Now that we have completed the week after Easter, a week designed to help us reflect upon and to absorb the reality of the Easter event and to continue welcoming all those who were baptized and made their profession of faith during the Easter Vigil, it seems to me a good time to consider how each of us can and should be instruments of bringing others to an ever greater knowledge of and witness of the Risen Jesus, who wishes all people to glory in the salvation he has won for us through his suffering, death and resurrection. We often refer to this as the new evangelization, but we see this process outlined throughout this Easter Season as we read the Acts of the Apostles as our First Reading at Mass.
Pope Francis lays out a vision of bringing people to faith through relationship in his first Pastoral Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, in which he uses the word accompany. Early in this pastoral letter he speaks of “pastors and the lay faithful who accompany their brothers and sisters in faith or on a journey of openness to God” (#44). In that paragraph, he continues to speak of “mercy and patience” as part of accompanying another. This accompaniment, he states, can be a “radical and attractive witness” of love (#99). The type of accompaniment that Pope Francis has in mind calls us to look with reverence upon other people as we approach them and begin a relationship with them.
Ordained ministers and other pastoral workers can make present the fragrance
of Christ’s closeness and his personal gaze. Priests, religious, and laity all need to
be initiated into this “art of accompaniment” that teaches us to remove our sandals
before the sacred ground of the other (see Exodus 3:5). The pace of this accompani-
ment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassion,
which also heals, liberates, and encourages growth in the Christian life (#169).
Clearly, for Pope Francis, all the baptized need to view accompanying others to faith as part of their mission. But what does it mean to accompany another? Accompaniment involves intentional relationship building, which leads to deeper conversion and discipleship. Those who accompany others, The Joy of the Gospel notes, have an initial focus on people, not propositions (for example, doctrines and dogmas), cultivate relationships built on respect, love and trust, and offer a credible witness of faith (##169-171).
The pope’s vision of accompaniment is an interpersonal one, involving people going out to meet others where they are at in life (or where they are on their faith journey), and offering to them a credible witness of Christ’s love. This witness of faith is compassionate, nonjudgmental, morally positive, and is enriched by one’s story of encountering Christ. Accompaniment moves gradually from personal witness and the sharing of faith stories to an understanding and encounter with the mysteries of faith. In other words, accompaniment demonstrates to others that not only does Jesus love them, but that you do too.
In the New Testament, we hear of people accompanying one another on a journey of faith. For many people, the account of the disciples meeting Jesus on their way to Emmaus comes to mind. Another very important meeting is also the one in Acts that features the most unlikely friendship between the Roman centurion Cornelius and the Apostle Peter. Both the Emmaus account and the one in Acts include the same elements of accompaniment: 1) prayer and the Spirit’s activity; 2) going out to the peripheries; 3) seeking common ground; 4) testimonies of faith, and 5) sacramental celebration and meal sharing. Next week we will explore in greater detail these five elements for our edification and instrunction.
SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY
If we choose to live as Easter people, our lives will be radically transformed. This is what happened to Jesus’ disciples. They went from being cowards, afraid for their lives, to bold messengers of the Gospel. The earliest Christian communities were also transformed, aspiring to live a way of life radically different from their previous one. The question for us today is whether we will allow ourselves to be profoundly transformed by the Easter message and so become revealers of God.
Today’s First Reading describes the radical ideals of the first Christian community living in Jerusalem. They joined as one family, we are told, sharing all things in common so that no one was in need of anything. This sharing was no small thing, as we see, since some people sold houses and donated the proceeds. Further, we learn that the Apostles enjoyed God’s favor in their powerful acts of witness. In the Second Reading, we learn that love of God is intimately connected to the commandment to love our brothers and sisters. For those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, one cannot stand without the other.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel, we see the disciples hiding in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem. Suddenly Jesus appears before them, showing himself alive, offering peace, breathing the Holy Spirit on them, and sending them to do what the Father sent Jesus to do—to be revealers of God in the world.
After Christ rose from the dead, his appearances to the Apostles provided eyewitness accounts so that others would believe. Besides the appearance in the upper room, John’s Gospel account tells of Jesus appearing to the Apostles at the Sea of Tiberius, where he bid them to cast their net into the sea. On the shore, he made them breakfast. In Luke, Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and once those disciples had returned to Jerusalem, he appeared to them there. In Jerusalem, he told them, “You are witnesses of these things” (Lk 24:48). The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the Apostles’ faith in the resurrection “was born, under the action of divine grace, from their direct experience of the risen Lord” (#644).
Christ so desires that the Apostles understand that it is he before them that he tells them to examine and touch him. “Look at my hands and feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have,” Luke writes (24:39). The Gospel according to John tells of Jesus instructing Thomas to put his hands into his side as well as to examine where the marks are on Christ’s hands. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that “by sharing a meal with his disciples and allowing them to touch him, Jesus invites them to verify that the risen body is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his passion” (#645).
In the Gospel, when Thomas answers Jesus with the phrase “My Lord and my God!” he makes a confession of faith as he honors Jesus with the praise and honor he would give to the Father. The Catechism states, “At the prompting of the Holy Spirit, ‘Lord’ expresses the recognition of the divine mystery of Jesus. In the encounter with the risen Jesus, this title becomes adoration: ‘My Lord and my God!’” (#448).
For Your Reflection: How do you take to heart the necessity of providing for the needs of all in the community? How is your belief in Jesus as the Son of God reflected in how you live? Jesus offered peace to the Apostles, people who were not at his side during the Crucifixion. Who needs your gift of peace?
SOLEMNITY OF THE ANNUNCIATION
Monday, April 9, 2018
The Feast of the Annunciation is one of the twelve great feasts of the liturgical year. It celebrates the announcement given by the archangel Gabriel to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to the Son of God. We read in the Gospel of Luke (1:26-38):
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called
Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and
the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The
Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what
sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and
bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son
of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the
power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be
called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived
a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for
nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according
to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
The feast is usually observed on March 25, but this year it is moved to after the octave of Easter since the original date was Palm Sunday. The correlation between the conception of Christ and his death falling on the same day follows a doctrinal belief of the early Church, which proposed that many of the major events in the Bible coincided with the Spring Equinox. Events such as the creation of the Earth, the creation of Adam, and the crossing of the Red Sea were purported to have occurred on this date.
The origin of this feast can be traced back to the early fifth century. It began in the Eastern Church during the time of the Council of Ephesus, in 431 A.D., and became an observance in the Western Church around 496 A.D. From its inception, there were major differences in the central theme of the feast. The Eastern Church centered the feast on the conception of Christ and His incarnation as the Son of God. The focus of the celebration was God’s power as manifested through the Holy Spirit to birth the humanity of the Christ, a being free from the taint of sin. Christ, in turn, would begin a new generation of the children of God, born of the Spirit through the redemption of His sacrifice.
For the Western Church, the Annunciation is a feast honoring the Virgin Mary as the mother of God. The emphasis of the celebration is placed on her acceptance of this honor as the fulfillment of the prophecy written in Isaiah 7:14. It is from this feast that the “Hail Mary,” the recitation of the rosary and the Magnificat of Vespers have become a steadfast part of Catholic tradition. For Christians everywhere, the Annunciation can be a reminder of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers as we are transformed into a people filled and guided by spirit.
In Eastern Christianity, Mary is referred to as Theotokos (God-bearer). Consequently, a beautiful hymn attributed to St. Athanasius of Alexandria sums up the theology of the feast:
Today is the beginning of our salvation
and the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him, let us cry to the Theotokos:
“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”
Here at St. Peter’s we will celebrate this great feast with a Solemn Mass at 11:40 (there will be no 12:15 Mass this day due to the length of the Feast day Mass) and with Solemn Vespers that afternoon at 5:40 P.M. in church. We hope you will be able to join us for one or both on Monday.
RETROUVAILLE—A LIFELINE FOR MARRIAGES
The word Retrouvaille (re-tro-vi with a long i) is a French word meaning rediscovery. This program helps couples heal and renew their marriages and offers tools needed to rediscover a loving marriage relationship. Do you feel lost, alone or bored in your marriage? Are you frustrated, hurt or angry with your spouse? Are you constantly fighting? Have you thought about separation or divorce? Does talking about it only make it worse? Thousands of couples headed for cold, unloving relationships have successfully overcome their marriage problems by attending this program. Some couples come during the initial signs of a marriage problem and others are in a state of despair. The Retrouvaille Program consists of a weekend experience combined with a series of 6 post-weekend sessions. The tools learned here will help put your marriage in order again. The main emphasis of the program is on communication in marriage between husband and wife. It will give you the opportunity to rediscover each other and examine your lives together in a new and positive way.
You can go to www.retrouvaille.org for general information about the program. The next weekend for the Joliet area is 4/20-22, 2018 and for the Chicago area 7/20-22, 2018. For questions or further information contact Robin and Phil Kain (773-544-0498) or e-mail them at [email protected]. Don’t delay; do it today!
A CHUCKLE FOR THE EASTER SEASON
Running into the house after school, Tommy said to his mother, “Mom, isn’t an ox a kind of bull?”
“Yes,” she replied.
And doesn’t equine have something to do with horses?”
“That’s right,” she said.
Running out of the house, Tommy said, “I’ll see you later!”
“Why? Where are you going?” asked the mother.
“To some other town. I just heard in school that the equinox is coming, and I don’t wanna be around when it gets here!”