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The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C | Faithfulness is beautiful!

JanStyka-Saint Peter preaching in Catacombs

St Peter preaching the Gospel in the Catacombs, Jan Styka, 1902, original destroyed by fire, accessed at

Hilaire Belloc, the famous satirist and historian, once said, “The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”[1]

Our readings today show how God has made provision for the Church to continue and flourish over 2,000 years, despite the ‘knavish imbecility’ of some of its members.  If your first reaction is to feel insulted by this quote, stay with me for a minute while I explain.  The relationship between Christ and the Church is one of bridegroom and bride (Rev. 19:7-9).  Jesus wants us, above all, to be faithful to him, and he gives us the help of the Holy Spirit to do just that.  Jesus tells the Apostles in today’s gospel,

I have said these things to you while still with you, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you. (John 14:26) 

How do we stay close to the Holy Spirit?  A few verses earlier, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.”

In my own experience of parish life, there have been many occasions when staying close to the Holy Spirit has been a challenge.  At times, I have thought it would just be easier to move to a different parish, or even a different church or even no church.  To give you an example, I once had a priest come to bless my house.  After the blessing, he stayed for another hour and a half berating the ‘knavish imbecility’ of his fellow priests.  But is this what the Holy Spirit wants?  Of course not: it’s always Satan that wants division and disharmony.  The Holy Spirit wants faithfulness.  The Holy Spirit wants us to build community.  The Holy Spirit wants us to keep persevering in spite of the individual characters of the members of the Church.  The Holy Spirit wants us to find the good points in others and build those up, rather than trying to destroy the other.  The Holy Spirit wants us to work diligently for the benefit of all.  Good parishioners and priests build up rather than break down.  That is how a parish receives blessing from the Lord.

The first reading today show an example of the Holy Spirit in action.  Here the Apostles meeting at the Council of Jerusalem (our first ecumenical council) come up with a solution to the problem of deciding exactly how much of the Jewish Law needs to be adhered to by the Gentile converts  (Acts 15:6 ff).  The difficulty is how to welcome Gentiles without alienating the Jewish followers of the Messiah.  After a long discussion, Peter speaks and the entire assembly falls silent.  The apostles and elders or priests (toi apostolois kai presbyterois / τοῖς ἀποστόλοις καὶ τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις) then write a letter to confirm the decision of the council, saying, “It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials …” They are very aware of the Holy Spirit guiding the Council which has assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So Hilaire Belloc was right:  as individuals we may be a bit stupid, but as a Catholic Church, listening to the Holy Spirit, we have been guided and kept faithful for 2,000 years, despite pressure from the outside world to ‘change our teaching’!  The Church and Christ are like a married couple, of whom everyone says, “This marriage cannot possibly last!” yet, there they are, celebrating their anniversary year after year!  I say hurrah for faithfulness!  Thank you to the Holy Spirit for holding us together.

[1] Hilaire Belloc, remark to William Temple, quoted in Robert Speaight, The Life of Hilaire Belloc (1957). London: Hollis and Carter, p. 383

Today’s readings:

Word format: Year C Easter 6th Sunday 2016

Pdf format: Year C Easter 6th Sunday 2016

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6th Sunday of Easter | Is God using you to advance his plan?

Peter in the house of Cornelius, 19th century, woodcut, artist unknown.

Peter in the house of Cornelius, 19th century, woodcut, artist unknown.

Who was Cornelius?  Our first reading drops us right into the middle of a story without giving us the background.  Cornelius was a Roman Centurion whom God used to commence his work among the gentiles.  What made Cornelius so suitable for this work?  Notice that he filled the criteria of loving God and loving neighbour: “He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”  He was the sort of person God could use to advance His plan for salvation.  So God does two things at the same time:

1.  He intervenes dramatically in Cornelius’s life by sending an angel to ask him to fetch the Apostle Peter from Joppa (a distance of about 50 km).

One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”  Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.  The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”

Notice that Cornelius is obedient.  He doesn’t suspect he’s having hallucinations and douse himself with anti-psychotics.  No, he sends a ‘devout soldier’ and two of his servants straight off to Joppa to carry out God’s wishes.

2. He intervenes dramatically in Peter’s life by giving him a vision too:

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.  He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”  14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”  15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

We can’t comprehend how shocking this must have been to Peter.  Orthodox Jews take very seriously God’s instructions about food – the dietary laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, revealed to them under the Old Covenant (the Jewish Kashrut or כַּשְׁרוּת).  In fact, for Peter to take God seriously, God has to give him the same vision three times.

It is the conjunction of these two key events that lead to the conversion of the Gentiles.

17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.  19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”  21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”  22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.

What follows is recounted in our first reading today (see below).  Notice that it is through Peter, the one whom Jesus asked in John 21 to feed his sheep,  that the authority comes to convert Gentiles.  It is through Peter, our first Papa (Pope), that we hear:

‘Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as much as we have?

We can’t just make up our own rules, or follow the prevailing rules of the culture.  If we want to be obedient to God, we need to be attentive to the voice of Peter today.  And we need to pray for our Papa, that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide him in leading the flock.  So getting back to our original question, “Is God using you to advance His plan?”, what can we say?  If you want to help the Lord advance his plan, I would suggest these four things:

  1. Tell him you are open to Him, that you want him to teach you, that you want to unite yourself with His will.
  2. Like Cornelius, spend time in prayer every day, talking to God as if he is your best friend, and spending at least as much time in silence, letting God fill your heart and soul with His thoughts.
  3. Like Cornelius, avoid hypocrisy, by being generous to those in need.
  4. Listen to the voice of our Papa, Pope Francis, the steward whom Jesus has placed over his earthly flock.

Today’s readings:

Word format: Year B Easter 6th Sunday 2015

Pdf format: Year B Easter 6th Sunday 2015

For more thoughts on today’s readings listen here to how God chooses you.

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6th Sunday in Ordinary Time | The leprosy left him and he was cured

Ilyās Bāsim Khūrī Bazzī Rāhib,  Jesus Cleanses a Leper, Arabic Gospels, 1684, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, Manuscript W.592, fol. 89b.

Ilyās Bāsim Khūrī Bazzī Rāhib, Jesus Cleanses a Leper, Arabic Gospels, 1684, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, Manuscript W.592, fol. 89b.

How interesting it is that at the same time that Stephen Fry’s YouTube video on God is going viral, our Gospel Readings are all about the healing miracles of Jesus.  This Sunday’s readings can be downloaded here:

Word format: Year B 6th Sunday

Pdf format: Year B 6th Sunday

We can respond to Fry’s comments on suffering in a variety of ways.  Two of these are:

1.  Suffering can be redemptive (if you are willing to offer it in this way).  Many Saints offered their suffering united with the cross of Christ: think of Therese of Lisieux, Gemma Galgani, Maria Goretti, Chiara Badano … the list is very long.

2. Suffering can be healed.  Jesus provides ample evidence of his ability to perform miracles through our faith-filled prayer.  Two huge volumes by Craig Keener give numerous examples of well-attested miracles, for those who want to take a scholarly, historiographical approach.  And then there are websites like this giving public testimony of Jesus’ miracles, intended for a more general audience.

But if you just want to reflect on today’s Scriptures, I would recommend this Scripture Study by Dr John Bergsma, and this homily by Fr Robert Barron.


Apologies for the irregularity of my posts lately.  I have been in South Africa and when I returned, my internet connection was down as a result of lightning strikes!