct new growth. It is only when the Church in Jerusalem experienced persecution that the apostles were motivated to initiate their great missionary journeys to the larger world—and the Church began to grow in new directions as a result of the pruning that had occurred (see Acts 8:1). Sometimes God wants our lives to develop in new and specific directions, and one of the ways the Lord can motivate that growth within us is by blocking growth in our existing direction. There is a common expression that captures this meaning of pruning that says, “When God closes one door, He opens another one.” Branches that are full of life are not deterred in their growth by obstacles or setbacks; rather, living branches are constantly seeking ways to burst forth with new life in new directions. The challenge for a disciple is to seek that new direction in which God wants to direct our efforts for the good of the Gospel. When have you experienced this pruning that blocked one direction in your life and motivated you to pursue new directions of growth? Why do some people respond only with frustration, self-pity, or anger when they experience this pruning while others respond with motivation for growth, hope, and creativity? How can we as a Church help people better understand frustrating or painful situations as a motivation for new growth? How is God pruning the Church today, and what do you think is the new growth the Lord wants to motivate? Second, additional pruning occurred at two different times. One pruning occurred in late winter (February or March) and involved cutting off the “dead” branches that could not bear fruit. This winter pruning was to ensure the health of the vine and to provide as much space as possible for the living branches to develop. Jesus speaks to this pruning in vs. 2 and 6. In the life of the Early Church, there were some disciples who were in the Christian community but were actually “dead branches”. Judas would be such an example because we were told that he belonged to the realm of Satan but was still sitting at table with the disciples (see Jn 13:2). Jesus specifically tells us that such disciples become dead branches because they fail to abide in Him. As disciples, it is important for us to remember that we are the ones who have the responsibility to accept the life of God offered to us or not to accept it. Accepting the gift of God’s life means participating in grace-filled opportunities of prayer, the Sacraments, and actions of selfless love for others. When we take advantage of these opportunities, we are abiding in Christ. When we fail to take advantage of these opportunities, we are cutting ourselves off from grace. Our physical presence in the Church does not necessarily mean that we are living members of the Body of Christ. We have to be spiritually united with Jesus in order to be living members of His Body; otherwise, we are just dead branches taking up room and obstructing others in their growth. How do dead branches damage the overall health of the vine (both in the literal sense of a plant and in the analogous sense of the Church)? How does this understanding of pruning motivate you to pursue additional sources of grace in your life? How can we as a faith community revitalize the dead branches to make them alive in Christ? When have you been a dead branch, and what led you to renew your life-giving relationship with Jesus (“abiding in Him”) so as to become a living branch? Sometimes disciples can allow themselves to become complacent with sinful situations or habits. These parts of their lives become dead branches that occupy time and energy but are not united with Christ. How does this image of pruning speak to these situations? Third, another pruning took place in the late summer months (usually August). This pruning involved removing the smaller shoots on the vine so that the nutrients could be directed to the main fruit-bearing branches. This focused concentration of nutrients would allow the vine to produce the most abundant fruit. If the smaller shoots were not pruned away then the nutrients would be directed in a variety of different ways that might create more foliage but would not produce more fruit. This is an important lesson for disciples because there is no shortage of ways in which we can spend our time and energy. However, we cannot do everything, and in order to do some things well we must necessarily limit and focus our involvements. To use the image of the Gospel, we need to “prune” away those things that have become distractions in our lives so that we can focus our time and energy in the direction God wants. Jesus’ Word helps us accomplish this important pruning of life because the Lord reveals to us the values of the Gospel that can help prioritize and focus our efforts. What are the principle values and priorities Jesus gives us through His teaching? When have you had to prune away otherwise good efforts and involvements because they were distracting you from the “main thing” you needed to pursue? Where might people find themselves if they don’t prune away their distractions? In which ways can we remain fruitless by not accomplishing the “main thing”? What keeps people from wanting to prune away distractions in their lives? How can a faith community help people tell the difference between what is a priority and what is a distraction? Jesus ends this passage with the very important statement of verse 8 when He says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” Jesus was entrusted with the mission to glorify the Father (see Jn 12:27–28). Our Lord accomplished this mission by manifesting the love of God on Calvary. Jesus tells us in this passage that we will continue to glorify the Father when we bear “fruit”. “Fruit”, then, refers to the love a disciple shows in laying down his life for a friend (see Jn 15:13). In doing so, disciples are fulfilling the command of Jesus to “love one another as I have loved you” (see Jn 15:9, 12, 17). The love of Jesus that we receive from our communion with Him must flow through us and be manifested in our relationships with others. This visible manifestation of God’s love in the life of a faithful Christian draws others into that communion and creates additional disciples. When others are touched by the love of God through us then we are “bearing fruit”, and the Father is glorified because God, who is love, is being made manifest in the world. When we become this conduit of God’s love affecting the lives of others then, Jesus says, we prove that we are His disciples. What a challenging definition of discipleship! Disciples are not just recipients of God’s grace and love; to be a disciple means that we are active conduits of that grace and love to others. If we are not bearing fruit, we are not disciples according to this definition given by Jesus. It is important for us to remember that this teaching is given in the context of the Last Supper, which is a Eucharistic setting. The expectation to “bear fruit” and to be a conduit of God’s grace becomes particularly daunting when we realize the necessity of passing on to others the presence of Jesus whom we have received in the Eucharist. If we are only receiving the Lord, but not actively sharing the Lord, then we are not bearing fruit and we are not disciples. How does Jesus’ definition of discipleship challenge you? How does the context of this teaching within the Last Supper change the way you approach the Eucharist? What is the “fruit” you have produced this past week as a result of sharing in the life of Christ in the Eucharist? Who has become a disciple because of your Christian witness? What leads a person to think they can be a disciple without bearing fruit?

Christ the Vine. Angelos Akotantos. Egg tempera on wood, 1425-1457. Monastery of the Virgin Hodegetria, Heraklion, Crete.

John 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Eucharistic Revival

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FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of John 10:11–18. This is the famous passage in which Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd and for this reason this Sunday is always referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. As disciples who desire to follow the Lord’s lead, this passage offers us some important insights and challenges for our faith. It should be noted that the term “good” really means “model” or “true” and so Jesus is presenting to us a definition of who we should be as we fulfill our shepherding responsibilities as disciples.

Describing God’s care for His people with the image of a shepherd is nothing new in the Scriptures. Psalm 23 and others introduced this image into the religious view of the Jewish people centuries before Jesus. The most extensive and important Old Testament passage that speaks about God’s shepherding care for His people is found in Ezekiel chapter 34 (God cares for the sheep, rescues them, gathers them, feeds them, and tends them). Examples of bad shepherds are also presented in the Old Testament (see Jer 23; Zec 13:7–9). These passages tell us that Jesus is drawing on a rich image when He identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd as opposed to the bad shepherd (hired hand).

Before explaining the qualifications that make Him the Good Shepherd, Jesus first defines the activities and motivations of the bad shepherd. The bad shepherd is primarily concerned for his own well-being at the expense of the flock’s well-being. The bad shepherd’s lack of protective action allows the flock to be scattered and devoured by aggressive and hostile forces. The bad shepherd is more concerned about being paid than relationship with the flock. Jesus, on the other hand, is willing to lay down His life for the sheep. This is a significant statement because nowhere in the Old Testament does it ever imply that God (as shepherd), or the Messiah, would go to the extent of laying down His life for the flock. That is the most radical part of this passage: Jesus is so committed to us and in love with us that He would die for us and so He did. We all have influences that try to guide our lives and values. These influences are the “shepherding” forces. They may be members of our family and friends or even messages from the media. These influences may also be cultural expectations or even civic, corporate, or religious leaders.

How does the contrast between the qualities of the Good Shepherd and the characteristics of the bad shepherd help you to sort out the various influences in your life? 

Who exemplifies for you the qualities of the Good Shepherd? 

Who or what are some of the bad shepherds that try to influence you every day? 

Whose lives do you influence and how does the contrast between the Good Shepherd and bad shepherd challenge you?

In the second part of this passage Jesus goes on to explain how He is the Good Shepherd, but this time the explanation is in reference to the Father and the flock rather than in contrast with the bad shepherd. There are four primary factors that make Jesus the Good (model or true) Shepherd. Let’s look at each of these four and reflect on each one.

●     First, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because of His relationship with the Father. This relationship is expressed in terms of “knowing”. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus has repeatedly expressed His deep communion with the Father and has clearly stated that He speaks the Father’s Word (see Jn 7:16, 8:42, 12:49, and 14:10) and carries out the Father’s works (see Jn 4:34, 5:30, and 6:38–39). This deep and intimate knowledge of the Father is essential in order for Jesus to be the Good Shepherd. The prophecy of Ezekiel is fulfilled in the person of Jesus because through him God is indeed shepherding His people! The knowledge of which Jesus speaks isn’t so much conceptual as it is experiential. Jesus knows the Father’s joy and sorrow. He knows the Father’s hopes and concerns. He knows what pleases the Father and what disappoints the Father. It is this knowledge that allows Jesus to manifest the challenging, comforting, encouraging, and inspiring presence of God. As disciples, we are each entrusted with shepherding roles of one kind or another. Perhaps it is our responsibility for a younger sibling or a subordinate employee. Perhaps it is in our marriage, friendship, or position of civic leadership. In order to be a true shepherd, we must have that same deep communion with the Father from which Jesus lived His life.

How can you come to know more clearly the heart of God? 

When have you found yourself influencing others because you knew it was something God wanted? 

How can a faith community help people grow deeper in their desire and ability to hear the Father’s Word and know the Father’s will?

●     Second, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because of His relationship with the sheep. Again, this relationship is expressed in terms of personal and intimate knowledge. In John 10 verse 14, Jesus says, “I know mine and mine know me”. This is a reference to the mutual sharing of life that exists between Jesus and disciples. Sometimes it can be easy for us to feel anonymous in the world of humanity or to think that God has a generic love for people rather than a specific and personal love for each one of us. This passage stresses that Jesus doesn’t care solely about the flock as a whole; rather, the Lord seeks an intimate and personal relationship with each disciple. As disciples, this action of Jesus challenges us in two ways. First, it challenges us to accept and enter into that deep personal relationship with Jesus so that we know the Lord and we allow the Lord to know us. It is that personal and life-changing relationship with God that is the foundation of our Christian identity. Second, as disciples who are called to bring the presence of Christ into the world, this passage challenges us to seek a personal and caring relationship with all those in our care. It can be easy to treat people in a generic way but it can also be de-humanizing to do so. Jesus wants the Christian community to be formed as an extension of His loving relationship with the Father and that relationship is deeply personal.

How have you come to know the personal presence and care of Jesus in your life? 

How do you express intimacy with God in Jesus? 

When are you tempted to treat people in a generic sense rather than caring for their needs personally?

Who is an example of the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep? 

Who needs to be dignified by your personal attention and care today?

●     Third, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because His love will bring about communion between God and us. This communion should not be confused with mere social gatherings or organizational unity. Jesus tells us in John 10:16 that there are other sheep He wants to bring into the fold so that there will be one flock and one shepherd. Those who are united in this one flock are those who “hear his voice”. The theme of gathering the lost sheep was a central part of Ezekiel 34, but Jesus re-defines the flock to refer to something more than Ezekiel had envisioned. For Jesus, the flock isn’t just the Jewish people who were dispersed in exile; rather, the flock refers to all who hear His voice—even the Gentiles, sinners, and tax collectors. Our Lord desires that those who respond to His voice calling them to faith may be welcomed by all others who have come to Him as well. This is an important instruction on the nature of our communion and community as a Church. The Church is not primarily a social gathering of like-minded people and neither is it primarily an organization of self-defined values and structure. Instead, the Church is first and foremost those “called by Christ” who gather in His Spirit and among whom our Lord dwells. This is a challenging message for us because it requires us to welcome and love all those whom Christ is calling into His flock. It also means that we have the responsibility to help others hear, recognize, and respond to the voice of the Lord calling them to faith. Sometimes it is easy for us to see the Church like a religious country club or to be selective of those with whom we will associate. This passage reminds us that the Church belongs to Jesus and that it is our communion with God that defines and allows our communion with others.

When are you tempted to be selective in your associations with others in the context of the Church? 

How are you challenged by the understanding of the Church as primarily a spiritual reality rather than a social or organizational entity? 

Who helped you to hear the voice of the Lord in your life?

Who needs your help so they can recognize and respond to the voice of the Lord calling them? 

For whom does the Lord want you to be more authentically welcoming as a brother or sister in Christ in your faith community?

●     Fourth, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He provides the model of true love that reveals the Father through our Lord’s generous and sacrificial self-giving in the laying down of His life. It should be noted that this passage is the first time in John’s Gospel that love has been explicitly given as the reason for the Cross! God’s love for the world and for Jesus was already introduced in John’s Gospel (see 3:16, 3:35, and 17:24). Verse 17 of this passage indicates that the Father loves the Son because Jesus lives out God’s will completely, which is later identified as the laying down of His life for the disciples (see Jn 13:1, 15:13). Jesus will even command His disciples to manifest this same love in their lives (see Jn 13:34). Our Lord’s action of laying down His life on the Cross was not an attempt to gain the Father’s love, but rather an expression of the loving relationship that already existed. In His sacrifice, Jesus manifested the Father’s love and so the Cross becomes the revelation of God, who is Love. This final quality of the Good Shepherd is striking because nowhere in the ancient world or in the Old Testament did divine beings lay down their lives for people. The action of Jesus is singular and shocking. When we think about the Crucifixion of Jesus, we can understand it as a tragedy, an injustice, or an act of hatred. It requires the eyes of faith and the revelation of the Son for us to see the Cross as the ultimate sign of God’s love—and then to live that same love in our lives as disciples. Jesus is the model for us to follow.

How does this understanding of the death of Jesus as a manifestation of love change the way you look at a Crucifix? 

Who lays down their lives today in witness to God’s love? 

How can your daily actions be a better witness of the Father’s love for others to see?  How does this teaching change the way you understand the commandment of Jesus, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”?

 

The Good Shepherd. Anatolia, late Roman – early Christian. Marble, 280-290 AD.
Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio.
John 10:11-18

Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”

Eucharistic Revival

Please use the link below to access all of our Eucharistic Revival resources, including the Meaning of the Mass Study Guide available in both English and Spanish!

THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of Luke 24:35–48. In this reading, we heard of the two disciples returning from Emmaus and relating their encounter of the Risen Lord to the others gathered in Jerusalem. It is in this context that Jesus appears, opens their minds to the Scriptures, and commissions them to preach repentance to the nations. We continue to experience these same effects of the Risen Christ in our lives. As disciples, it is important for us to study this passage so as to better understand our encounter of the Risen Lord as well.

It is interesting to note that the two disciples specifically relate how Jesus was made known to them in the “Breaking of the Bread” (see Acts 2:46 where the “Breaking of the Bread” was the ritual meal for the early Christian community). This is a reference to the Eucharist. The passage then goes to state that it was, “…while they were still speaking about this, He [Jesus] stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’”. Luke is telling us something by connecting the actions of sharing one’s faith experience with the manifestation of the Risen Lord. Something happens when people talk honestly and openly about their experience of God. Suddenly others begin to realize how God has been active in their lives as well and then they acknowledge that presence as an authentic faith encounter. In short, when we share our stories of faith it helps build the faith of others. In Matthew 18:20 Jesus told His disciples, “Where two or three gather in my name, there am I in their midst.”

In this Sunday’s passage from Luke we see similarly how disciples who share their faith suddenly do experience the Lord in their midst. Sharing our faith experiences can bring about other beneficial effects as well. It can help clarify for us how God has acted in a particular way and become the opportunity for us to express our gratitude. It can help encourage people to persevere when they are wavering in their commitment. It can even offer consolation when someone is going through a period of spiritual dryness or doubting God’s presence in their life. God always reveals Himself for the common good—even when that revelation takes place in individual lives and personal circumstances. When we share our personal experiences of God, we are contributing to the spiritual good of others. Sometimes we can mistakenly think that it is prideful or arrogant to let others know how God has worked in our lives, but those are mistaken thoughts. It is an act of faithful and humble witness when we share stories of God’s presence. This experience of faith awakening happened in the context of the “Breaking of the Bread” and it should happen in the context of our celebration of the Eucharist as well.

How has someone’s sharing of their experience of God brought about a spiritual awakening in your life?  

When have you felt deep peace while in the context of faith sharing?

In what distinctive way do you experience the presence of the Risen Lord in the “Breaking of the Bread” of the Eucharist?

What are some of the fears or concerns that can prevent people from sharing their experience of God with others?
Who in your life is still waiting to experience Jesus in a personal way, and how can your experience of God help open their hearts and minds to the Lord?

The disciples were gathered in Jerusalem when they started sharing their stories. What are ministry contexts today that provide great opportunities for faith sharing and faith witness in your faith community?

When Jesus stood in the midst of the disciples, our Lord first “opened their minds” to the meaning of His words and to the Scriptures. It is significant that this appearance of Jesus to the disciples occurs in the midst of a meal (note that Jesus asked for something to eat and they provided Him with a piece of fish) while they were discussing their experience. The combination of Jesus’ words, the Scriptures, a meal, and the Breaking of the Bread are all elements of our current Eucharistic Liturgy (Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist). Luke is giving us an insight into what should be happening every time we gather to experience the Risen Lord in our community prayer: We should recognize Him both in the Word of God proclaimed in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist celebrated on the altar. The Real Presence of Jesus in the context of the Mass is one of the significant teachings of Luke’s Gospel because he is trying to encourage his community to find Jesus in the present, rather than only remembering Him as he was during His earthly ministry or how He will be when He comes again.

Luke wants us to realize that we can hear the Lord speaking to us every time the Scriptures are proclaimed, and we can experience deep communion with Jesus every time we break bread in the liturgy. It is important to note that the disciples could not grasp the meaning of Scripture on their own. Rather, understanding required that the Lord interpret the Scripture for them through the lens of His Death and Resurrection. Only from the perspective of Jesus’ Passion can the Law and the Prophets (Old Testament) be properly understood. With Jesus’ instruction, the disciples are now able to see how the words of the prophets were fulfilled in Him. As disciples, we are called to continue using the interpretative lens of Jesus’ Suffering, Death, and Resurrection any time we read the Old Testament or the New Testament. Such a clearly defined perspective protects us from taking Jesus’ words out of context or interpreting other passages of Scripture in ways that are not divinely intended. This is an important message for us as disciples because it helps us properly unlock the Scriptures and properly teachings of the Lord for our lives.

How can the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus change the way you will read or understand your favorite passages of Scripture?

What principles or interpretative lens other than the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus can people be tempted to use when interpreting Scripture?

What is the danger of reading Scripture through the lens of only one part of Jesus’ Paschal Mystery? For example only viewing Scripture through His Suffering, Death, or
Resurrection, but not all of it?

How do you experience the presence of Jesus in the Liturgy of the Word?

What can we, as a faith community, do to help “open the minds” of people to understand the meaning of the Scriptures for their lives?

How do you think the disciples were trying to interpret the Scriptures and Jesus’ words before our Lord opened their minds to the correct way?

How do we know when someone is quoting or interpreting Scripture in a way that goes against the divine intention?

After the Risen Lord revealed Himself to His disciples and opened their minds to the meaning of the Scriptures, He then simply says to them, “You are my witnesses”. This is a very powerful statement for three reasons. First, we usually understand “witness” in a passive sense meaning that a witness is someone who sees something occur. While it is true that the disciples did “see” Jesus teach, heal, lead, forgive, suffer, die, and rise, there is more to being a disciple than just being a spectator. Being a witness means communicating to others the reality of Jesus that we have been blessed to experience. It is an active role, not a passive role. Eyewitnesses must become Ministers of the Word for others (see Lk 1:2). Second, being a witness of Jesus means that we live out the same radical love and trust in our lives that Jesus demonstrated in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The word for “witnesses” in Greek is martyres that gives us the English word “martyr”. Indeed, martyrs are people who witnessed their faith in Jesus’ Death and Resurrection at the cost of their own lives. Virtually all of the disciples who encountered the Lord in this Scripture passage were put to death because of their faith. By remaining faithful and being united to Jesus in a death like His, they manifested their hope to share in His Resurrection as well. We may not be called to physically die because of our faith, but there are lots of ways in which we are called to be courageous witnesses of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection each day. Third, Jesus tells His disciples that they are witnesses and that their witnessing is to have a practical effect in other people’s lives. Namely, Jesus is commissioning the disciples and sending them forth with the great task of proclaiming the Gospel to all nations so that the nations might repent and share in the forgiveness of sins.

The message of Jesus has a purpose and that purpose is to change our lives (repentance) and lead us to holiness (forgiveness of sins). This Great Commission is not an invention of early Christians, as some contemporary adversaries of the Church claim. This Great Commission of Jesus is actually part of the fulfillment of Scripture just as much as the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture (see Is 52:13–53:12 foretells the suffering Messiah; Hos 6:2 foretells the Resurrection on the third day; Is 49:6 foretells the message of Salvation and Repentance to all nations). With Jesus’ Commission, the early Christians understood that being a disciple required three things: that we share with others what we ourselves have received, that we live out in our lives the mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, and that we show the world what a life conformed to Christ looks like so others can be inspired and invited to become disciples as well.

How does this understanding of being a “witness” change your reading of this passage?  

How can people witness the Death and Resurrection of Jesus?

What would it mean for you to move from being an
eyewitness to becoming a Minister of the Word?

If Jesus told you in your prayer that He wanted you to be His “witness”, what would your first thought be?

When have you been inspired to grow deeper in your faith life because of another person’s lived example of faith?

Why do you think Luke connects the forgiveness of sins to the experience of repentance (change of life) and what does that require of you?

Jesus and the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Duccio di Buoninsegna. Tempera on wood, 1308-11.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena.
Luke 20:35-48

The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them
in the breaking of bread.

While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
“Peace be with you.”
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish;
he took it and ate it in front of them.

He said to them,
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,
that everything written about me in the law of Moses
and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And he said to them,
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.”

Eucharistic Revival

Please use the link below to access all of our Eucharistic Revival resources, including the Meaning of the Mass Study Guide available in both English and Spanish!

SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER

Our Scripture passage comes from the Gospel of John 20:19–31. The Church provides this same reading for us each year on this Sunday and so we have ample opportunities to reflect on the many rich aspects of this passage.

It is interesting to note how much attention is given to the wounds of Jesus.[1] In John 20:20 we are told that Jesus showed the disciples His hands and His side. When Thomas enters into the scene, he insists to probe the physical wounds of Jesus (see Jn 20:25), and Jesus later offers Thomas such an experience (see Jn 20:27). The attention given to the physical wounds of the Crucifixion serves a variety of purposes. First, the presence of the wounds leaves no doubt whatsoever that the person who is appearing to the disciples in the upper room is indeed the same person whom they saw die on the Cross just a few days earlier. The wounds serve as attestation of identity. Second, the wounds serve as proof that the Resurrection of Jesus was not just a spiritual phenomenon or apparition of a non-physical being. Rather, the wounds serve to provide physical evidence that Jesus has risen in His very body yet His corporeal reality is no longer bound by time and space; Jesus is able to physically pass through locked doors. This second purpose is important because some disciples thought Jesus might have been a “ghost” in His Resurrection; the invitation to probe His physical wounds proves that He is flesh and blood and not a ghost (see Lk 24:37). Third, Jesus chose to keep the marks of His Crucifixion for a reason—because they are a sign of His triumph and not of His defeat. Jesus proudly bears the marks of the Crucifixion because it was the means by which He accomplished His mission and manifested the love of God to the world on Calvary. In doing so, Jesus made God known. The wounds of His Crucifixion are the trophies our Lord bears in eternity that show all the powers of heaven and earth how great God’s love is for humanity. Lastly, Jesus bears the marks of the Crucifixion as a reminder of the great price He paid for our sin as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (see Jn 1:29). Jesus bears His wounds as a reminder and invitation to us that we might turn away from sin and choose life (Salvation) by believing and being drawn to in the Crucified One who was lifted up (see Jn 3:14, 8:28, 12:32).

The wounds of Jesus, then, are an enduring reminder to us that He has been given the power of judgment, and our response to Him is the basis of that judgment (see Jn 5:21–29). It is interesting how these last two purposes have been expressed in Christian iconography over the centuries. If you study carefully Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, you will note that Jesus prominently bears the marks of His Crucifixion as He comes in power to judge the world. You will also note that the great saints who surround the Lord in heaven are depicted holding the instruments of their martyrdom and the marks of their persecution. Like Jesus, the great saints and martyrs proudly display their wounds and the instruments of their torture, like trophies of their triumph over the forces of sin and death that tried to destroy them. By their faithful perseverance they were victorious, and the marks of their persecutions now serve as the sign of how great their love was for God. Lastly, Jesus bears the marks of His Crucifixion to give the disciples courage to face the suffering and persecution that will come into their lives as well. The disciples are locked in the upper room because they are afraid; they need to overcome their fear and know that nothing is more powerful than Jesus who has triumphed even over the forces of death. This message gives the disciples courage to go out and become fearless witnesses of the Gospel. They can face death themselves knowing that the Lord has gone before them, knows their suffering, and will not turn away anyone the Father has given Him. Finally, He will raise them on the last day (see Jn 6:37–40).

How do the above reflections help you better appreciate the marks of Jesus’ Crucifixion?

Sometimes Christians today must pay a price for their faith. What are some of the “trophies” we should celebrate as signs of faithful triumph rather than indications of defeat?

There are few realizations more dramatic than when we become conscious of the injury we have caused another person by our actions. How do the wounds of Jesus, by which our sins are forgiven, help you desire to turn away from sin?

Jesus was no longer bound by time and space; He could be present to the disciples by passing through doors in his physical body. How is the crucified and risen presence of Jesus offered to you? (hint: It is on the First Day of the week!)

How does the suffering of Jesus give you consolation, confidence, and courage when you are facing rejection or persecution?

Another interesting point about this passage is how disciples take different routes in the process of coming to faith in the Resurrection of Jesus. We see this process in the experience of Mary Magdalene in John 20:11–18 when Jesus must call her by name to awaken the realization that He is risen. Peter goes to the tomb in John 20:6 but there is no indication that he believes. The Beloved Disciple is the only one who does believe as a result of his visit to the tomb (see Jn 20:7). The disciples in the upper room obviously did not believe the news of the Resurrection as related to them by Mary Magdalene. Jesus reached out to them and offered them signs of His Resurrection in order to elicit their faith and overcome their fear. Thomas is really no different from the others. He, too, is in a state of disbelief and places basically the same conditions on what is necessary for him to accept the message of the Resurrection (as the other disciples received during our Lord’s first appearance to them in the upper room).

As Jesus did for Mary Magdalene and the other disciples, our Lord now does for Thomas. Thomas does indeed come to believe and even makes the greatest profession of Jesus’ identity in the Gospel of John when he exclaims, “My Lord and My God.” It’s important to note that we are never informed of Thomas actually touching Jesus. Rather, the implication is that Jesus’ gracious offer and invitation was sufficient to elicit Thomas’ faith. Jesus so desires that we believe in Him that the Lord reaches out to each of us like the Good Shepherd who calls His sheep by name and cares for their weaknesses. The Lord cares for us in the same way. Jesus continues to invite us into a relationship of trusting surrender, and He leads us by giving us what we need even if it is not what we want. We experience the presence of Jesus, the Risen One, in various ways including the quiet of prayer, the Sacraments, the lives of faithful Christians, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. All of these are means the Lord uses to help us believe in and be conformed to His living presence in our lives.

What have been some of the events or means that God has used to help you believe?

What are some of the common conditions people put on their faith today?

When the disciples believed in the Risen Jesus they were filled with peace and joy, and were no longer afraid.

How does the experience of coming to faith change people today in a visible way? 

Why do you think John provides several examples of people who had to pursue their own personal and unique journey of faith? 

The scene ends with Jesus pronouncing a blessing on those who can believe without the necessity of “seeing”. This beatitude is both consoling and challenging. It is consoling because it assures us that Christians of subsequent generations are at no disadvantage when it comes to faith. Rather, Jesus cares for us without limit and our faith can be just as great if not greater than that of the disciples in the upper room. Each of Jesus’ closest disciples required some sign to confirm their faith. Not only can our faith be as great as that of the early disciples, but John is also telling us that our faith can be even greater than theirs! That may surprise us, but throughout the Gospel of John we have been called to believe in Jesus’ Word rather than demanding signs to convince us. We encounter the Word of Jesus in Scripture and prayer as well as in the living experience of faith passed on through the centuries (Tradition). When our hearts are attuned to the voice of God then we can hear the Lord guiding and challenging our lives. John wants us to do more than just hear Jesus; John wants us to listen, to believe, and to do whatever the Lord tells us (see Jn 2:5). When God does bless us with signs or external confirmation of our faith, it is not because we are somehow privileged or more special than others. Rather, it is because our faith is weaker than others and Jesus is caring for us as the Good Shepherd who is helping His wayward sheep! More blessed than those who have received external confirmation of their faith are those who have faith without having received external confirmation.

Who is an example for you of someone who has great faith in the Word of Jesus?

How can the experience of signs and external confirmation falsely lead someone to consider themselves “privileged” in their discipleship?

What happens when someone puts great emphasis on a particular sign of faith they have experienced?

Sometimes it is in the midst of difficult situations that our faith is weakest (tragedy, terminal illness, or broken relationships). Do you know someone who has been a witness of unwavering faith in the midst of hardship?

What would your life be like if you acted on every inspiration in prayer without requiring
confirming signs of God’s direction?


[1] Thoughts for this reflection on the wounds of Jesus were taken from a homily by C. H. Spurgeon entitled, “The Evidence of our Lord’s Wounds” from www.spurgeon.org/sermons/2061.php

Christ’s first appearance to the apostles in Jerusalem. Peter Paul Rubens. Oil on panel, 1613.
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.

John 20:19-31On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he 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!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

Eucharistic Revival

Please use the link below to access all of our Eucharistic Revival resources, including the Meaning of the Mass Study Guide available in both English and Spanish!

Eucharistic Revival Resources

SOLEMNITY OF EASTER (VIGIL)

This Sunday we celebrate the great Solemnity of our Lord’s Resurrection (Easter). The primary liturgy for this celebration is the Easter Vigil. Our Scripture passage for this liturgy is taken from the Gospel of Mark 16:1–7. The New Testament accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus are well known to us. Due to our familiarity with these texts we can easily overlook significant details by which each of the Gospel writers wished to communicate particular meaning. The Gospel of Mark offers numerous insights that are meant to inspire, encourage, and guide our lives as disciples.

 

One of the first things to note about Mark’s account of the resurrection is the emphasis he places on the stone (Greek: Lithon) used to seal the tomb of Jesus. This emphasis is demonstrated by the frequent use of the word “stone” (four times) in these short verses. The stone that was rolled in front of the tomb is a real preoccupation of the women who go to anoint Jesus and who wonder who will roll it back from the “entrance”. It is described as being “very large”. Mark is emphasizing the stone because it serves a symbolic function: the stone is the obstacle that separates the women from their friend and Lord. The key to understanding the symbolic role of the stone is that it obstructs the “entrance” preventing those who wish to enter from doing so. If we were told that the stone closed the “exit”, that would indicate that it was an obstacle for Jesus’ Resurrection, but that is not the case. The stone is not an obstacle for experiencing Jesus; rather, the stone is the obstacle that disciples encounter, which prevents them from entering into the tomb (dying with Christ) so as to be transformed by His risen life (Resurrection).

 

To enter the tomb and be transformed was an image of Christian Baptism in the Early Church. The stone becomes a symbol for all the obstacles of faith we must overcome in our journey to embrace and live out our Baptism as disciples of Jesus. For the early Christians during the age of persecution, it was difficult to make the decision to become a disciple of Jesus because that decision might cost them their lives, their friends, or their possessions. Yet still so many overcame that obstacle. For the early Jews, becoming Christian could mean being “cut off” from their families and loved ones and declared “dead” with no further contact or relationship or inheritance. That rejection was a tremendous obstacle (stone) that prevented many from making the decision of faith. Our world of discipleship is different from that of the first century Christians. Some of our obstacles are more ideological instead of practical.

 

What have been some of the “stones” you have had to overcome in your journey to Jesus? 

What internal fears can prevent someone from being willing to “die with Christ”? 

How does the message of the resurrection address those fears? 

Mark’s Gospel does not tell us who rolled back the stone for the women, but someone did. Who do you think was the instrument that removed their obstacle of discipleship

Who do you know that is struggling with the ability to surrender fully to Jesus, and how can you be the instrument that helps remove the obstacles holding them back from embracing and living the fullness of Christian Baptism? 

The women in this passage went to the tomb despite the fact that they believed the stone would still be there (preventing them from entering). Why do you think they did that and how does their witness of faith motivate you to face a situation in your life as a disciple?

 

The second detail that Mark includes is that of the women’s names. Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary (the mother of James, known as the lesser), and Joses from Mark 15:40 are no new-comers to Jesus’ family of disciples and friends. They have been a part of the Gospel story for some time. In fact, some of them had rather diverse and even turbulent backgrounds. Salome is the mother of Zebedee’s children as we can infer from Matthew’s account of this event (see Mt 27:56). She is also the author of that impertinent petition to have her sons sitting with Jesus—one on His right and one on His left—in His Kingdom (see Mt 20:20–21). Mary Magdalene will be identified in Mark 16:9 as the one from whom Jesus cast out seven demons. These references tell us that at least two of these women came from less than holy or healthy backgrounds! We were also informed in Luke 8:3 that these women ministered to Jesus in Galilee. We were further told in Mark 15:40 that they witnessed Jesus’ death. Finally, Mark 15:47 mentions the two Marys as having witnessed the burial of Jesus. Mark tells us the names of these women at various points in the Gospel story for a reason; He wants us to see in them examples of people who care for and minister to Jesus until the end.

 

Relationship with Jesus doesn’t just mean assisting Him for a moment and then sending Him on His way. Instead it means being there to serve Him as His needs warrant at different moments and stages of His life—and our lives. Relationship with Jesus means that we are never exempt from the duties of discipleship so long as Jesus needs our loving service. The women served our Lord by supporting His ministry, standing by Him in His agony, and caring for His crucified body. They were with Him when He was popular and welcomed by the crowds in Galilee, as well as when He was jeered and despised on Calvary. They are examples of perseverance and thoroughness to inspire us. It was not a glorious task to serve Jesus by anointing His body, but it was the task the women thought Jesus needed and so they were willing to do it. The love they had for Jesus motivated them to go early in the morning with a humble and caring attitude to seek Him. As a result, something happened to them. Not only did they become disciples who received the news of the Resurrection but they were also sent to proclaim that news to others. Those who had cared for Jesus in His earthly ministry are now told to bring others to the Lord through their witness of faith. The example of the women offers us some guidance for our lives as disciples as well.

 

First, we need to look at our service to the Lord and evaluate how well we live out the qualities of perseverance and thoroughness. Sometimes we can limit our discipleship to doing the things that are easy or the things we enjoy rather than responding to whatever the Lord’s needs are in a given moment. (Remember: The needs of Jesus are presented to us in the lives of others—those who bear His name as Christians.)  Sometimes, too, we can find it easy to follow the Lord when it is popular or non-threatening but difficult when it means standing alone with the Crucified One abandoned on Calvary. We can also find it difficult to live out our discipleship in obscure hidden actions like caring for the details of a proper burial. When disciples enter into a committed relationship with Jesus, then nothing is more important than being with the Lord in every moment no matter what the cost or the reward.

 

Second, like the women, we need to be reminded that there is a point in our discipleship when we are called to be witnesses who invite others to Jesus rather than keeping our relationship with the Lord only to ourselves. Discipleship may be a deeply personal experience, but it is not a private experience. Just as the women were sent to share the message that transformed their sorrow into joy, so, too, we are sent to do the same.

 

If someone were to ask, “Are you a committed Christian?” how would you respond and what reasons would you give? 

What are ways in which people can be tempted to limit their discipleship to only doing what they want rather than doing what Jesus needs (present in the lives of those who bear His name)? 

Which action of the women do you find most challenging to live out in your life as a disciple (supporting Jesus through their resources, standing with Jesus on Calvary, going quietly to care for His body in the tomb, or becoming witnesses of the Resurrection  to others)? 

Salome and Mary Magdalene show us that people from distressed backgrounds can become incredible disciples. How does this insight give you encouragement?

 

The third detail that Mark gives us in this account is when he refers to the timing of the women’s visit as being on “Day One”. Some translations read “first day of the week” but that is not really accurate. Mark uses the phrase “Day One” for a reason—because it alludes to Genesis 1:5 as it is written in the Greek copy of the Old Testament also known as the Septuagint. References to Genesis have been present in other areas of Mark’s Gospel as well (see Mk 1:1). By including this phrase in the context of the Resurrection, Mark is telling us that a new creation is taking place and that the disciples are becoming a new reality. Indeed, through Baptism (immersion into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus), we are transformed from our human nature into Children of God and we become a new creation. Day One is a powerful day for Christians! The Gospels relate that on Day One many other things happen as well. This is the first day that Jesus’ disciples truly understand the fullness of the “Good News” (lit. Gospel).  It is the day on which the women become witnesses of the resurrection—the first disciple missionaries who share the good news with others.  The other Gospels relate additional important elements that take place on the first day of the week. For Luke it is the day on which disciples recognize, celebrate, and receive Jesus’ hidden presence offered to them in the form of broken bread (see Lk 24:35). In John, it is the day on which the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit and are sent to carry on the mission of Jesus in the world (see Jn 20:22).

 

Day One for us as Christians is Sunday. It is the day on which we gather each week to experience, celebrate, and receive each of these graces in our lives. In our liturgy, we hear the message of the Gospel and receive the hidden presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We are also commissioned to “go forth” at the end of our worship to be missionaries who share what we have received with others. The liturgy is where we are regenerated and renewed in our Baptismal identity as the Body of Christ in the Church. What an awesome privilege to experience Day One each and every Sunday! Unfortunately a misunderstanding of, or lack of appreciation for, these graces can reduce our ability to receive and experience them when we gather for the liturgy on Day One of the week. If we are not seeking to hear the Good News of God’s action in and through Jesus, we will not listen well to the Scriptures and the homily. If we are not seeking to live our lives more fully in Christ, we will not welcome the graces that challenge us to become the Body of Christ. If we are not seeking ways to be more generous with our time and talent, we will not understand how we are being sent to bring Christ to others. If we do not believe that Jesus truly offers His “Real Presence” to us in the Eucharist, we will be indifferent to an opportunity for a life-transforming encounter every time we receive Communion.

 

How does this understanding of Day One, as experienced by the women, challenge you in your experience of Day One each week? 

For which grace of Day One do you need to have a deeper understanding and appreciation? 

What can a faith community do to help all people experience the diverse and enriching graces of Day One in the liturgy?

 

Lastly, Mark states that when the women enter the tomb they see a young man dressed in a white robe. That detail is intentional and Mark is trying to tell us something by it. In order to understand the message, we need to recall that in Mark 14:51 we were told about a “young man” who fled Jesus as our Lord was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. When that young man fled, he left behind even his garment and ran away naked. In the ancient world and in Christian symbolism, clothing was a statement of a person’s identity. The young man who fled Jesus was casting off his “identity” in order to detach Himself from the Lord in a moment of fearful suffering. Now we are told that a young man is sitting in the tomb dressed in a white robe. The white robe is a symbol of the Christian’s Baptismal garment—our identity in Christ. The young man in the tomb represents a disciple who is committed in Baptism and is able to “die with Christ and be buried with him” (see Rom 6:3–5 and Col 2:12). White is the color of the Resurrection, and the robe of the young man symbolizes that he also shares in Christ’s Resurrection. It is this young man who now announces the Gospel message to others. He has come a long way! His journey of discipleship has led him from being someone who would discard his Christian commitment as soon as it involved personal sacrifice, to becoming someone who could not only die with Christ and be buried with Him, but also share in our Lord’s resurrected eternal life. He is no longer afraid of rejection, persecution, association, or any other sacrifice; he is now a courageous witness of how God’s grace can transform us into a new creation when we consciously and intentionally “clothe ourselves” with Christ in the waters of Baptism.

 

Do you identify more with the young man in the Garden of Gethsemane or the young man in the tomb of Jesus? 

What are significant milestones in your life of discipleship that have demonstrated your ability to remain steadfast in faith and not falter in fear? 

What do you think were the significant factors that helped transform the young man’s faith from one that faulted in fear to one that courageously witnessed the resurrection? 

 
The Resurrection of Christ. Louis Finson. Oil on canvas, 1610. Church of Saint-Jean-de-Malte, Aix-en-Provence.
Mark 16:1-7

When the sabbath was over, 
Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome 
bought spices so that they might go and anoint him.
Very early when the sun had risen,
on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.
They were saying to one another, 
“Who will roll back the stone for us
from the entrance to the tomb?”
When they looked up,
they saw that the stone had been rolled back;
it was very large.
On entering the tomb they saw a young man
sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe,
and they were utterly amazed.
He said to them, “Do not be amazed!
You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here.
Behold the place where they laid him.
But go and tell his disciples and Peter, 
‘He is going before you to Galilee; 
there you will see him, as he told you.’”

 
Eucharistic Revival
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PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION

Our Scripture passage for this Sunday is extensive and covers two entire chapters of Mark’s Gospel from 14:1–15:47. In this reading, we hear of Jesus’ Last Supper, betrayal by Judas, trial both before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, Suffering, Crucifixion, Death, and Burial. Various details are immersed in this account of our Lord’s final hours of earthly ministry. Our reflection this week will focus on only a few of these details and how they affect our lives as disciples.

 

Mark begins his Passion narrative with the story of the woman who anoints the head of Jesus with a jar of expensive perfume (see Mk 14:3–9). This action of generosity, love, and sacrifice evokes the indignant response of others in the room who question why she did not sell the perfume and give the money to the poor rather than pour it on Jesus’ head. Jesus addresses their statements by pointing out her good intentions and the ever-present opportunities they have to express generosity for the poor, which they apparently are not taking advantage of. In doing so, He is not diminishing the importance of practical charity for those in need but esteeming the sacrificial love of God manifested in this woman’s action. Our Lord is also pointing out the hypocrisy of those who criticize this woman because they themselves could be helping the poor if they truly desired to do so. The implication is that they were more interested in a reason to discredit the goodness of her action rather than carry out their own works of charity. (Remember the quote of Mark Twain, “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.”)[1]

 

Judas, on the other hand, is presented in stark contrast to the woman. He goes to the chief priests and offers to betray Jesus for which he is promised money (see Mk 14:10–11). Judas is presented as an example of someone who uses Jesus for his self-gain rather than as the opportunity for loving, sacrificial self-giving. Not only does Judas not care about the poor, he doesn’t care about Jesus either. The contrast between the woman and Judas could not be more dramatic. Throughout history there has always been a necessary relationship between our love of God and our love of neighbor. It is only through our love of God that we can truly love those in the distressing disguise of the poor and suffering. Our love of God is not to the exclusion of the poor, but rather the first step in our ability to serve the poor. As Jesus approached His Passion, the woman responded with generosity, commitment, sacrifice, and abundant love of God; Judas responded with self-preservation, self-protection, self-gain, and self-interest.

 

In what ways can people be critical today of others when they express their love for God through works of lavish generosity? 

How can criticism of others for their failure to serve the poor become the excuse by which we are tempted to exempt ourselves from serving the poor? 

When you are in a distressful situation like the Passion of Jesus, do you respond more like the woman (generous sacrificial commitment) or like Judas (self-preservation and self-interest)? 

During Holy Week, how can you be lavish in your love of God through your gifts of time and talent? 

How do we seek to discredit other people’s good actions in an effort to exempt ourselves from the challenge of doing good?

 

When Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14:32–42) we see less than stellar examples of discipleship in the persons of Peter, James, and John. In fact, they all appear as examples of failure. Just a few verses before this chapter Jesus had warned His disciples on the need to “Stay awake!” in Mark 13:37. Now they all fall asleep at the most critical hour. Those who were Jesus’ closest friends and had been with Him from the very beginning of His ministry (see Mk 1:16–20) and had been part of His inner circle (see Mk 5:37 and 9:2), now appear disinterested in His distress. James and John, who were so confident that they could “drink from the cup Jesus would drink” in Mark 10:39 now sleep while Jesus prays that the cup may pass Him by. Peter, who claimed that he would be willing to die for Jesus (see 14:31), now appears unwilling to sacrifice even one hour of sleep for the sake of the Lord. It would be bad enough if they had failed once and been reprimanded for their lack of attentiveness and disinterest, but they failed three times in a row. Although they may have been close to Jesus by their physical proximity, their hearts were far from Him in this moment. The reality is that Peter, James, and John are not very different from any of us. It is easy to have great and noble ideas of how we will live out our commitment to God yet find it difficult to do so in daily circumstances. The Good News is that Jesus does not reject the disciples for their failure and disappointing progress. Rather, the Lord gives them a second chance and a third chance, and so on. Sometimes we believe that we are not capable of being great disciples but that is a lie; the only thing that prevents us from being great people of faith is our lack of desire for such greatness. Peter, James, and John will eventually become heroic examples of faith and committed disciples but only because they keep trying. The same is true for us. In our moments of weakness, short-sightedness, and failure, we should not lose hope, but rather realize our need for God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace and renew our commitment to follow the Lord.

 

How can people today excuse themselves from discipleship because of a personal failure of faith? 

Sometimes we only realize the magnitude of our failure in retrospect. How can the practice of honestly reviewing our lives serve to motivate us to deeper trust and committed discipleship

How does the Sacrament of Reconciliation help you to renew your commitment to discipleship despite a moment of failure? 

What self-doubts do you think Peter, James, and John experienced as they looked back on this moment, and how do you think the power of evil tried to manipulate their self-doubts to prevent them from becoming better disciples?

 

Jesus’ final words in Mark’s Gospel are a quotation from Psalm 22:1 when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” These are not so much words of complaint and abandonment, but rather the prayer of a just man who suffers. By praying with the words of the Psalms, Jesus is reminding us of some very important truths that we need to know as disciples. These truths are contained in the rest of Psalm 22 that follow after this first verse. Although Jesus only quotes the first line of this Psalm, He is pointing us to it so that we can remember the entirety of the Psalm. In vs. 3 we are reminded that even in suffering, God remains “enthroned as the Holy One”. In vs. 4 and 5 we are reminded that those who put their trust in God are not disappointed. In vs. 22 we are told that even in suffering we are to praise the Lord. In vs. 24 we are assured that suffering is not a sign that God despises us and that God does listen to our cries for deliverance. In vs. 28 we are reminded that God is in control of all kingdoms, all nations, and all history. Finally, in vs. 31 we are taught that whatever takes place, even in the suffering of the just, it is to be understood as part of God’s plan. There could not be a better prayer to summarize and interpret the death of Jesus on the Cross than Psalm 22.

 

Jesus’ Death is part of the mystery of God’s unfolding plan. The Salvation the Lord offers us isn’t always realized in the situations of this life; sometimes our deliverance from the forces that oppose and oppress us occurs in the Resurrection. Nonetheless, this prayer helps us to find meaning in our suffering, to have confidence in our trials, and to re-affirm our faith when things don’t go our way by remembering that God is in ultimate control. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we end by asking that we not be led into temptation and that we be delivered from evil. The temptation we most want to avoid is that of believing that God has abandoned us, God hates us, or that God doesn’t care about us. When we pray to be delivered from evil, we are not praying to be preserved from it (that is unrealistic in a world infected by sin) but that we will not be overcome by it; that means we pray for perseverance, deliverance, vindication, and salvation from the evil situations we endure.

 

Read the prayer of Psalm 22. How does reading the prayer of Psalm 22 by Jesus on the Cross affect the way you understand our Lord’s Crucifixion? 

How does this understanding of the final verses of the Lord’s Prayer and the lived experience of Jesus change the way you will pray that prayer? 

What are the temptations you experience when you suffer unjustly? 

What situations in our world today give the false impression that the forces of evil are victorious? 

How can the experience of this Holy Week invite you to deepen your trust and confidence in God in the midst of adverse circumstances?

 

One of the most important elements of Mark’s Passion narrative is the proclamation of faith by the Roman Centurion as Jesus dies on the Cross. The centurion exclaims, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” This is the first time in Mark’s Gospel that such faith has been proclaimed by a human being. Mark told us in the opening verse of his Gospel that Jesus was the Son of God. That insight has been re-affirmed in significant sections of the Gospel by the Father (see the Baptism of Jesus in Mk 1:11 and in the Transfiguration of Jesus in Mk 9:7). The previous announcements by the Father were given during manifestations of heavenly glory as a proclamation of the Divine Presence. It is easy to see Jesus as the Son of God when the heavens open and the Spirit descends at the moment of our Lord’s Baptism. It is also easy to see Jesus as the Son of God when He stands in the shining presence of Moses and Elijah. However, it requires exceptional faith and insight to see Jesus as the Son of God as He dies on the Cross of Calvary. That is why the proclamation of the Centurion is so important—he expresses the faith of a true disciple who can see that God is present in moments of suffering. The proclamation of the Centurion brings to fulfillment the very first verse of Mark’s Gospel. As disciples, we are challenged to have the same faith as the Centurion. It is easy for us to acknowledge the presence of God in moments of great success and blessing, but it is even more important for us to be able to profess our faith in God’s presence in moments of suffering and seeming defeat. The Cross of Calvary is not a sign of God’s abandonment but a promise of God’s presence.

 

When, in the midst of someone’s suffering, has that person’s faith inspired you? 

In what moments of your life do you find it difficult to recognize and acknowledge God’s presence? 

What do you believe the other bystanders thought when they heard the Centurion’s profession of faith? 

What do you think the Centurion did as a result of his new-found faith?

 

The Passion narratives are full of surprises as we see how different people respond in various moments. Certainly we are surprised to see Jesus’ closest disciples fall asleep and abandon Him after having spent three years following our Lord. We are also surprised to see that one of Jesus’ own friends turns into a traitor while another of His friends denies Him three times. There are other surprises as well, like when we see a woman offer her precious gift of perfume to anoint Jesus, or when we read of Joseph of Arimathea coming forth to claim the body of Jesus for burial, or even when we hear the Roman Centurion—who had brutally treated Jesus and crucified Him—now profess his faith in the Lord. Indeed, the mystery of discipleship is full of surprises. A person’s background doesn’t indicate their future response. No one can ride on the laurels of their past fidelity and no one can rule out future holiness based on past sinfulness or rejection of the Gospel. We continue to experience this mystery of discipleship today as well.

 

Those we expect to be predictable examples of holiness sometimes let us down, while those from whom we expect little faith response can inspire us with their insight and courage. This message is a source of both hope and challenge for us as disciples. It gives us hope because it reassures us that no one—including ourselves—is beyond the invitation of God’s grace no matter what our background or social affiliation. It gives us challenge because it cautions us against presuming our standing in the eyes of God based on some past witness or status; like Peter, James, and John, we are only one step away from infidelity.

 

How do you experience both hope and challenge from this reflection

Who has surprised you with their witness of faith despite their seemingly difficult background? 

Who has let you down in their witness of faith despite their privileged background of discipleship

What helps a disciple remain faithful at each step of the journey?
 

[1] Twain, M, Pudd’nhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1894, Chapter XIX), p. 182.

 
Entry of Christ into Jerusalem. Anthony van Dyck. Oil on canvas, 1617. Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana.
Mark 14:1-15:47

The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread 
were to take place in two days’ time.
So the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way 
to arrest him by treachery and put him to death.
They said, “Not during the festival, 
for fear that there may be a riot among the people.”

When he was in Bethany reclining at table 
in the house of Simon the leper, 
a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil,
costly genuine spikenard.
She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head.
There were some who were indignant.
“Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil?
It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wages 
and the money given to the poor.”
They were infuriated with her.
Jesus said, “Let her alone.
Why do you make trouble for her?
She has done a good thing for me.
The poor you will always have with you, 
and whenever you wish you can do good to them, 
but you will not always have me.
She has done what she could.
She has anticipated anointing my body for burial.
Amen, I say to you,
wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world,
what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, 
went off to the chief priests to hand him over to them.
When they heard him they were pleased and promised to pay him money.
Then he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, 
when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, 
his disciples said to him,
“Where do you want us to go
and prepare for you to eat