Believe it or not, we are still in the Easter Season, although with the church still being closed as it has been since March 14, in many ways it seems more like we are still in the throes of Lent rather than in the joyful time of Easter. We have been living through a season of doldrums with the constant awareness of the suffering throughout the world with the Coronavirus pandemic along with the tens of thousands of individuals who have succumbed to its effects. We have had to get used to staying at home most of the time instead of getting outside to enjoy the delights of spring. So many of the things we have always taken for granted, e.g., eating out whenever we desired, going to any store we wanted to shop, traveling by car, bus, train or plane as necessary, etc., are gone for the time being. People are accustomed to giving up things for Lent; perhaps we need to start some new tradition and start giving up things for Easter.
“What’s that, you ask? Why would someone give things up for Easter?” Where Lent is a season of discipline and prayer, fasting and self-denial, Easter is a time of celebration and of joy, of living in the Lord’s time of wonder. Self-denial may seem out of place in a time of joy, but in some ways it is impossible for us to truly feel joy unless we let go of some negative feelings and emotions that prevent us from fully taking in what is available to us during this Easter season.
Imagine that you are a child in a candy store, and you see a big jar of jawbreakers sitting on the counter—your mouth starts watering. You really, really, want a piece of that candy. The store manager says, “Try your luck. You can have free as many pieces as you can take from the jar in one pull.” You reach into the jar and grab a large handful of candy, closing your fingers on your treasure. However, when you try to remove your hand from the jar, it won’t come out. It’s stuck. The mouth of the jar is big enough for your unclenched hand to enter with room to spare, but as soon as you grab a handful of candy and close your fist, the jar’s mouth is too small. The only way to get your hand out of the jar is to let go of the candy.
The same happens to us when it comes to matters of faith. We see all the joys of the Easter season—which lasts for 50 days until Pentecost. We truly want to celebrate, but we sometimes can’t because we are holding on to our fears and our concerns, our petty jealousies and closed attitudes. Like the child grabbing too much in the candy store, we are not able to take advantage of the Easter celebration as long as our fists are closed.
In order to truly revel in the joy of the Resurrection, we have to realize that there are things we must give up, and the things we must give up are those that get in the way of our true joy. Unlike Lent, when people give up things they enjoy or love as a sacrifice, Easter can bring a type of dumping, a spiritual spring cleaning, if you will, of attitudes and behaviors that are useless and are a hindrance to our happiness.
To start, give up hungering for things. Instead, hunger for God. In John 4:14, which we read during Lent, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that he is the living water that relieves all thirst. In John 6:51 during Easter, Jesus tells his followers that he is the bread of life and that those who eat of his flesh will live forever. Baptism and the Eucharist are key parts of the Easter celebration. The Lord offers us all the water and food that will satisfy our hunger. All we have to do is open our minds and hearts to accept these gifts. Don’t hold on so tightly to the material. Let the Lord satisfy your hunger instead.
It also would serve us well to give up bitterness and resentment, jealousy and envy. In Galatians, the Apostle Paul offers this advice: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Scripture scholars suggest that this statement may have been an early baptismal formula, words that the early Church used when people were baptized. To the Galatians, Paul is doing more than offering them sage advice. He is reminding them of what it means to be a Christian. If all are “one in Christ Jesus,” there is no room for jealousy and envy, bitterness and resentment. As long as we hold bad feelings in our heart, we are not free to savor Easter joy.
To the list, add giving up loneliness and fear, especially fear of sickness and death. Jesus’ disciples were heartbroken when he was crucified. Their hopes and dreams had died with Jesus. The Gospels tell us that most of the disciples fled and hid, thinking that they had been fools. Then came the Resurrection and things changed. The fullness of Jesus’ teaching became real for them: the kingdom of God that Jesus had preached took on new meaning in light of the Resurrection.
That’s the ultimate good news of Christianity: death has no more power over us. This revelation filled the first disciples with such joy that they took to the streets at Pentecost to share it with others. They did so with such enthusiasm that many in the crowd thought they were drunk. To believe in the Resurrection, we must, like the disciples, let go of our fears. If we let go of all these negative things, only then can Easter, its 50 days and beyond, truly begin.
THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Our Gospel reading last week offered insight into the relationship between Jesus and the Father. Today’s reading, also from Jesus’ farewell discourse, develops this relationship further to include their relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Here, Jesus is concerned that the disciples not feel alone when he leaves them. He tells them that they will not be “orphans” and that the Father will send another Advocate. In Greek, the word Paraclete means someone whose task is to speak on their behalf. Jesus promises the disciples the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, to take his place to be with them and act on their behalf. This Spirit will live intimately within the disciples.
Jesus reminds his followers of his call to follow his commandment of love: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Love is at the heart of every relationship, especially our relationship with God and with our neighbor. We share in the very life of God, a life of love: “Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father.”
In the reading from Acts, the life of the early Church flourishes through the power of the Holy Spirit. Hearing that the Word of God had been preached to the Samaritans, the Apostles send Peter and John to empower them with the gift of the Holy Spirit as “they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” As Jesus came “to baptize with the Holy Spirit,” the Apostles confer the gift of the Holy Spirit by “laying hands on them.” Here the foundation for the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation is expressed clearly.
Jesus assures the disciples that they will not be left alone. In the Gospel, he tells them that the Holy Spirit will be with them always. The National Directory for Catechists instructs that the Holy Spirit unfolds the divine plan of salvation within the Church, animates the Church, and directs her mission (#28).
The First and Second Readings as well as the Gospel today each reference the Holy Spirit. In the reading from Acts, Peter and John pray and then lay hands on the people of Samaria so that they will receive the Spirit. From the Second Reading, we hear that Christ was “put to death in the flesh and brought to life in the Spirit.” Finally in the Gospel, Christ promises the Advocate, the Spirit of truth. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “The Word of God and his Breath are at the origin of the being and life of every creature. It belongs to the Holy Spirit to rule, sanctify, and animate creation” (#703).
For Your Reflection: How could you make it a daily practice to recognize gifts God has given you? If asked, are you able to gently give a reason for your hope? Consider times in your life when you could benefit from seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit.
A LOOK TO THE FUTURE
As many of you know who are reading this bulletin, we friars have continued to staff the Front Office during these days that we have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We do that for several reasons: we want people to be able to contact any of the friars for whatever reason, we want to receive our mail on a daily basis, we need to be present to get deliveries both at the front and at the rear door, and we want to answer the phone during the day since many individuals are used to calling St. Peter’s with questions.
Since our closure, the most frequent question we hear when people call is “When will the church be open once again for Mass, Confession, for a prayerful visit, in order to visit the Gift Shop, etc.” People share with us how much they miss being fully present for the Mass (many of them have been watching one of the many Masses being broadcast regularly on the internet and television), but they say, while this is better than nothing, still it does not fully satisfy actually participating in a church. They miss coming to St. Peter’s almost any time of the day to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation. Those who are ministers at the altar especially miss serving, reading, and assisting with Holy Communion. We fully understand what you are telling us, and our hope for all of this is the same as yours.
If you regularly watch news on television, you are seeing that reopening our economy these days is not without its issues. Some people feel that having to wear a mask in public should not be mandatory, and they defy the order. They may be refused entry into a store as a result; some even fight with a security guard. Or there is the matter of social distancing—staying at least six feet apart from others—should that have to be observed in all cases? These are just a few of the “new normal” behaviors we have come to know in our present circumstances.
All of this, to some extent, will play into how we reopen the churches as well. We have been waiting to hear from the Archdiocese both as to the “when” and as to the “how” we will begin to celebrate the sacraments in this new reality. Will we have to cordon off some of the pews in order to assure enough space between worshippers? How will we do Communion? Will we have to wear masks? Will there be singing (some professionals state that the possibility of droplets getting into the air is far greater in singing than merely in speaking)? How will we be able to offer Reconciliation so that it is safe both for the penitent and for the confessor? How much sanitation will be necessary on a regular basis and how will this be done?
These are just a few of the things that need to be addressed so that the “new normal” can take place. We friars have been discussing all the above and more, but we also await direction from Cardinal Cupich before we arrive at definitive answers. Keep us in your prayers; we certainly have been praying for all of you as well.
One of the great issues of this pandemic is the fact that so many businesses have had to close with the result that unemployment has risen to a point not seen since the Great Depression. Many owners seriously wonder if they will ever be able to reopen if the present situation does not change soon. We see long lines at food pantries almost everywhere in the United States with many people feeling the need to take advantage of them for the first time in their lives. All kinds of individuals are struggling to pay their bills and wondering whether they might be evicted due to not having rent money.
Churches are struggling financially as well, including here at St. Peter’s. We have had no regular source of income since we closed on March 14. We are deeply appreciative to those who have sent their contribution to us either through the mail or by using the “Online Giving” link on our website. If you are able to contribute, please do so in order that we might meet our obligations. We have applied for a possible forgivable loan from the Payroll Protection Program for small businesses, but as of this date (May 9, 2020), we have not heard back favorably from the bank.
A CHUCKLE FOR THE EASTER SEASON
The Pope met with his Cardinals to discuss a proposal from Benjamin Netanyahu, the former leader of Israel.
“Your Holiness,” said one of the Cardinals, “Mr. Netanyahu wants to challenge you to a game of golf to show the friendship and ecumenical spirit shared by the Jewish and Catholic faiths.”
The Pope thought this was a good idea, but he had never held a golf club in his hand.
“Don’t we have a Cardinal to represent me?” he asked.
“None that plays very well, a Cardinal replied. “But there’s a man named Jack Nicholas, an American golfer who is a devout Catholic. We can offer to make him a cardinal and then ask him to play Mr. Netanyahu as your personal representative. In addition, to showcase our spirit of cooperation, we’ll also win the match!”
Everyone agreed it was a good idea. The call was made. Of course, Jack agreed to play.
After the match, Nicholas reported to the Vatican to inform the Pope of the result. “I have some good news and some bad news, your Holiness,” Nicholas said.
“Tell me the good news first, Cardinal Nicholas,” said the Pope.
“Well, your Holiness, I don’t like to brag, but even though I’ve played some pretty terrific rounds of golf in my life, this was by far the best I’ve ever played! I must have been inspired from above. My drives were long and true, my irons were accurate and purposeful, and my putting was perfect. My play was truly miraculous!”
“There’s bad news?” asked the Pope.
“Yes, I lost by three strokes to Rabbi Tiger Woods.”