This week, long time Two Rocks resident, Josie (Giuseppina) del Bene, teaches us how to make crosses out of palm leaves for the Palm Sunday procession. Watch her step-by-step on this YouTube video:
This week, long time Two Rocks resident, Josie (Giuseppina) del Bene, teaches us how to make crosses out of palm leaves for the Palm Sunday procession. Watch her step-by-step on this YouTube video:
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.”
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.
 Hilaire Belloc, remark to William Temple, quoted in Robert Speaight, The Life of Hilaire Belloc (1957). London: Hollis and Carter, p. 383
Word format: Year C Easter 6th Sunday 2016
Pdf format: Year C Easter 6th Sunday 2016
Today’s Gospel reading may at first sight seem a bit repetitive. But remember, John has a purpose in everything he writes. He tells us he could have written a whole lot more, but he has selected what he has, ‘so that we might believe’ (John 20:31)
The words he keeps repeating are ‘glorify’ (ἐδοξάσθη) and ‘love’ (ἀγάπη).
Why does Jesus say ‘Now has the Son of Man been glorified?’ What has just happened? Judas has just received the Eucharist and slipped out of the room to deliver Christ to his enemies! (verse 27: At that instant, after Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him).
It seems as if John has made a typographical error. Didn’t he mean ‘Now has the Son of Man been betrayed?’ But no, John wants us to understand that the Glory of Christ is in his willingness to undergo betrayal by a close friend, with all that comes afterwards.
The next few lines read like a poem on the Trinity. Everything that affects the Son, affects the Father. Everything of the Father reflects back to the Son. It’s almost mathematical in its expression. Let a = Son and b = Father. x = glorification. If a has property x, then b has property x. If b has property x, then a has property x, or to put it in the way John puts it:
Now has the Son of Man been glorified,
and in him God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in him,
God will in turn glorify him in himself,
and will glorify him very soon.
Jesus turns the focus from this great act of betrayal by Judas into God’s great act of self-giving. Self-giving is God’s glory.
Jesus is adding a whole new dimension to glory, usually understood as God’s holiness, majesty and power. How could it be otherwise? If God were selfish, he would not be glorious. If God wanted us to love him merely because of his overwhelming power as Creator, that would not constitute greatness. But a God who loves to the point of allowing himself to experience the most excruciatingly egregious behaviour of his creatures, and giving up everything he has by right, truly deserves our praise and respect.
In this passage the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit are all present. Where is the Holy Spirit? He’s not actually mentioned. But we know the Holy Spirit appears as a Cloud of Glory (the Shekinah cloud) elsewhere in Scripture. And here John’s crescendo of glorification words describes what amounts to a verbal Cloud of Glory around the Father and the Son: what is this if not the Holy Spirit, the love between the Father and the Son?
Today’s readings (Australia):
Word format: Year C Easter 5th Sunday 2016
Pdf format: Year C Easter 5th Sunday 2016
I have some relations and friends who are scornful of my Christianity. Though they don’t always tell me to my face, I can tell from their resigned and patient expressions, that they think I have a screw loose. To believe that someone can rise from the dead, or that miracles occur? Pffft. Some of the more honest ones have told me I learn to think for myself and not be a sheep who follows the teachings of a patriarchal bronze age society.
This line of reasoning falls flat on its face when we look at actual case studies of atheists who have changed their minds and turned to Christianity. Christians, it turns out, are no more stupid than the rest of society. And they are much better at handling rejection than some of the popular victim groups around today, because the cross comes with the territory of being a Christian. We’re not in it for its popularity or for success (some are, but this is only a characteristic of some branches of Protestantism).
Today, we’re celebrating Good Shepherd Sunday. We’re celebrating the fact that the Shepherd in charge is good – he wants what is best for us – and we follow him because we love him. I can honestly say to the people who doubt me, that the relationship I (and many others) have with this Shepherd, is one so filled with joy that nothing can take that away from us, not even suffering. That’s because it’s a living relationship. Not only does Jesus appear in the pages of the Bible, but he actually establishes a living and present relationship with us through prayer, Baptism, Penance, Holy Communion and the other Sacraments. Jesus tells us, “the sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me.” (John 10: 27 ff.)
The ‘prayer’ one is particularly important for hearing the voice of the Shepherd. I have a 50 minute drive in to work every day, and over time, have developed a ritual of prayer for filling in the time: morning offering, prayer to the guardian angel of every member of my family, likewise a prayer to St Michael for family members, followed by a Divine Mercy chaplet and later the Rosary. I’m not telling you this to show off, I actually want to share that I’m not very good at praying like this, because my mind keeps wandering off on tangents. Anyway, I was getting pretty frustrated at the tendency of my mind to drift away from the actual words of the prayers, but then I had a revelation. It started to seem to me that in some of these ‘wanderings’ I was hearing the voice of the Shepherd guiding me in thinking about the people I was praying about. So I have started listening more intently to what I think he is saying to me. How do we know we’re hearing the Shepherd and not the Thief? If I am in doubt about a particular course of action that has come to me, I now write it down, and pray about it in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and ask God for ‘more information’. He will either confirm and strengthen the idea, and we will experience what St Ignatius calls consolation, or we will experience desolation. Margaret Silf talks about this in her book, The Inner Compass.
It’s wonderful to be a sheep, to know I don’t have to re-invent everything as if I am a God unto myself, to be guided by one who is goodness, truth and beauty himself. I love the obedience that being a sheep entails. I love having the confidence that the Shepherd won’t let anyone steal me away from the Father. And I love the hope that the Shepherd gives me for the other members of my family, even the ones who don’t trust him just yet …
Word format: Year C Easter 4th Sunday 2016
Pdf format: Year C Easter 4th Sunday 2016
If there really is a God in charge of the Universe, and a personal God at that, he would want to let us know, right? Well, it turns out that he has, but you have to have a humble heart that is open to persuasion in order to be convinced. There is a fascinating series of coincidences of dates associated with The Apparitions at Fatima, the Divine Mercy devotions, Pope St John Paul II and now most recently, the death of Mother Angelica. God gives us these clues because he knows how much we tend to be like Doubting Thomas in the gospel reading for today …
13th May and other thirteens
I’ll start with 13th May 1917, when the Virgin Mary appeared to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, three peasant children from Fatima in Portugal. There were a total of six apparitions, one on the 13th of each month from May to October that year. (The August apparition was on 15 August, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary.) About 70,000 people were present for the final apparition, and many supernatural phenomena, including the Miracle of the Sun, were observed. But the point of the appearance of the Virgin Mary was to encourage penance and prayer, especially the rosary, a meditation on events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.
13th May 1917 also just happened to be the date when Pope Pius XII, then Eugenio Pacelli, received his episcopal ordination. It was he who subsequently formally defined the ancient belief in the Virgin Mary’s Assumption, and he himself confirmed that he had witnessed the Miracle of the Sun several times in 1950, the year he proclaimed this dogma.
Meanwhile, in Poland …
Meanwhile in Poland, Sr Faustina (1905-1938), a Christian mystic, began to experience apparitions of Christ. She recorded her conversations with him in diaries over several years. It was February 1931 when he first appeared to her as King of Divine Mercy. Over the course of the apparitions, he asked her to have a painting made showing him with red and white rays emanating from his heart and instructed her to promote prayer through the Divine Mercy Chaplet, whose purposes were threefold: to obtain mercy, to trust in Christ’s mercy and to show mercy to others. Sr Faustina died of suspected tuberculosis at the age of 33, one year before Hitler invaded Poland, and for some time the Divine Mercy Devotions were destined to remain mostly hidden from the wider world.
Fast forwarding to World War 2, Karol Wojtyla, the future Polish Pope John Paul II, was told about the Divine Mercy Devotions by a classmate in the seminary he attended secretly in Krakow (the Communist government had attempted to eradicate religion from society) . He began to visit the grave of Sr. Faustina at the Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy on his way home from night shift at the Solvay Chemical Plant.
There’s a long and fascinating story of how devotion to the Divine Mercy was banned and went underground for several decades, but to cut to the chase, Karol Wojtyla involved himself in collecting information about Sr Faustina’s life and in removing the prohibition that had been placed on her diaries. Six months after he had achieved this, he was elected Pope. The message of Divine Mercy was still close to his heart, and his second encyclical, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), published in November 1980, was a reflection on God’s superabundant mercy and a plea for Christians to implore God’s mercy on the sinfulness of mankind.
Only six months later, on 13th May 1981, an assassination attempt was made on Pope John Paul II. He survived four shots from a 9 mm Browning fired at him by the Turk, Mehmet Ali Agca. Multiple perforations of his colon and small intestine caused him to lose three quarters of his blood before he was stabilized after five hours of surgery. But by October of that year he was back at work. In his audience address of 7 October 1981 (The Feast of the Holy Rosary) he said:
Today it has been granted me, after a long interruption, to resume the general audiences which have become one of the fundamental forms of pastoral service of the Bishop of Rome.
The last time, the pilgrims who came to Rome gathered for such an audience on 13 May. However, it could not take place. Everyone knows why …
Today, after an interval of five months, beginning this meeting so dear to me and to you, I cannot help referring to the day of 13 May.
… Could I forget that the event in St Peter’s Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ to the poor little peasants has been remembered for over sixty years at Fatima in Portugal? For, in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet.
Today is the memorial of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. The whole month of October is the Month of the Rosary. Now that nearly five months later it has been granted me to meet you again at the Wednesday audience, dear brothers and sisters, I want these first words that I address to you to be words of gratitude, love and deep trust, just as the Holy Rosary is and always remains a prayer of gratitude, love and trustful request: the prayer of the Mother of the Church.
But even while Pope John Paul II was recovering from this attack, another milestone was unfolding in the history of the Church.
Broadcasting to the World
August 15th 1981 (yes, the Feast of the Assumption, again!) heralded the first broadcast from the Eternal Word Catholic Television Network (EWTN), an initiative of Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, a Franciscan nun. Mother Angelica, who died last week on Easter Sunday, was known for the great suffering she endured throughout her life, her radical trust in Jesus, her no-nonsense style and her orthodoxy. Born Rita Rizzo, she was the only child of Italian-American immigrants who divorced when she was six years old; her father had abandoned the family when she was very young, and her mother struggled with chronic depression. She remembered her childhood as a constant battle to keep food on the table. But instead of thinking God had abandoned her, she developed an intense prayer life and her love of Jesus bore fruit in many miracles, which are amply described in Raymond Arroyo’s biography. EWTN has now grown to be the largest global religious media network, with a viewership of 250 million homes, not including those who watch it streamed online. You could say that God used EWTN to promote devotion to both the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Holy Rosary – these are on its schedule every day of the week.
Not only that, but God organised things so that EWTN took off in the midst of the period when the Holy Father was undergoing a recovery from an attempted assassination. One could almost say that the Holy Father was required to undergo a great suffering himself in order for fruit to come forth elsewhere in the church. In similar fashion, according to Michael Warsaw, the CEO of EWTN, the network’s reach exploded most markedly in the 14 years since Mother Angelica suffered a debilitating stroke on Christmas Eve 2001. She had spoken many times of the redemptive power of uniting one’s sufferings to the Lord and had written a book on the subject, The Healing Power of Suffering (1977).
So how else did God orchestrate a new focus on his Divine Mercy? In April 2000, Sr Faustina became the first saint of the new millennium, when Pope John Paul II officially designated the 2nd Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday and canonized her on that day. A year later, the Pope was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and now began his time of deteriorating health and preparation to meet the Lord. He had achieved so much during his period as Pope: one of the chief forces behind the downfall of Communism in Eastern Europe, inspirational on the Theology of the Body, and tenacious in defending both faith and reason and bringing unity in the Church. His funeral was reportedly the single largest gathering of Heads of State in history with more than four million mourners gathered in Vatican City. So what time did God choose for his death? It was just after the Mass of the Vigil of the 2nd Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday for 2005 had been celebrated in his room.
Only two months previously, the last of the Fatima visionaries was taken to heaven. Sr Lucia was 97 years old and yes, the date was another of the series of thirteens connected with the Fatima apparitions: 13th February 2005.
And what of Mother Angelica, the woman who brought Catholic teaching to the world through her television network? How wonderful that God chose the day of her death as Easter Sunday, the most important day of the year for Christians.
Mother began to cry out early in the morning from the pain that she was having. She had a fracture in her bones because of the length of time she had been bedridden. They said you could hear it down the hallways, that she was crying out on Good Friday from what she was going through. These two people said to me she has excruciating pain. Well, do you know where that word ‘excruciating’ comes from? ‘Ex’, from, ‘cruce’, from the cross. Excruciating pain. After the 3 o’clock hour arrived on Good Friday she was more calm, she was more peaceful.
On Easter Sunday, Fr Wolfe was called again to her bedside.
I anointed her, did the litany for the dying, gave her the apostolic pardon that the church grants to someone who is dying, and the sisters prayed their divine office around her bed – the morning prayers.
At 10:30 Father Paschal offered Mass in her room and she received the precious blood, Viaticum, the food for her journey. The precious blood by which we have been saved. All of us have been saved by the precious blood of Jesus…., a drop or two of the precious blood, into her mouth.
It was in the afternoon that Father Miguel and I went to her bed at the hour of mercy, at 3 o’clock. We had just finished praying the divine mercy chaplet. We all continued to pray silently around her bed. Then it was shortly before 5 p.m. that she went to the Father’s house. She breathed her last.
Not only was it Easter Sunday, but as Fr Mitch Pacwa reported, it was also the Feast of the Annunciation in the Maronite Rite, and Mother Angelica had taken as her title, the name, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation. And then, look at the year which God chose for her to die: she could have had another stroke at any old time in the last fourteen years, but she died in the year which Pope Francis has proclaimed as the Jubilee Year of Mercy, a time for all of us to say to him, “Jesus, I trust in you”. And, by the way, Pope Francis was ordained on 13 December 1969 and became Pope on 13 March 2013 and announced the Jubilee Year of Mercy on 13 March 2015.
I like to think of God as the creator of a glorious symphony, bringing in one part here, while another fades into the background after performing its virtuoso piece, making different voices interweave and coalesce into the climax of a harmonious chorus, while the instrumental section repeats an ostinato pattern underneath. In this last century we have seen the Holy Rosary, Divine Mercy, the Assumption and all those fabulous thirteens appear and reappear as motifs for our enjoyment and encouragement as we participate in the great symphony of the life of the Church.
Word format:Year C Easter 2nd Sunday 2016
Pdf format: Year C Easter 2nd Sunday 2016
A very Happy Easter to you all! Two messages today:
First Mark Shea: “The Resurrection did not happen in cloud-cuckoo land, Olympus, Shangrila or Once Upon a Time. It happened in a particular place locatable by GPS, on a particular morning during the rule of a minor Roman procurator named Pontius Pilate. A real physical body that had been buried on Friday evening was no longer there on Sunday morning because something beyond human language happened and it stopped being an it and resumed being He. The disciples who witnessed the Risen Christ struggle to describe the experience in human language and are ultimately stymied by the attempt. He is real, can be touched, can eat food, and is heard not “in the heart” but with the physical ear. He is not a ghost, yet can appear and disappear at will. He is capable of tearing a piece of bread it two, but also of vanishing from sight. Nor is he a hallucination since a) you don’t hallucinate someone you desperate want to see and then not recognize him on three occasions; b) nobody thought he was going to rise from the dead; and c) mass hallucinations don’t happen and are only invoked as a last ditch effort to explain away the Resurrection. Occam’s Razor says “The Resurrection actually happened and the Christian explanation is the actual one. Not that Christians understand it any more than anybody else. It’s just that they’ve abandoned all the other explanations as super lame.”
From Bishop Robert Barron:
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the be-all and the end-all of the Christian faith. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, all bishops, priests, and Christian ministers should go home and get honest jobs, and all the Christian faithful should leave their churches immediately. As Paul himself put it: “If Jesus is not raised from the dead, our preaching is in vain and we are the most pitiable of men.” It’s no good, of course, trying to explain the resurrection away or rationalize it as a myth, a symbol, or an inner subjective experience. None of that does justice to the novelty and sheer strangeness of the Biblical message. It comes down finally to this: if Jesus was not raised from death, Christianity is a fraud and a joke; if he did rise from death, then Christianity is the fullness of God’s revelation, and Jesus must be the absolute center of our lives. There is no third option.
I want to explore, very briefly, a handful of lessons that follow from the disquieting fact of the Resurrection. First, this world is not it. What I mean is that this world is not all that there is. We live our lives with the reasonable assumption that the natural world as we’ve come to know it through the sciences and discern it through common sense is the final framework of our lives and activities. Everything (quite literally, everything) takes place within the theater of our ordinary experience. And one of the most powerful and frightening features of the common-sense world is death. Every living thing dies and stays dead. Indeed, everything in the universe, scientists tell us, comes into being and then fades away permanently.
But what if this is not in fact the case? What if the laws of nature are not as iron-clad as we thought? What if death and dissolution did not have the final say? What if, through God’s power and according to his providence, a “new heavens and a new earth” were being born? The resurrection of Jesus from the dead shows as definitively as possible that God is up to something greater than we had imagined or thought possible. And therefore we don’t have to live as though death were our master and as though nihilism were the only coherent point of view. After he had encountered the risen Christ, Paul could even taunt death: “Where is your sting?” In light of the resurrection, we can, in fact, begin to see this world as a place of gestation, growth and maturation toward something higher, more permanent, more splendid.
Here’s a second lesson derived from the resurrection: the tyrants know that their time is up. Remember that the cross was Rome’s way of asserting its authority. Roman authorities declared that if you run afoul of our system, we will torture you to death in the most excruciating (ex cruce, from the cross) way possible and then we will leave your body to waste away be devoured by the beasts of the field. The threat of violence is how tyrants up and down the centuries have always asserted their authority. Might makes right. The crucified Jesus appeared to anyone who was witnessing the awful events on Calvary to be one more affirmation of this principle: Caesar always wins in the end. But when Jesus was raised from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit, the first Christians knew that Caesar’s days were numbered. Jesus had taken the worst that the world could throw at him and he returned, alive and triumphant. They knew that the Lord of the world was no longer Caesar, but rather someone whom Caesar had killed but whom God had raised from death. This is why the risen Christ has been the inspiration for resistance movements up and down the centuries. In our own time we saw how deftly John Paul II wielded the power of the cross in Communist Poland. Though he had no nuclear weapons or tanks or mighty armies, John Paul had the power of the resurrection, and that proved strong enough to bring down one of the most imposing empires in the history of the world. Once again, the faculty lounge interpretation of resurrection as a subjective event or a mere symbol is exactly what the tyrants of the world want, for it poses no real threat to them.
The third great lesson of the resurrection is that the path of salvation has been opened to everyone. Paul told us that “though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself and took the form of slave…accepting even death, death on a cross.” In a word, Jesus went all the way down, journeying into pain, despair, alienation, even godforsakenness. He went as far as you can go away from the Father. Why? In order to reach all of those who had wandered from God. Then, in light of the resurrection, the first Christians came to know that, even as we run as fast as we can away from the Father, all the way to godforsakenness, we are running into the arms of the Son. The opening up of the divine life allows everyone free access to the divine mercy. And this is why the Lord himself could say, “When the Son of Man is lifted up, he will draw all people to himself,” and why Paul could assert in 1 Corinthians, “When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.” The resurrection shows that Christ can gather back to the Father everyone whom he has embraced through his suffering love.
So on Easter Sunday, let us not domesticate the still stunning and disturbing message of resurrection. Rather, let us allow it to unnerve us, change us, set us on fire.
The readings for the Easter Vigil Mass:
Word format:Easter A B C
Pdf format: Easter A B C
Holy Thursday, Confession, 6 p.m. 24th March, Presbytery, 3 Blaxland Ave, Two Rocks
Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper, 6.30 p.m. 24th March, 3 Blaxland Ave, Two Rocks
Good Friday, Stations of the Cross, 10 a.m. 25th March, 3 Blaxland Ave, Two Rocks
Good Friday, The Lord’s Passion, 3 p.m. 25th March, 3 Blaxland Ave, Two Rocks
Easter Vigil, 6.30 p.m. 26th March, Yanchep Community Centre, Lagoon Drive, Yanchep
Easter Sunday, 8.00 a.m. 27th March, Guilderton Community Hall, Wedge Street, Guilderton
Easter Sunday, 10.00 a.m., 27th March, 33 Gingin Road, Lancelin.
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!” 4 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. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 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:
9 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:
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.
Word format: Year B Easter 5th Sunday 2015
Pdf format: Year B Easter 5th Sunday 2015
“I am the vine, you are the branches.” What does this mean for our relationship with Christ, the incarnate God?
Jesus is not simply an inspiring teacher to whom we listen. He is a force in which we participate, a body in which we are cells and molecules, a river in which we swim. (Fr Robert Barron)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
This means we have to immerse ourselves in his Word, and constantly invite the Holy Spirit to invade our minds with His thoughts. If we do this, suddenly we find that the whole orientation of our life changes. We start to desire what God desires as our minds become moulded and grafted onto God’s. We want to fit in with his Divine Plan, instead of dictating to him what we think his Divine Plan ought to be.
Anyone who does not remain in me
is like a branch that has been thrown away —
he withers; these branches are collected
and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt.
Our culture today would interpret the above words of Jesus as being ‘judgmental’ and not at all ‘inclusive’. How can God create us, just to throw us away? God in fact doesn’t want to throw us away. That is why he is asking us to listen to him, to remain in him, because if we in our arrogance, ignorance or laziness don’t even take time to do those things, we will end up throwing ourselves away. Everything we do is a choice – closer to him or further away from him. Here’s Fr Barron again, in a 2009 article titled ‘What the Hell‘:
Now rocks, trees, planets, animals, and stars respond to the divine love just by being what they are. But God made human beings in his own image and likeness, which is to say, he endowed them with mind and will and thereby invited them to respond to his love, not simply by the goodness of their being but by the integrity of their freedom. He wanted them to have the opportunity to participate personally in the love that he is. But this freedom carried with it, necessarily, a shadow, namely, the possibility of abuse. We who have been made in God’s image, can decide not to live in accord with that image; we who have been invited to answer God’s love with our love can answer it instead with resistance. To stand athwart the divine love, to run counter to the image of God within us, to turn away from the sun that shines on us whether we like it or not, is to suffer. It is like a furnace; it is a kind of torture; it is to be in a place of tears and the gnashing of teeth. I’m purposely using imagery for Hell here, because the definitive state of this resistance to God, the final No to God from the depths of one’s being, is precisely what the church means by Hell. And perhaps now we can begin to see why this doctrine hasn’t a thing to do with God “sending” anyone to a terrible place or “condemning” anyone to an eternal prison. As C.S. Lewis put it, “the door to Hell is always locked from the inside,” for it is always our perverse freedom, and not the divine choice, that locks us away from God. Lewis offered another extremely helpful point of clarification when he said that the love of God lights up the fires of Hell. He meant that the suffering of Hell is caused by the very same power that produces the delight of Heaven, namely, the love that God simply is. The difference between Heaven and Hell is a function of our freedom: in the first case, it opens itself to God, and in the second case, it turns away from God. A homey image might help. There are two people at the same party. One is caught up in the joy, rhythm, music, and laughter of the gathering, and he’s having the time of his life; the other, sunk in moody self-regard, resenting the joy of those around him, sulks in irritation, tortured by the very exuberance of the party itself.
Of course, if we follow God only because we are frightened by threats of Hell, our faith is pretty weak. Why is it that we’re so bad at describing the joy of the abundant living we receive from God? This is something that Christians need to become better at – and perhaps we should spend more of our time describing the joyful answers to prayer that we receive, the Evangelii Gaudium and the ecstasy of a life of intense prayer.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will and you shall get it.
When a soul aligned with Him in obedience and love asks for a favour, God will satisfy the deepest longings his or her heart. What are your hearts deepest longings, and do they fit in with God’s Word?
Today’s Mass readings:
Word format: Year B Easter 4th Sunday 2015
Pdf format: Year B Easter 4th Sunday 2015
This year Anzac Day is celebrated on the same weekend as Good Shepherd Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Easter. Every year, the crowds attending Anzac Day ceremonies get bigger. It is as if we humans instinctively understand sacrifice, our hearts know that sacrifice is crucial to salvation and we need to honour those who have made sacrifices in the service of others. The Christian understanding of redemptive suffering adds value to our interpretation of the Anzac sacrifice.
Dom Carrigan CSSR draws some parallels between Easter and Anzac Day here:
Easter and Anzac Day are inextricably intertwined. Anzac Day always falls in the Easter season. They have marked differences, yet have much in common.
Both deal with suffering, sacrifice and death. At Gallipoli in Turkey, thousands of soldiers on both sides suffered terribly and died for their causes. At Calvary, Jesus, the Word of God- become-man, suffered terribly and died on a cross as a sacrifice for the world.
At Gallipoli, the Australian and New Zealand troops rejoiced that they were going to war. They wanted to test themselves internationally on the battlefield. At Calvary, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that the ‘cup’ of suffering would be taken from him. Yet each faced the future with courage and conviction.
At Gallipoli, there were tens of thousands of soldiers and, in general, a tremendous spirit of mateship. At Calvary, Jesus was deserted by his own disciples (except for a few, mainly women) and felt completely abandoned.
At Gallipoli the soldiers had rifles, bayonets, guns, as well as other instruments of war to wound and to kill. At Calvary, Jesus was defenceless. He had even told Peter to put away his sword (John 18:11).
Gallipoli was a military defeat, yet it was regarded as a victory for the Anzac spirit as well as for the brilliant way Australian Brigadier-General Brudenell White organised the withdrawal of the troops. It was feared in Britain that they would ‘lose 25,000 men and many guns’ in the withdrawal (FitzSimons, Gallipoli p. 616). In fact, unbelievably, there were no fatalities in the withdrawal.
Calvary was seen as a defeat for Jesus and his followers. Instead it turned out to be the necessary way to his victory. Jesus had said to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26).
This year there will be celebrations greater than ever, both at Gallipoli and around Australia and New Zealand, because of the Anzac centenary. At Easter, millions of Christians will celebrate the triumph of Jesus over sin and evil and death.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says,
I am the good shepherd:
the good shepherd is one
who lays down his life for his sheep.
The hired man, since he is not the shepherd
and the sheep do not belong to him,
abandons the sheep and runs away
as soon as he sees a wolf coming,
and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep;
this is because he is only a hired man
and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd;
I know my own and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I lay down my life for my sheep.
To understand more about the purpose of Jesus’ death and suffering, read on at The Sacred Page, where Dr John Bergsma goes in deep with today’s readings. In fact it is Yeshua of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, the ultimate sacrifice, the cornerstone rejected by the builders, who is the key to our salvation. He knows us personally, and those who are seeking the truth will recognise his voice and he will speak to their hearts. For some extra thoughts on Jesus knowing and loving you personally in the light of today’s readings, listen here.