Today, in God’s Mercy, Jesus asks Peter an open-ended question, the kind that leaves both parties very vulnerable to the answer:
Do you love me?
Wow! What if Peter says “No”, or “Sort of” or worse yet, just stares off into the distance in silence? Would that break Jesus’ heart?!
And the question is kind of scary for Peter too. Maybe he’s thinking, “OK, this is it. Jesus wants me to lay it all on the line. Am I ready?” — because, as Jesus says so clearly, the measure of true love is service and sacrifice:
Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
John 21: 17-19
The Gospel poses questions to each of us today as well:
Who and what do I really love?
How does my primary love drive my life choices?
Are there places in my life that lack love – places where prejudice, blindness, selfishness or hate have filled in the emptiness?
How inclusive is my love? How redemptive? How merciful? How Christlike?
Where is God in my loves?
Prose: St. John of the Cross wrote this:
At the end of our lives we will be judged on love. Learn therefore to love God as God wishes to be loved.
Music: Where Charity and Love Prevail – a lovely English translation of Ubi Caritas, written in Gregorian chant.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings invite us to consider our capacity to trust. Who, what, why and when do we feel that we can trust?
In Acts, we see a beautiful example of the community trusting itself – presenting a concern, having it heard, and coming to a mutual resolution.
As the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal was acceptable to the whole community,
Acts 6: 1-5
What a blessing such a process would be in any community from family, to work, social, and global communities!
But it’s not easy to come by that kind of trust, is it? It has to be proven – accumulated over small and consistent affirmations that such trust is safely given to the other, whoever that might be.
In our Gospel, the disciples’ ability to trust is tested.
When it was evening, the disciples of Jesus went down to the sea, embarked in a boat, and went across the sea to Capernaum. It had already grown dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing.
John 6: 16-17
Jesus walks across the stormy water to meet his frightened disciples. They are afraid of the wind, the night and the wonder of Jesus.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the spiritually gifted Paula D’Arcy:
“Who would I be, and what power would be expressed in my life, if I were not dominated by fear.”
If you’re like me, your first inclination is to think, ” Well, I’m not dominated by fear!”
Just wait a minute. I encourage you to think about it. How has, or does, fear hold you back in your life?
As human beings, we harbor many fears even if we pretend to be very brave. We may be afraid of failure, loneliness, responsibility, insignificance, aging, dying or a thousand other things. Essentially, what we most fear is that we might be unloved or unlovable.
Just as he came to the disciples, Jesus comes to us through the night of any fear to prove that we are irrevocably safe in God’s Love. Even in darkness, we are the precious breath and heartbeat of God and cannot be extinguished by our fears.
Poetry: Trust by Lizette Woodworth Reese, (1856-1935), an American poet and teacher. Born in Maryland, she taught English for almost five decades in the schools of Baltimore. Though Reese was successful in prose as well as in poetry, the latter was her forté. She was named Poet Laureate of Maryland in 1931.
I am thy grass, O Lord! I grow up sweet and tall But for a day; beneath Thy sword To lie at evenfall.
Yet have I not enough In that brief day of mine? The wind, the bees, the wholesome stuff The sun pours out like wine.
Behold, this is my crown; Love will not let me be; Love holds me here; Love cuts me down; And it is well with me.
Lord, Love, keep it but so; Thy purpose is full plain; I die that after I may grow As tall, as sweet again.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we meet Gamaliel, the revered rabbinical teacher and early mentor of St. Paul.
With his patient wisdom, Gamaliel famously intervened to save Peter and John from the Sanhedrin’s wrath.
“Fellow children of Israel, be careful what you are about to do to these men…. …I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”
Acts 5: 35-38
Biblical scholars have interpreted Gamaliel’s intervention in various and even contradictory ways. Some see in him a hesitancy which will believe only that which is proven and successful. Others suggest that Gamaliel was already a believer who maintained his Sanhedrin position in order to assist the early Christians. In the Catholic canon, Gamaliel is venerated as a saint whose feastday is August 30.
Thinking about Gamaliel may lead us to the question, “What do I need in order to believe?”
Do I, like the Sanhedrin, need to see proven success?
Do I, like some of the crowd fed in today’s Gospel, need miracles?
Do I, like the rich young man, need answers to all of my questions?
Do I, like Thomas, need to see and touch the Resurrected Christ?
In other words, am I looking for a faith that is a fail-proof blueprint, or is my faith a living journey with Christ, as was Peter’s and John’s?
The Apostles’ faith and trust were so complete that they saw even persecution as evidence of God’s plan and power:
So the Apostles left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Christ, Jesus.
Acts 5: 41-42
When we are completely given to God in faith, all our life experiences bring us closer to God. All circumstances reveal God to the deeply believing heart.
May we grow every day in that kind of faith.
Today, as we celebrate the feast of the great Saint Catherine of Siena, a reflection in place of our usual poetry.
We can learn Catherine’s spiritual wisdom. Without formal education, she grew by grace into a Doctor of the Church.
She was born Catherine Benincasa on March 25, 1347, in Siena, Italy, and was a twin, the 24th child of 25. She only lived to the age of 33, dying of a stroke in Rome in 1380. Catherine of Siena, often referred to as “great Kate,” is well known for her expressive life of prayer shared in three major sources of writings: over 400 letters, 26 prayers, and The Dialogue of Divine Providence, which she referred to as “the book,” written in the format of a conversation between herself and God. She was noted for her style of learning, not acquired from formal education and degrees, but gained from an interior wisdom that came from lived experiences and a mystical life of prayer. ( https://www.hprweb.com/2020/02/the-trinitarian-theology-of-the-eucharist-according-to-st-catherine-of-siena/)
Here are two selections from Catherine’s extensive writings which reveal her ever-deepening relationship with God through the gift of the Bread of Life.
Eternal God, Eternal Trinity, You have made the Blood of Christ so precious through His sharing in your Divine Nature. You are a mystery as deep as the sea; the more I search, the more I find, and the more I find the more I search for You. But I can never be satisfied; what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. When You fill my soul I have an ever-greater hunger, and I grow more famished for Your Light. I desire above all to see You, the true Light, as you really are.
St. Catherine of Siena, Prayer 12, V 124–157
And by the light of most holy faith I shall contemplate myself in you. And I shall clothe myself in your eternal will, And by this light I shall come to know That you, eternal Trinity, Are table And food And waiter for us.
You, eternal Father, Are the table That offers us as food The Lamb, your only-begotten Son.
He is the most exquisite of foods for us, Both in his teaching, Which nourishes us in your will, And in the sacrament That we receive in Holy Communion, Which feeds and strengthens us While we are pilgrim travelers in this life.
And the Holy Spirit Is indeed a waiter for us, For he serves us this teaching By enlightening our mind’s eye with it And inspiring us to follow it. And he serves us charity for our neighbors And hunger to have as food Souls And the salvation of the whole world For the Father’s honor
So we see that souls enlightened in you, True light, Never let a moment pass Without eating this exquisite food For your honor.
Music: Ave Verum Corpus – words attributed to 14th century Pope Innocent VI, melody to Mozart
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings demonstrate how hard it is for some people to believe – because deepening belief usually requires a soul-change.
In our first reading, the high priest and Sanhedrin just don’t get it. No matter how severe the oppression, Peter and the Apostles are not going to stop sharing the Good News. Even miracles and inexplicable prison escapes do not convince them that maybe the Apostles have some special blessing to offer them.
Why won’t the Sanhedrin listen? Why are they in such denial about what they are witnessing?
The Sanhedrin were members of a privileged class. They had things set up nicely to their material benefit. Jesus was a bombshell turning their comfortable world upside down. So they resorted to any tool possible to eradicate him: denial, oppression, persecution, even murder.
But the Good News of Jesus Christ is ineradicable.
In our Gospel, John minces no words about the fate of unbelievers:
The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.
When I look at our world, I see a lot of that “wrath”, don’t you? I see situations of war, pain, injustice, greed, and irreverence for Creation that could not exist in a truly believing world.
Seeing these things, I examine my own life for the places where faith has not converted me, for the kinds of resistant behaviors that prevented the Sanhedrin from receiving the greatest gift possible – a fully faithful and compassionate heart in the image of Jesus Christ.
Poetry: What We Need is Here – Wendell Berry
Horseback on Sunday morning, harvest over, we taste persimmon and wild grape, sharp sweet of summer’s end. In time’s maze over fall fields, we name names that rest on graves. We open a persimmon seed to find the tree that stands in promise, pale, in the seed’s marrow. Geese appear high over us, pass, and the sky closes. Abandon, as in love or sleep, holds them to their way, clear in the ancient faith: what we need is here. And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.
Music: A Faithful Heart – Libera (I imagine that this lovely song is usually interpreted as a marriage canticle, but I think it perfectly describes the sacred covenant between God and the faithful believer.)
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we read about miracles and Light. These are good things, right? It would seem that we shouldn’t be slow to acknowledge the miracles around us, nor to open our eyes to the Light.
Well, let’s see….
In our reading from Acts, we read about a miracle:
The high priest rose up and all his companions, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and, filled with jealousy, laid hands upon the Apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said, “Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life.”
Acts 5: 17-20
Still when the Temple guards and the High Priest discover God’s miraculous action, they re-arrest the disciples and try again to stop the spread of the Light!
When I read this I say, “Come on, guys! Take a hint! Maybe there is something to this preaching!”
But the truth is that it can be really hard to take that hint — to wake up, to acknowledge the miracles around us, and to choose Light over darkness. Why? Because miracles and Light get in the way of our agendas, our lazy choices, our indifference to others’ needs and our own excesses.
Most of us don’t want to live completely bereft of blessings and inspiration. We’d like a miracle now and again, but not enough to demand our deep conversion. We’d prefer a little shade and shadow, a little spiritual oblivion in our lives.
In our Gospel, John will have none of it! The Light demands our conversion to the fullness of the Gospel.
Listen to John’s astonishment that people choose darkness over Light.
And this is the verdict, that the Light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.
And yet, we see it all the time, don’t we? Even, unfortunately, sometimes in ourselves?
Let’s pray today for the strength to always choose God’s stunning yet healing Light. Let’s pray that strength for our terribly shadowed world – that we may open our prisoned hearts to the miracle of Light God has planted in each one of us.
Poetry: The Uses of Sorrow | Mary Oliver
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem) Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we meet two towering figures of the early Christian story, Barnabas and Nicodemus.
In our first reading, Barnabas is cited as a devout member of the community of believers which …
… was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.
Our Gospel brings us Nicodemus who “came to Jesus under cover of the night”. Nicodemus, obviously Ph.D. material, has a long exchange with Jesus in the attempt to come to intellectual comfort with Jesus’s message.
Nicodemus wants his faith to make logical sense before committing to it, to the point that Jesus sounds a little astounded at the effort:
You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand what I am saying to you?
I think a little bit of both Barnabas and Nicodemus lives within each of us.
Like Nicodemus, we do believe, but we would like to understand more. We grapple with concepts of “God’s plan”, with the problem of evil, with what seems the random mercilessness of nature, and myriad other inexplicable realities.
Still, like Barnabas, we trust and are willing to lay our lives at the feet of Christ to be his agents in the world.
That balancing of trust with anxiety is the story of faith for most of us. And it’s OK. Both Nickie and Barnie turned out to be giants for Christ. And so will we with God’s help.
Poetry: The Night – BY HENRY VAUGHAN John 3.2
Through that pure virgin shrine, That sacred veil drawn o’er Thy glorious noon, That men might look and live, as glowworms shine, And face the moon, Wise Nicodemus saw such light As made him know his God by night.
Most blest believer he! Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes Thy long-expected healing wings could see, When Thou didst rise! And, what can never more be done, Did at midnight speak with the Sun!
O who will tell me where He found Thee at that dead and silent hour? What hallowed solitary ground did bear So rare a flower, Within whose sacred leaves did lie The fulness of the Deity?
No mercy-seat of gold, No dead and dusty cherub, nor carved stone, But His own living works did my Lord hold And lodge alone; Where trees and herbs did watch and peep And wonder, while the Jews did sleep.
Dear night! this world’s defeat The stop to busy fools; care’s check and curb; The day of spirits; my soul’s calm retreat Which none disturb! Christ’s progress, and His prayer time; The hours to which high heaven doth chime;
God’s silent, searching flight; When my Lord’s head is filled with dew, and all His locks are wet with the clear drops of night; His still, soft call; His knocking time; the soul’s dumb watch, When spirits their fair kindred catch.
Were all my loud, evil days Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark tent, Whose peace but by some angel’s wing or voice Is seldom rent, Then I in heaven all the long year Would keep, and never wander here.
But living where the sun Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire Themselves and others, I consent and run To every mire, And by this world’s ill-guiding light, Err more than I can do by night.
There is in God, som say, A deep but dazzling darkness, as men here Say it is late and dusky, because they See not all clear. O for that night! where I in Him Might live invisible and dim!
Music: Ye Must Be Born Again – sung by The Sensational Nightingales, a beloved Black Gospel Quartet that, with several membership changes, has been popular for over seven decades. (Lyrics below)
Ye Must Be Born Again written by William T. Sleeper in 1877
A ruler once came to Jesus by night, To ask Him the way of salvation and light; The Master made answer in words true and plain, “Ye must be born again!” “Ye must be born again!” “Ye must be born again!” “I verily, verily say unto thee, Ye must be born again!”
Ye children of men, attend to the word So solemnly uttered by Jesus, the Lord, And let not this message to you be in vain, “Ye must be born again.”
Oh, ye who would enter that glorious rest, And sing with the ransomed the song of the blest; The life everlasting if ye would obtain, “Ye must be born again.”
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate Saint Mark the Evangelist.
Who exactly that person was hides in the mists of early Church history. Several possible “Marks” are mentioned at various points in the New Testament. Whether they are the same or different persons and which, if any, is the author of Mark’s Gospel are questions scripture detectives have chased for centuries.
What the readings offer us today is a young man whom Peter loved and who absorbed the Good News under Peter’s own tutelage.
In today’s passage from Acts, Peter writes to Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor at the time of the persecutions. His teaching is clearly that of the universal leader of the Church helping the scattered flock to hold on to the faith.
Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your brothers and sisters throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.
1 Peter 5: 8-9
It isn’t hard to read these ancient words and imagine Pope Francis speaking them to all of us today. The evils of the world still test our faith and resolve. But we are called to strengthen one another in faith, justice and mercy. Peter’s assurance can inspire us:
The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. To him be dominion forever. Amen.
1 Peter 5: 10-11
Mark, who sat at the feet of Peter’s strong and loving leadership, himself went on to become a devoted leader of Christ’s flock. Mark’s Gospel, reflecting much of Peter’s personal experience of Jesus, is an astounding gift to the Church yet to be born — to us!
How Mark must have cherished Peter’s brave and tender words to the young suffering Church and harkened back to them so often over the course of his life:
The chosen one (early Christian code for “the whole Church”) sends you greeting, as does Mark, my son. Greet one another with a loving kiss. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
That gracious “kiss” from Peter carried the love and power of every Christian, just as we carry it today in our constant prayer for and encouragement of one another.
Poetry: Mark – by Malcolm Guite
A wingèd lion, swift, immediate Mark is the gospel of the sudden shift From first to last, from grand to intimate, From strength to weakness, and from debt to gift, From a wide desert’s haunted emptiness To a close city’s fervid atmosphere, From a voice crying in the wilderness To angels in an empty sepulcher. And Christ makes the most sudden shift of all; From swift action as a strong Messiah Casting the very demons back to hell To slow pain, and death as a pariah. We see our Saviour’s life and death unmade And flee his tomb dumbfounded and afraid.
Music: The St. Mark Passion – J.S. Bach
The St Mark Passion (German: Markus-Passion), BWV 247, is a lost Passion setting by Johann Sebastian Bach, first performed in Leipzig on Good Friday, 23 March 1731 and again, in a revised version, in 1744. Though Bach’s music is lost, the libretto by Picander is still extant, and from this, the work can to some degree be reconstructed.
The St. Mark Passion belongs to the lesser known treasures among the sacred opus of J.S. Bach. Thus, the present recording made in the Frauenkirche Dresden is all the more spectacular, since it is performed in the reconstructed version of 1731 published by Carus. The actor Dominique Horwitz recites the text of the Evangelist, alternating with the arias and chorales presented with impressive intonation and exciting drama by the Leipzig ensemble amarcord and the Kölner Akademie under the direction of Michael Alexander Willens.
Geh, Jesuh, geh zu deiner Pein! Ich will so lange dich beweinen, Bist mir dein Trost wird wiederscheinen, Da ich versöhnet werde sein.
Go, Jesus, go to your suffering! So long I will mourn you, Until your consolation appears to me again, When I shall be absolved.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings continue to show us the rising power of Christ after the Resurrection.
Acts demonstrates how powerfully Jesus lives in his disciples, and in the faith of the emerging Church.
… the people esteemed them. Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women, were added to them. Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.
Acts 5: 13-15
Our Gospel recounts two Post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus where He bolsters that faith for these still fledgling followers. They were gathered in the Upper Room, doors locked and fearful. When Jesus appears, the first thing he says is, “Peace”, because that is what his little flock most needs.
In the course of the reading, we discover Thomas’s adamant doubt unless he can see and touch evidence of the Christ he once knew in the flesh. His doubt is so strong that his faith, when it comes, overwhelms him.
My Lord, and my God!
In these first sainted founders of the faith, we can find a mirror image of our own call to witness Christ. We are delegated to be his presence in the world, to cast a shadow that bears his blessing in the midst of suffering and confusion.
But in the locked room of our hearts, we may still be afraid. We may feel, like Thomas, that we were absent when the affirmation and courage were distributed!
Knowing our own weaknesses – and captured in the maze of their little dramas – we may be skeptical that Christ desires to rise in us, to preach by our lives.
What Jesus said to these very fragile witnesses, he says to us
Let us look around today in awareness of those who fall in the shadow of our faith: our children and families, our religious communities, our elders, our neighbors, our friends and co-workers. As we pass through life together, does our presence bless them with a trace of God?
As we pray today, let us place our doubts, fears, weaknesses and self-concerns into Christ’s sacred wounds. Let us leave them there in confidence as we humbly choose to be his Presence and Mercy for others by the simple, selfless choices of our lives.
Poetry: In the Upper Room – by Fr. Charles O’Donnell, CSC – 11th President of Notre Dame University (unfortunately not as well known for his beautiful, mystical poetry)
Music: Under the Shadow of Your Wings – Chris Bowater
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our readings are about appearances and recognitions.
We pray this morning with the pioneers of our Christian Faith: Mary Magdalen, Peter, John, and all the Eleven. The scriptures tell us the story of their post-Resurrection discipleship – a time of joyous, dynamic commitment to build the faith community, to share the wonder of the eternally living Jesus with all people.
These first Easter Christians were shining with faith…. so much so that it could be said:
Observing the boldness of Peter and John and perceiving them to be uneducated, ordinary men, the leaders, elders, and scribes were amazed, and they recognized them as the companions of Jesus.
Our Gospel summarizes the fact that, for a brief time, the Risen Jesus remained with these disciples to shore up their confidence and commitment. In this passage, He appeared first to beloved Mary Magdalen, then to the unnamed two who journeyed a country road, and finally to the Eleven gathered at dinner.
He had different messages at each appearance:
the intimate commission of Mary to be his first announcer
the companionable accompaniment of the two distraught disciples from Emmaus
the scolding of the “hard-hearted” Eleven with the uncompromising charge
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”
Dear Friends, that charge is meant for each of us as well. For our times, we are the ones commissioned to proclaim that Christ is risen, that the Good News of God’s love is alive in us!
Our prayer today may lead us to consider:
Would we, like Mary, recognize the voice of Jesus calling us to deeper discipleship?
Would we, like the Emmaus travelers, listen beyond our fears to hear the Truth of Jesus in our circumstances?
Would we, like the hesitant Eleven, rebound through our failures to a stronger faith?
Would we, like Peter and John, by our faith-filled words and actions, be recognizable as companions of Jesus?
Poetry: To Find God – Robert Herrick
Weigh me the fire; or canst thou find A way to measure out the wind? Distinguish all those floods that are Mixed in that wat’ry theater, And taste thou them as saltless there, As in their channel first they were. Tell me the people that do keep Within the kingdoms of the deep; Or fetch me back that cloud again, Beshivered into seeds of rain. Tell me the motes, dust, sands, and spears Of corn, when summer shakes his ears; Show me that world of stars, and whence They noiseless spill their influence. This if thou canst; then show me Him That rides the glorious cherubim.
Late April and the sweet fullness of a spring morning pours down on the silver water. It had been a fruitless night for the weary fishermen, but not an unpleasant one. They had distracted one another from their labors by singing their ancient folksongs and telling the stories of their recent epiphanies. As dawn cracked through darkness, they trailed their fingers in the gentle wake and turned their tired souls towards shore.
And He stood there, misted in diffused radiance. “The starboard side”, he called. “Why?,” they thought; and then again, “Why not?”. With just that small opening in the closed door of their hopelessness, they were overwhelmed with the stunning presence of possibility.
How could these seasoned fishermen have failed to notice the abundance swimming at their side? How could they, so accustomed to the rocking sea, have been narcotized by its lulling darkness?
When we have abandoned hope and tired of the rolling waves; when we have turned the bow toward shore in acquiescence to a hungry morning, remember these disciples. Like them, may we listen for the soft suggestion, “Children…the starboard side…”.
There is always another side, another path to the fullness of life. The hopeless dirges we repeat in our darkness are the devil’s deceptions. The truth is that life runs beside us and within us, just below the surface of our fears. Love stands on the shore and encourages us to go back for a moment into the darkness, to look again for the hidden blessing, and then to come to the feast in Love’s abiding presence.
Today, in the midst of our sometimes dark and discouraging world, we are the Apostles. What bold command is Jesus calling to us in the morning mist?
Music: Edward Elgar – The Apostles – a long, beautiful piece you may want to play in the background if you have a quiet space in your day.