The Gospel reading we have for today is a very interesting one indeed, especially if we truly listen to what Jesus is saying to us. Of course, we know that what He is doing in this passage is explaining to us a set of procedures we should follow if someone sins against us. At first glance it might seem like He is about to explain to us how we are to go about the process of getting retribution and justice for the wrong that was done to us. But that’s not what Jesus does at all. The end goal of the instructions He gives to us today, is not aimed at the injured party receiving any kind of retribution at all. Jesus’ primary goal when any kind of sin has been committed is that the sinner who committed the sin be restored to the community. Everything He tells us to do has to do with reconciling the sinner with the faith community once again. To Him, the problem that is created when a sin has been committed is that now the sinner has separated himself/herself from the faith community. To Him it is the problem of the one who has been sinned against and the faith community as a whole to do everything that can be done to try to bring the sinner back into right relationship with the community. Basically, we are called to treat the sinner as the Good Shepherd would treat a lost sheep. That’s a little bit different than how we think isn’t it? When someone wrongs us, do we find ourselves concerned with the poor soul who has now separated himself from the community, or do we find ourselves concerned with ourselves? Yet Jesus says that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Part of following His command of loving one another as He loves us means that our utmost concern has to be with doing everything we can to make sure that all members of the community are reconciled with each other-even when we are the one who has been wronged by another. It means realizing, understanding and living out the truth that even when someone wrongs us, the biggest problem is that the one who has sinned is now faced with the possibility of living a life outside of the faith community, and that this problem is ours.
If we put last Sunday’s Gospel together with today’s Gospel (which is very reasonable to do since today’s verses immediately follow last week’s), we see that we have quite a conversation going on between Jesus and Peter. Within the same conversation Jesus first says the following to Peter: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,” but then later He says: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." We know of course, that the first statement was made after Peter had correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah, and that the second was made after Peter expressed his dismay at the thought of Jesus being crucified, so Jesus words are understandable. However, I think there is something else going on here as well. Jesus is being a true friend to Peter. He affirms him when Peter makes a correct choice, but lovingly scolds him when he begins to head in the wrong direction. That is what friends do. Jesus loves Peter and He loves us too much to do anything but to tell us the truth with love. Do we do this? With Jesus? With our friends? Are we totally honest with Jesus when we pray to Him? Do we try to have a real heart to heart conversation? Are we totally honest with our friends when we know they are going down a destructive path or do we shy away from saying the hard things? Being a true friend means truly loving our friend, it means risking our friend’s love for us in order to demonstrate our love for him/her. That’s what Jesus did in this conversation with Peter. That’s what Jesus does for us. The best way for us to thank Jesus for His friendship to us is by being totally honest with Him in our prayer, and by being a true friend to those He gives to us.
Deacon's Corner by Deacon George S. Harmansky
This Sunday's Gospel is chocked full of information to think about, to sort and all worthy of reflection. It's not one of those Gospels where it's a bullseye topic. What stands out to me is ‘upon this rock I will build my Church’. It’s not just about Peter – It’s about you and me.
What I do think about when I read that is that it takes more than a rock to build a foundation for a building – the foundation for a building is constructed of many ‘rocks’ bound together forming the foundation. From the foundation rises the building. The building is only as strong as each of the ‘rocks’ while additional strength is found in their binding/uniting together to form one.
Christ isn't talking about a building, a structure or literally the building where we most often find ourselves worshiping. He is talking about the Church, capital ‘C’ meaning us, comprising the Body of Christ. Just as it takes more than a single rock to build the foundation to support a building consequently it takes all of us inclusively to make the Church.
In baptism the newly baptized whether infant, young adult or adult person is commissioned as a disciple of Christ, a ‘rock’ in the Church of Christ, in a long line of succession from Christ to Peter ‘upon this rock’.
Often at the baptism I relate to them a story using a chain as an example. A chain is made of links, individually they’re nothing but links, but connected together we have a chain.
Christ’s command is directed to each of us individually. He, commanded that each of us individually contribute to the collective Church, the Body of Christ. As Peter received his commission we likewise receive that (com)mission at baptism and are further strengthened in that at confirmation and nourished during life’s journey with the Eucharist.
We are the Church. We are the ‘rocks’ that comprise the Church, and upon which the Church is further built.
Jesus’ response to the Canaanite woman might, at least initially seem very cold and callous: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” How could He say something like that to this poor woman who is pleading for mercy for her daughter? What is she supposed to do after hearing those words? What are we supposed to do when it seems like we are not getting the response that we think we should get from Jesus? The woman does give us a couple lessons. First we should never give up. If our plea is pure, if it is not selfish, than there is no reason to stop trying. We should never forget what Jesus has done for us and that He is absolutely about our greater good. We also should understand that we need to be willing to make our case, and that Jesus has the right to expect us to do so. We also need to be able to see that Jesus will always provide an opening for us and give us the opportunity to take it. The woman recognized her opening in the word that Jesus used for “dog.” He used the word that referred to a dog that was a household pet, not a stray that roamed the streets. She knew then that she could say: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters,” and perhaps get a favorable response. The Lord always has a gift for us, but He wants us to fight for it, He wants us to have a sense that we earned it. The Canaanite woman left Jesus, not only knowing that her daughter was healed, but also knowing that she had something to do with it. She did not give up on her plea to the Lord, she made her case to Him, and walked away stronger because of it. Jesus uses every opportunity He can to teach us and to empower us, and to enable us to grow. We come to Him with our narrow pleas, but there is so much more that He wants to give us. Only thing is; to get it we must be willing to fight for it. If not, it’s not happening.
It might sound like a strange question, but are you? I think that maybe, just maybe, you just might be. Afraid of the quiet, that is. And if you’re not, well then you are quite rare, and I am quite confident that so many of your human colleagues are. Oh, they might try to deny it, but how often do they let themselves truly become still and quiet? How often, do we let ourselves truly become quiet? Don’t we pretty much always want to have some background noise blaring, i.e. the TV, the radio, etc., etc.? Isn’t it difficult to truly allow ourselves to become completely still? Why? Wouldn’t all the noise get to us at least once in a while? But it does not seem like that is the case. Silence really can be much more frightening than thunder, can’t it? Why? Because when we actually are able to hear ourselves think, we have to deal with issues from which we’d rather stay away. Elijah, went to the mountain of the Lord, in search of the Lord’s voice but he discovered that the voice of the Lord was not in the noise but in the quiet. In order to hear the Lord, in order to get to know the Lord, in order to be in a real relationship with Him we must bring ourselves to stillness and quiet on a very regular basis. And that is much easier said than done in a world of so much noise. Couple that with the fact that the quiet makes us uncomfortable and we truly have a challenge on our hands. Our best hope is that we know that we will never truly be at peace until we are able to hear that still small voice that is the Lord. A very prudent prayer for us is that our fear of the quiet is not more powerful than our longing to hear the Lord. If that is the case, we should rejoice and be glad, because we will hear His voice.
We are all very familiar with the story of the Transfiguration-and that could be a problem. The fact that it is so familiar might prevent us from hearing it anew as it is proclaimed over and over again. We might tend to “click it off” and let our minds wander, since we feel like we know it through and through. We live in a world of sound bytes, text messaging, and web and channel surfing. Everything and everyone gets about 3 seconds of our time, because, if someone or something is too familiar to us we feel like we have “been there” and “done that” and immediately want to move on because there are so many other people to see and things to do. This extremely worldly pattern of behavior does not sit well with pondering Sacred Scripture. Scripture really does not lend itself to being packaged as a sound byte. It is meant to be studied, prayed and reflected upon. It is always new, but we have to spend time with it in order to realize that the insights it gives us are never ending and always fresh. For instance, with the story of the Transfiguration, if we spend time with it, we just might come to see that it is much more than a story explaining how one day Jesus’ clothes turned dazzlingly white one day. We might come to see that it is as story that shows us that if we spend time with Jesus, as Peter, James and John did, we just might receive a wonderful gift. We might just be given the opportunity, if but for a brief moment, to see Jesus as His Father sees Him. Of course, to see Jesus as the Father sees Him is to see Him as He truly is. Now, wouldn’t that be something? But there’s more. What if we could see everyone and everything with the Father’s eyes-our loved ones; and our not so loved ones? Don’t you think your life would be different if you could see as the Father sees-if you could see God’s world and His people as they truly are? The message of the Transfiguration is that you can do just that, that you can see as the Father sees, but in order to do so you have to go to the mountaintop with Jesus in prayer to do it. And you can’t be too fast with the clicker.
By Deacon George S. Harmansky
So here we are now in the Dog Days Of Summer, pretty much through the dog days, as they officially extend from July 3rd to August 11th. These dog days occur between those dates because according to astronomy with input from the meteorology folks and as tradition has it these are the hottest, most unbearable days of our summer season. Originally, the phrase actually had nothing to do with dogs, or even with the lazy days of summer. Instead, it turns out, the dog days refer to the dog star, Sirius, and its position in the heavens.
To the Greeks and Romans, the “dog days” occurred around the day when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun, in late July. They referred to these days as the hottest time of the year, a period that could bring fever, or even catastrophe. We associate the dog days of summer, especially with the dogs that are lying around, sluggish, more or less lifeless because of the oppressive summer heat. While this may sometimes be true meteorologically and evidenced in the behavior especially of the dogs I believe it can even be true for us. Don't we find ourselves sluggish, more apt to take those mid-day rests, more desirous of those times for a siesta. We become slower, sluggish, looking to more ‘vegging’ time, maybe inclined to procrastinate to a better time another more suited to our energy level, even cooler for the task.
The question presents - do we take a siesta from our spirituality during the dog days of summer? Just lay back and coast? Let things grow that shouldn’t similar to the weeds in our flower beds and gardens.
Liturgically we are in the midst of ordinary time, between Pentecost and the beginning of Advent. This time should be one of growth focused on a spiritual harvest.
Are we exhibiting spiritual boredom, allowing the lazy feeling of the summer, the Dog Days effect our prayer, our Sunday worship?
In this Sunday’s Gospel we read parables about treasure and valuables, the reaction of the possessors to their found treasure. Their actions are not marked with lethargy and indecisiveness. Unaffected by outside influences they take action. Moving forward with little or no effect from the ‘climate’ of their time. They could have sat back enjoying their new found wealth – doing nothing more. So in the heat of the season do we push forward continuing to cultivate our relationship with the Creator, growing spiritually, or do we lay back, sluggish as the dogs, overcome and waiting for a new season, a better time.
Of course we have heard this parable many times. (Note that I have lengthened the title a bit. I don’t want the soil to feel left out!). However, I wonder if we ever realized its unique characteristics. For instance, I don’t believe there is any parable that Jesus goes to such great lengths to make sure that His disciples understand its meaning. Therefore, it probably makes sense for us to spend some time with it. Jesus certainly did! Another unique characteristic of the parable is that at each of the main ingredients (sower, seed, and soil) can stand for us. At times we are called to be the sower who lavishly throws the seed around indiscriminately on good soil and bad. Other times we may be called to be the seed itself-the seed which grows and develops as God would have it do. Still other times we are called to be the good soil that nourishes and provides for the seed so that it can grow. The point of it all is that the sower is going to sow the seed and a harvest is going to be reaped. The only question is how fruitful the harvest will be? And that is determined by both the lavishness of God and our desire for the seed to be nourished.
I remember what a circus it was when my parents would take us shopping for shoes. I trust that they are going to heaven for that experience alone. As you might imagine, shoe shopping with the Maloneys was not a very organized affair. Of course, whether or not it was us shopping for shoes or anyone else, the key to shoe shopping is making sure that at the end of the day, the customer(s) are able to acquire shoes that fit (perhaps in more ways than one!). However, another element that is integral to successful shoe shopping (at least it was for our clan) was who determined whether or not a particular shoe did in fact, fit. I remember often debating my mother about whether or not a shoe fit me and thinking it was not quite right that she would be contesting my thoughts on that matter at all. Inevitably, I would tell her that a certain pair fit me and she would tell me that means they must be too big. Then she would practically force another pair of shoes on my feet and I would say that they hurt me. One time she finally responded to my complaints in a way that she must have wanted to do many times before. She said, “Well, new shoes are supposed to hurt.” Now that did not seem to make any sense to me; not at first any way. But then she explained that new shoes have to be broken in and that after a day or so, they should feel much more comfortable. On the other hand, she knew from experience that a shoe that her children described to her as comfortable in the store, would probably be proven to be too big after the “breaking in” period. In the time of Jesus, people would know the “yoke” as a harness that was put around the shoulders of oxen so that they could pull the “burdens” or loads that their masters needed them to pull. The yokes had to be custom made for each oxen, they could not be too tight or too loose, they had to “fit” or the job simply would not get done. Jesus is trying to tell us today that the burdens, the crosses, the challenges, that He gives us are ones that He has specially fitted for us because they will give us the best opportunity for us to grow closer to Him. This means a couple of things. It means that we need to allow Him to determine which burden fits us, just like the Maloney children needed to allow their Mom to determine which were the best fitting shoes. It also means that we need to remember that our burdens need to be broken in. They probably are not going to feel very comfortable right away. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we should not be bearing any burdens that were not given to us by Jesus, although we do try to do this all the time. Other people’s burdens are not our burdens. Jesus tells us to come to Him to because His yoke is easy. It’s the one that fits.
Hospitality was one of the great virtues of the Bible. That’s what the story of Elisha in today’s first reading is about. The ancients believed that each person should be welcomed as though one were welcoming God himself. Jesus moves this virtue into Christian times in today’s Gospel, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple--amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
The virtue of hospitality is far more than being a good host at a dinner party. Hospitality means encountering the presence of God in others, usually in those whom we least expect.
Sometimes we, get so self-absorbed in our own expressions of spirituality, that we miss the presence of the Lord as he stands right before us in our family or as he knocks on the door of our homes and our lives through other people. For example, we can make the mistake of thinking that our particular expressions of spirituality be they within the Catholic faith or within the general context of Christianity are exclusive. If another person doesn’t pray as we pray, express the presence of the Almighty as we express His presence, we might miss the Lord as He is standing right before us in a person that we least expect to meet Him.
This is what the people of Jesus’ time did. The scribes and Pharisees were so self-absorbed with their ways of practicing the faith that they missed God speaking through John the Baptist, saying that he was a fanatic, and they missed God’s presence in Jesus, saying that He was just common every day man, eating and drinking like all others. There is a wonderful parable about this in Luke. Jesus says, “These people are like children in the marketplace.” Their Moms dragged them there and normally the kids would play, but instead they argued saying, “we played the flute and you wouldn’t dance, we sang a dirge and you wouldn’t weep.” The girls were playing the flute and boys would do the wedding dance of the groomsmen. They would play wedding. Or the boys would sing a sad song, and the girls were supposed to wail like professional mourners. They would play funeral. Only the children in the parable wasted time arguing.
The people of Jesus’ day wasted their opportunity to experience the presence of God because they decided what this presence should be like. So also, we often miss the presence of God in others because we decide what this presence should be like. We need to let God be God and let God express himself in others, even if this expression is new or even foreign to us. Jesus said, that whoever receives the Him receives the Father. Let’s be sure we understand that Jesus has sent many to us who, though may not be just like us, are worthy of being warmly received by us.
The above was taken from a homily by Father Joseph Pellegrino
It is something to think about isn’t it, although we probably don’t want to go there. And here it must be acknowledged that a little bit of fear is a good thing-it can help to keep us safe and even alive. Fear can be a very logical reaction to a situation at hand. But a point that St. Matthew is making is although fear may be a reasonable response and is indeed something to which we should pay attention, we must not let fear by itself control us. We should not let fear prevent us from living as the disciple that Jesus calls us to be. Ultimately, he makes the point that fear can actually lead us to hell. He urged the disciples of 2000 years ago to not let fear prevent them from living their faith in the daylight, even in the face of persecution. He urges us to do the same. He tells us that there truly is no reason to prevent us from living as Jesus commands because He is always there with us and will be through the end of time as long as we keep His commands. And Matthew’s teaching goes farther even than that. He basically tells us that when it comes to the time of our judgment we will not be able to use even our legitimate fears as an excuse for not fulfilling the will of God. Jesus says that if we acknowledge Him before others, He will acknowledge us before God, but if we deny Him before others, He will deny us before God. Very sobering, indeed, isn’t it? Fear might keep us from doing a lot of things, getting on planes, public speaking, going over bridges, going through tunnels etc. and all this can be very sad indeed. But the ultimate tragedy would be if we let our fear keep us from getting to heaven.
Alright folks, we have arrived at this most significant week; this most important week in our life as a parish- the week of the feast day of our patron saint, Saint Aloysius himself. If you don’t mind my saying, I remember seven short years ago, when I first arrived here at Saint Aloysius Parish, and I did just happen to move in on June 21 (which is Saint Aloysius’ feast day, and I do not believe in coincidences!), I instantly made up my mind that we were going to mark our parish feast day with a novena, with Forty Hours and a parish feast day celebration. I am very happy to say that at the end of my seventh year, because of the tremendous support of all of you, we now have a wonderful tradition of celebrating our Feast Day with Forty Hours devotions and a parish festival. We begin this Saturday and Sunday with Fr. Jack Timlin preaching our Masses here at Saint Aloysius Church. Father celebrates our Spanish Mass each Sunday and will be helping us even more in the days to come. He will be preaching our Forty hours this year. On Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, June 24 and 25 we will be holding our parish Feast Day Food Festival in Begley Hall. I humbly ask that you participate in our Festival. Please stop in and enjoy our ethnic cuisine or hamburgers/hotdogs, etc. Also, our Forty Hours celebration will take place this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evening June 18-19 at 7 PM. The Blessed Sacrament will be exposed after the Noon Mass on Sunday and morning Masses on Monday and Tuesday until the evening services at 7 PM. Please find time to come and adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and pray for our parish through the intercession of Saint Aloysius! On Tuesday evening we will venerate the relic of Saint Aloysius and process down Hanover Street toward King Street with the relic, our Saint Aloysius statue and the Blessed Sacrament before returning to church for the closing Benediction. After the Benediction there will be a light reception in our Gathering Center. Every one, and especially our First Communicants, and Altar Servers, (dressed in their communion attire, and their albs) are strongly encouraged to participate and walk in the procession. Of course, it promises to be a tremendous celebration of who we are….SAINT ALOYSIUS! Do not miss it!
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.” These words make up perhaps the most famous scripture verse of all, but do we understand them in the context which Jesus spoke them? Further, do we truly believe them and finally, are we willing to live as if we believe them? Jesus spoke these words to a man named Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came to see Jesus “while it was night.” Why? Because he was afraid of the Jews, and especially the other Pharisees. The last thing he wanted to do was to let others know that he had an interest in Jesus and the things that He was saying. And as we listen to what Jesus is saying to him it becomes rather obvious that Jesus, who is facing death in just a few days, is rather frustrated with him. He says to Nicodemus that certainly, he who is a learned man and a teacher of the people, can see that every thing He (Jesus) is saying is correct and true, and if that is the case, why is he slithering around in the dark? Why isn’t he proclaiming the good news of Jesus in the daylight? After all, God sent Jesus so that every one who believes in Him will be saved, not condemned. What is Nicodemus afraid of? If he (if we) believe in Jesus, he (we) should be afraid of nothing. Then Jesus presents him with the ultimate challenge: “…the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” And so what is Nicodemus (what are we) going to do? Is he (are we) going to boldly live and proclaim his (our) faith in the light of day, or is he (are we) going to continue to slither around in the dark for fear of every one else?
Well folks, I might as well come right out with and finally say it, and maybe you have already figured it out, but I tend to be a rather skeptical person. I definitely would fall into the “trust but verify” category. It is not my normal way to just accept things, especially those things that seem to defy reason and logic without at least some kind of serious scrutinizing on my part. In my late teens and young adulthood, which is probably at least somewhat typical, I did not know what I believed; I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God. I questioned pretty much every thing. And I truly questioned the Resurrection; I was not impressed by the fact that the stone was rolled away or even that Jesus’ body was not there. I mean, really, if you were Mary Magdalen, would those circumstances have led you to conclude that Jesus was alive? I don’t think so. Than we get into the eyewitness accounts, and while they do give more substance, I probably would still remain a doubting Thomas. I mean, after all, like Thomas thought, if the other apostles had seen the risen Jesus, then why did they stay locked in theUpper room? As a matter of fact, they stayed in that room until guess when? Pentecost would be the answer. I have no doubt something really big and really special happened on that day. Whatever it was that did happen put their hearts on fire and allowed them to change the world and literally bring us to our pews today. I have no other explanation for what happened after Pentecost, except that the apostles were literally transformed on that day. It is pretty clear that they were going nowhere before Pentecost happened. But after Pentecost there was nowhere they didn’t go. Furthermore, it only makes sense that what they proclaimed was the truth and the inspired Word. For me, Pentecost, is what makes it all make sense. Just look at what didn’t happen before and what did happen after. I challenge any one to come up with another explanation. The long and the short of it is that because of Pentecost I believe, and it just might be why you believe as well.
With today’s celebration of the Seventh Sunday of Easter we find ourselves between the time when Jesus has left His mission completely up to His Apostles and before they were fully empowered by the Spirit to accomplish that mission. That will not come until Pentecost. For now it is good for us to reflect on what Jesus says to us today: “Holy Father, I pray not only for my disciples, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.” It seems to me as if the Lord is saying is that if His teaching and presence to us on this earth are to be of any enduring value they must be put at the service of the Lord’s will to bring all people together in faith in God the Father so that the world may know that the Father has sent the Son, and that the Father loves all of us just as He loves his own Son. Right here, Right now we need to ask ourselves in a very practical way, how the Lord’s gift to us can help us to accomplish the mission that the Lord has put before us. To help us to answer this question we need to look no further than the Words that Jesus will speak to us next week on Pentecost Sunday: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always. “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Those who do not love me do not keep my words.” Yes, it always comes down to this: loving Jesus means keeping his commandments. Any accomplishment that we achieve through the grace of God is fulfilled when we give to it the purpose of helping us to better keep His commandments and love Him which by definition means to love all people as one in union with the Father and the Son. We do need to ponder this truth, and even be awestruck by it, but at the same time we need to understand one of the lessons of the Ascension. Of course, the apostles were completely dazzled and utterly speechless as they saw Jesus ascend into heaven, but they were soon brought back to earth by the words of the angels who said to them: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking up at the sky?” While we must reflect on the awesomeness of God and His message and His commands and how they relate directly to our accomplishments, we must not fall into the trap of admiring and marveling at Jesus so much that we forget to follow Him that we forget that we must do what He does. As Jesus forgives, we must forgive; as Jesus heals, we must be agents of healing; as He loves, we must love. When we get caught between the Ascension and Pentecost, we cannot allow ourselves to become so awestruck by the glory of God that it prevents us from doing His will. Instead of just “standing there” we need to do His will, in the faith that that the Spirit of Pentecost is right around the corner.
Why live? Why laugh? Why love? Why hope? We need to be ready to explain our living, our laughing, our loving and our hoping. Why? Because we are called to do so. Today’s Second Reading from the first letter of Saint Peter says: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” We can’t expect others to be hopeful if we can’t give them a reason to hope, so we have to be able to identify our reasons for hope. Now, let me say that while all of us here may well be in many different places on the “hope spectrum,” I would argue that no one in here is hopeless. Some of us are undoubtedly going through very difficult times and facing very difficult circumstances and may feel like they are desperately searching for hope; but searching for hope is indeed a sign of hope. Maybe you are here precisely because you are searching for hope, you are hoping for hope. If you are hoping for hope, you do have hope. And you can become more hopeful and you can even convey your hope to others once you can identify your reasons for hope. But how do we do that? Well, Saint Peter gives us some wonderful clues. He says, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” Folks, it always starts there. If Christ is not Lord of our hearts the troubles that we are bound to face will multiply and be compounded, but if He is Lord of our hearts, then we will always have hope and our crosses will be less and they will be more manageable. Saint Peter goes on to say that we must keep our consciences clear so that “when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.” If Christ is Lord of our hearts and we keep our consciences clear we do indeed provide ourselves with a firm basis for hope and we become examples of hope for others. So basically, if we do what we are supposed to do, we have a basis for hope. And this leads us directly to the Gospel in which Jesus says “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” For me, a very practical but stubborn Irishman, the converse of that statement is also true; if you keep His commandments, you will love Him. Jesus goes on to say that if we keep His commandments, He will ask the Father, and the Father will send us the Spirit, who is of course, our truth and our hope. So, to sum up today’s message, in order to receive the Spirit who is Hope, we must strive to make Jesus the Lord of our hearts and keep our consciences clear by loving Him through keeping His commandments. My guess is that although some of us may not have been able to articulate it in this way before now, that this is at least part of the reason why many of us came to Church today. But now we can say it and share it with others as a means of explaining our reasons for hope. And you know what we can not only share it with them; we can invite them to come to Church with us!
When someone loses a job, Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” When someone learns that he, she or someone they love has a serious illness, Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” When someone faces persecution, Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” When someone we love dies, Jesus says to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Whenever our hearts are troubled in any way, Jesus says to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” When we are in the midst of pain, sorrow, distress, injustice and grief, etc. it might seem odd that Jesus would say these words to us, but it is precisely those times that He does so. It is when we are in turmoil that we most need to hear those words from Him. He speaks them to us when we are troubled not because He is out of touch with how we feel, but because He is very much in touch with our pain. When He tells us to not let our hearts be troubled, He is letting us know that He understands our pain even more than we do and that He is right there beside us. He is telling us that the pain we feel at any given moment is just that; a moment in which He asks us to embrace with Him. He is with us always. When He says those words to us, he is inviting us, commanding us, enabling us, empowering us to gradually move through and overcome the pain and walk with Him to a place of peace. He is letting us know that when we reach out to His extended hands, we have the power and the grace to bear whatever cross and whatever pain might be in our midst. Whenever we are suffering, we need to allow ourselves to hear Jesus speaking those words to us; we must allow them to become a mantra in our hearts. If we do we will be able to bear the crosses that come our way with the full knowledge that we are not alone and that Jesus is leading us to the house of His Father and our Father so that where Jesus is we also may be.
If we lived in Israel at the time of Jesus, we would instantly relate to what Jesus told us today in the Gospel. Sheep were the people’s main source of meat, milk and cheese. They provided wool for clothing. And they were regularly used for sacrifice in their liturgy.
If I were to try to think of something in our culture today that would be similar to the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep, the best comparison I can come up with is a mother who needs to care for several toddlers. Just as toddlers depend on their mother’s care, the sheep depend on the care of their shepherd, and the shepherd, who usually, had dozens of sheep, is kept busy all hours of every day.
Today’s gospel makes reference to an activity that was part of the shepherd’s daily routine. Each night, a number of shepherds would come together with their sheep and put them in a common pen. Then they would sleep as one shepherd would stay awake to guard against thieves or predatory animals. In the morning, each shepherd would call out for his own sheep to follow him to pasture. The sheep knew the voice of their own shepherd and would follow only his voice when they were called, and would ignore the calls of the other shepherds. Remember, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.”
Some people are offended to hear themselves compared to sheep. Maybe that’s because they don’t realize they need God’s constant care at all times and not just when they become aware that they have problems or are in need.
We live in a society where everyone is trying to get our attention. We constantly are bombarded with commercials on radio, TV, internet, social media, as well with all kinds of signs, posters and billboards all over highways, streets and buildings trying to catch our eye. Sometimes, we have a tendency to simply follow the latest message we’ve heard, or sometimes, because we hear so many messages, we might be tempted to just follow the crowd. However, if we want to follow Jesus, we have to be able to hear and to recognize His voice, from among the many that are competing for our attention. We have to make a conscious effort to shut out all kinds of noises so that we can listen to Him. If we don’t do so, we can easily lose touch with Him. We need to take time to be quiet, to be still, to pray, so that we can stay in touch with the Good Shepherd.
Our Lord does not want to lose any of us. He wants us to be with Him forever. He wants to wipe every tear from our eyes. He leads us through the Eucharist we celebrate each day and each week. He speaks to us in the Scriptures and He feeds us with His own body and blood. Sheep may not be the most intelligent creatures, but they are smart enough to know that they need their shepherd and to recognize his voice. May we also be intelligent enough to know that we need Jesus and smart enough to recognize His voice so that He might lead us to the eternal pasture of Heaven.
I am sure that we remember the words that Jesus spoke to Thomas last week. He said to him “…do not be unbelieving, but believe.” We might see today’s Gospel, the story of the Road to Emmaus as a continuation of the Doubting Thomas story. In the Emmaus story Jesus says to the two disciples, “Oh, how foolish you are, how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke.” During this Easter season Jesus makes many apparitions. But these apparitions have a very basic purpose. As my Mom would say, they are “not for nothin’.” With each apparition He commands His followers to believe.
He demands belief. He doesn’t beg for it. He doesn’t merely suggest it. He doesn’t stop at the level of invitation. He demands it. Unbelief frustrates Him. This may seem a bit odd to us, because we humans are probably more comfortable with the idea that Jesus has to present His case to us, and then we will decide whether or not to believe in Him. However Jesus doesn’t see things the way we do. Surprise, surprise! He does not to earn or merit or belief. Actually, He judges us based on whether or not we believe. We don’t get to put Him through hoops; if anything, it is the other way around. He is always there for us, but still we doubt. While it is true that He does not force any one to believe, italso is true that He always has the last word. He always did and always will. He has the last word over Thomas, He has the last word over the Apostles, He has the last word over death and He has the last word over us. Once we realize this, that He has the last word, and that it is good for us that He has the last word and that we believing is something that He commands us to do, it will go much better for us in this life—and the next.