A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday & Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 18, n. 24)

The Fifth Week of Easter: May 10-16, 2020

 

 

(The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY & WEEKDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy from various perspectives. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: May 3-10, 2020 please go to ARCHIVES Series 18 and click on “Easter Week 4”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: May 10-16, 2020.)

 

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May 10, 2020: FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

MOTHER’S DAY

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Way, the Truth and the Life”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Acts 6:1-7 // 1 Pt 2:4-9 // Jn 14:1-12

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 14:1-12): “I am the way and the truth and the life.” 

          

The Gospel reading of this Sunday (Jn 14:1-12) presents Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. By his example of utter submission and intimate identification with the Father, Jesus Way is the unique means of salvation. Jesus Truth is the splendor of the Divine Word that reveals the Father’s intimate nature as self-giving love, in contrast to the deceptive, disordered and selfish inclination of humankind. Jesus Life is the communicator of divine life, the eternal life that he shared with God and won for us by his sacrificial death on the cross. Indeed, Jesus Christ lovingly fulfills the ministry of shepherding God’s people as well as the unique service of being the way, the truth and the life for humankind. He reveals the Father in the way he lives, in the truth of his word and in the new life that he brings.

  

Indeed, Jesus is the true and living way to the Father on account of his absolute oneness with the Father: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:10). The liturgical scholar, Adrian Nocent comments: “All the activity of the Church would be fruitless if she did not believe unconditionally in the true reality of Christ and in his oneness with the Father … At the moment when Jesus is about to leave his disciples behind, he is concerned with the depth and clarity of their faith, since authentic faith is the basic reality that will direct the life of the young Church. Christ is truly the means of encounter with God, and the Church must continue this role of Christ, showing men the way to the Father. The Church is of course not identical with Christ, but Christ wills that the Church be, like him, the sign of the Father. In her lowly state (in this she is, once again, like Christ) and always under the guidance of the spirit, the Church too must be the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

 

The Gospel proclaimed in the liturgical assembly this Sunday ends with the departing Jesus’ call to a more profound faith: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:12). Indeed, the Church, animated by the presence of the glorified Christ and the impelling power of the Holy Spirit, would continue Christ’s marvelous work of salvation in greater scope, geographically and numerically. Harold Buetow explains: “Jesus says that the person of faith will do greater works than he did. When the promise and struggle appear vain, it is good to recall that where Jesus fed a few thousand, believers can feed millions; that where Jesus cured a few, believers can now support enterprises which relieve millions of disease and pain; that where Jesus raise two or three from the dead, believers by their generosity can give life to millions. His tremendous work of salvation takes place all over the world.”

 

The following story gives insight into God’s mysterious ways and how we are led into “the many dwelling places” in the Father’s house (cf. Ginger Lloyd, “More than Coincidence” in Guideposts, April 2013, p. 49).

 

Ever since my husband, Ricardo, lost his job and we lost our home, I’d said the same prayer every day, Lord, help us find an apartment. Lots of light, warm and homey, a new kitchen, a clean fully-tiled bathroom. Outdoor space, like a balcony would be nice, but asking way too much. A decent place would do.

 

Ricardo didn’t believe in prayer. But he didn’t have any other answers. We were renting part of a rundown house in Rockford, Illinois, not ideal conditions to raise our eight-year-old son. It was dark and cramped, the floors cold and bare. The kitchen appliances were constantly breaking down and there was no storage for our things. The shared bathroom was filthy. But there was nothing else in the area that we could afford. Then I found mouse droppings and roaches. I’d had it. Walking back from doing errands one day, dreading returning to our squalid little space, I cried, “Lord, we can’t live like this! Where is the apartment I’ve been praying for?”

 

Turn here and go up two blocks. The voice popped into my head so suddenly, so strongly, I didn’t question the thought. I turned and walked. At the end of the second block, the voice spoke again. Turn right and go up three more blocks. I obeyed. The house I came to was nothing special. But the urgent voice commanded me: Walk up to the door. Ask about the apartment.

 

What apartment? I didn’t see a “For Rent” sign. But I’d come this far. I knocked and a young woman answered. “Do you know where I can find an apartment for rent?” I blurted. Her eyes widened. “How did you know? We didn’t even list it yet.” From inside, her husband asked who was at the door. “Someone about the apartment”, she said. The man appeared puzzled, but offered to show it to me.

 

Light cascaded through the windows and across the carpeted floor. Brand new appliances gleamed in the kitchen. There were plenty of closets. The tile in the bathroom sparkled. “How much is the rent?” I asked tentatively. “How much can you afford?” the man asked. I told him. “That’ll do.”

 

Ricardo couldn’t believe it – “You found it how?” I told him about the voice, the commands, how the apartment had every detail I’d prayed for. With each thing I mentioned, the expression on his face shifted, from disbelief to a dawning belief – especially when I added, “Actually, it has more than I asked for. There’s even a balcony.”

 

 

B. First Reading (Acts 6:1-7): “They chose seven men filled with the Spirit.”

 

The First Reading (Acts 6:1-7) presents the endeavor of the early Christian community to be configured to Jesus Christ, the Way, Truth and Life, in its life and service. The Church is depicted as responsive to a challenging situation, receptive to the needs of others and the promptings of the Holy Spirit, able to organize in view of a more efficient community ministry, and has the capacity to restructure the existing service system and to innovate under charismatic impulse. In the beautiful springtime of its growth, the Church is presented as ministerial – a serving Church that cares for the needs of the faithful.

 

Harold Buetow comments on the First Reading (Acts 6:1-7): “The first converts came from two groups of Jews, the Hellenists and the Hebrews. The Hellenistic Jews were Greek-speaking, and had returned to Jerusalem from all over the Mediterranean region. The Hebrews were native Palestinian Jews who spoke Aramaic. Today’s reading from Acts demonstrates one of the tensions between them: the Hellenistic group complaining that their poor widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food from the common store (v. 1) by the majority group, the local Hebrews. Another problem was that some of the members were so overworked in the service of the community that they were neglecting other important duties. The solution, arrived at by prayer and discernment, showed flexibility and growth, optimism and imagination. It showed the Church as an organization with an atmosphere of love, consideration, and enthusiasm. It showed a Church with each person treated equally with love, in the forefront of breaking down ethnic and racial barriers. Many of the qualities of the early Church were embodied in a new office: that of deacon. Though the assistants are not called deacons here, their office is deaconing: that is, service. Deacons were, however, to meet more than the immediate material needs. Later (Acts 6:8 and 8:5) we see two of the deacons involved in evangelization. All the faithful are called to serve with commitment. We are the lifeblood of the Church.”

 

The ideal of a serving and responsive Church, patterned after the ministry of Jesus Master-Shepherd, the Way, the Truth and the Life, continues to live on in today’s modern world. The following testimony is heartwarming (cf. Carol Browning, “Truck Stop Aid” in Guideposts, November 2013, p. 19).

 

Thanksgiving was just another workday at the 24-hour truck stop where I’ve been a waitress for 11 years. One Thanksgiving a few years back, one of my customers was a solo trucker. I brought his plate of food to his table, but he didn’t look up. He was talking on the phone. I set down his order and couldn’t help but notice that he was crying.

 

Lord, I hate to see anyone so sad on Thanksgiving, I thought as I headed back to the kitchen. If I had to work on the holiday, I wanted to be a real help to someone. I returned to his table. “Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked. “I don’t think so”, the man said. He explained that his wife was asking him for a divorce. “I wish I could talk to her about it in person”, he said, “but I’m on the road for three whole days more.” Those three days, I knew, would seem like forever.

 

“I want you to write your name and your wife’s name on this piece of paper”, I said, putting my order pad and pen down on the table in front of him. “I’m going to pray for the two of you.” He looked surprised, but he wrote down the names. “I don’t know if it will do any good, but I sure appreciate it”, he said. “No problem”, I said, tearing off the sheet and tucking it into my pocket. “Be sure to come back and tell me when the prayer is answered!”

 

I didn’t wait on him again for 12 whole months. But on Thanksgiving night the following year, I kept my eye out for him, and suddenly there he was, sitting in my station. “Those prayers of yours really did the trick!” he announced when I came over to his table to take his order. “My wife and I worked things out. In fact, we recently had our first baby!”

 

God is always open for prayers – 24 hours a day.

  

  

C. Second Reading (1 Pt 2:4-9): “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood.”

 

The Second Reading (1 Pt 2:4-9) depicts our identity as Easter people linked to “Christ-foundation stone” and underlines the implication of becoming God’s people. The rich images that we hear in this reading present our dignity as “priestly people, kingly people, holy people chosen by the Lord to sing his praises” as well as the responsibility of holiness resulting from it.

 

The biblical scholar, Jerome Neyrey explains: “Jesus is the stone which God laid in Zion, a cornerstone, chosen and precious; he is the stone rejected by some but important to God; finally he is the stone which is an obstacle and scandal to some. This Christ-stone is the pattern for the church; like Jesus, we are chosen and precious to God; we are also rejected by pagans and unbelievers. But as Christ is the cornerstone, so we are being made into a household, a holy body of priests … The church is a people of his own and so it is a chosen race, a royal dwelling place, a holy nation (cf. Ex 19:3-6). The church has gone from being not my people to being my people, from not having received mercy to having received mercy. Both the stone and people images speak, then, of our election by God and of our holiness. And they point to what this means in our lives: as a household of priests we offer spiritual sacrifices, that is, a holy life characterized by faithfulness and obedience. And as a holy nation we tell the story of the holy God and his saving deeds. So our priesthood is a way of being called to a holy status before a holy God and an exhortation to do holy things like acting holy and speaking about the holy God. These images, then, do not reject formal worship in the Church, nor do they argue against liturgical leadership for this group. Their sole purpose is to tell the church of its exalted state, as chosen and holy.”

 

The following prize-winning essay written by a 10th grader at Holy Family High School in Broomfield, Colorado, gives us an insight into our vocation as an Easter people – as God’s holy people, called to live out the Gospel message and proclaim the praises of the Lord in today’s world (cf. Kelly Dempsey, “Living Gospel Message” in Maryknoll, May/June 2011, p. 49-50).

 

Actions speak louder than words. We have all been preached those five words many times throughout our lives, but how many of us truly live by them? In this strange world within which we currently reside, one can easily get caught up in technology such as Facebook, video games and texting. All of these “advancements” in human society make hypocrisy almost effortless. The ability to hide behind a machine greatly facilitates one’s desire to seem as if they are one great, generous person, without any of the inconveniences of actually being one. However, despite our culture of attachment to the many “glowing rectangles” around which our society seems to now revolve – computers, phones, iPods, cameras, televisions – there are the few who rise up despite these distractions and live a life of the Gospels. A wise man known as St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words.” From the very first time I opened my eyes to now, 16 years later, I have seen and continue to see these words perfectly exemplified through the actions of my older sister and best friend, Erin.

 

Always strong with her relationship and faith in God, Erin, only three years older than myself, taught me at a very young age that God is always present and will always, no matter what, take care of me. Shortly after she turned 12, my parents finally deemed her old enough to watch over me while they went out, a concept that utterly terrified me. How on earth was my tiny 60-pound sister supposed to protect me when the burglars, who were sure to come in my parents’ absence, broke into our house? However, once I voiced my fears, my sister pulled me into a giant bear hug and softly instructed me to ask God to take away my fears. With that simple prayer, my worries suddenly evaporated into thin air. From that day forth, I viewed my sister as standing in a new light, a light with Christ.

 

Erin, now a sophomore at Creighton University, a Jesuit school, still stands tall and true to her faith. During her freshman year, a time of trial for many Catholics as to whether they stay true to their faith or convert to sleeping in, Erin not only continued to go to church once a week and pray on a daily basis, but she also upped the ante. Her normal weekly church visit multiplied into going at least three times a week. In addition, she was able to spread the word around campus and single-handedly increased weekday Mass attendance. Furthermore, despite the fact that she rarely is able to hit the sack before four o’clock in the morning, due to her immense workload and jam-packed schedule, Erin miraculously found time to volunteer for many non-profit organizations around Creighton.

 

Extremely selfless and humble in her actions and never even considering complaining about giving her limited time to those in need around her, Erin can be seen as role model to all those who have witnessed her daily life. Her closeness to God can be witnessed through her gentleness with children, kindness to strangers, and sympathy, comfort and compassion for the less fortunate. Never harsh or slanderous, Erin is a walking example of God’s message in our slightly off-kilter society.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. How do we personally experience Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life? In our words and deeds, do we replicate the person of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life?

 

2. Are we ready to serve and be a part of the ministerial Church that cares for the needs of the faithful? Are we fully committed to fulfill the work of evangelization and spread the word of God?

 

3. Are we proud of our vocation as priestly people, kingly people, holy people chosen by God to be his own? Do we respond with holiness to the dignity of our vocation as “Easter people … God’s people”?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Loving Father,

we thank you for Jesus Master-Shepherd.

In the Easter event of his death and resurrection,

he became the Way that leads to peace,

the Truth that reveals your love,

and the Life to live and to share.

We thank you for the witness of the early Church.

In the springtime of its creative growth,

the believers are receptive to the Spirit,

responsive to the needs of each other,

and marked by serving love.

Let us truly be “a priestly, kingly and holy people”

set apart to proclaim your praises,

now and forever.

Amen. Alleluia.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray that we may truly live and witness as God’s Easter people. Endeavor to be “way, truth and life” for a neighbor who is troubled, lost and confused. 

 

 

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May 11, 2020: MONDAY – EASTER WEEKDAY (5)

“JESUS SAVIOR: His Command Is to Love … He Calls Us to Turn to the Living God”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Acts 14:5-18 // Jn 14:21-26

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 14:21-26): “The Advocate whom the Father will send will teach you everything.”

(Gospel Reflection by Sr. Mary Cecilia Payawal, pddm; Illustrative Story prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret, pddm)

 

On this fifth week of Easter, we are invited to a continuous reading, and to reflect upon the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of the Gospel of John. To help us in our reflection, we need to situate ourselves in the context of these two chapters. First, these chapters are found in the third part of the Gospel of John - The Book of Glory, the part wherein Christ will face and experience the “glory”, the fulfillment of His mission on earth, the culmination of His journey in this world, and journey towards the “glory”- communion with the Father.  Second, it may help to situate us in the scene of this part of the Gospel of John, that is, the moment when Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples.

 

Considering these points, we are now ready to reflect on and experience more deeply the message of the Gospel for today. Some repeated words may be significant to note. For example, love and word. It is also important to notice the words: commandment, home, Father, Holy Spirit, teach and remembrance. We may allow the meaning of these words to sink into our whole being. Imagine how these words were uttered by Jesus to his disciples before leaving them.

 

Putting myself into the scene of the Gospel, I cannot help but imagine Jesus as someone who is telling his “habilin” (last words of someone who is about to leave or die) to his disciples. Jesus allowed them to experience the depth and height of his love. Thus he asked them to keep his commandment: “love one another” (Jn 13:34), the measure of which is his love for them: “As I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).

 

Following Jesus is never easy. Particularly, following his commandment of love is never easy. We may easily say that we love Jesus, yet have difficulty in “loving one another”, in loving our neighbor. We may experience deep within us the depth and height of God’s love for us in the person of Jesus, as well as our love for him, yet have more difficulty in experiencing this love in the persons around us. The Gospel for today presents a challenge, an invitation to us: “Let us love one another, as Christ has loved us.” In this way, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we may be led to our “home”, to our Father who loves us, in and through the person of Christ.  Only through this are we able to proclaim with the disciples: “The Lord is Risen!”

 

Illustrative Story: The following account, circulated on the Internet, illustrates how a child puts this command of love into practice.

 

A four-year-old child’s next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy just said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”

     

 

B. First Reading (Acts 14:5-18): “We proclaim to you Good News that you should turn from these idols to the living God.”

 

The First Reading (Acts 14:5-18) says that the persecution of the Christian disciples results in the word of God being spread abroad. The evangelization of Iconium ends with the same reaction toward Paul and Barnabas as that of Antioch in Pisidia. The unbelieving Jews and Gentiles attempt to attack and stone them. The apostles flee to Lystra where they continue to proclaim the Good News. A cripple, lame from birth, listens to Paul. The Good News makes a deep impression on him. Seeing that the cripple has faith, Paul orders him to stand up. The man springs up and begins to walk. The miracle provokes astonishment. The people, led by the priest of the temple, bring oxen and garlands. They intend to offer sacrifice to the two “miracle” workers, mistaking them for the Greek gods “Zeus” and “Hermes”. The apostles try to dissuade them from offering sacrifice to them since they are mere human beings. Paul endeavors to turn them away from false idols and to call them to serve the true and living God, whose goodness is revealed in the bounty of creation. He tries to make them understand that the healing of the cripple is a sign of the goodness of God, to whom glory is due. But Paul and Barnabas can hardly contain the enthusiasm of the crowd. The human heart, however, is fickle. Instigated by the people from Antioch and Iconium, the people of Lystra will soon turn against the apostles.

 

The fickleness and whims of those who reject the Good News that the apostles proclaim could be gleaned, with a comic touch, from the following story (cf. “Choosing a Good Minister” in Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, ed. Jack Canfield, et. al., Deerfield Beach: Health Communications, Inc., 1997, p.323-324).

 

One of the toughest tasks a church faces is choosing a good minister. A member of an official board undergoing this painful process finally lost patience. He’d just witnessed the pastoral relations committee reject applicant after applicant for some minor fault … real or imagined. It was time for a bit of soul searching on the part of the committee. So he stood up and read this letter purported to be from an applicant.

 

Gentlemen: Understanding your pulpit is vacant, I should like to apply for the position. I have many qualifications. I’ve been a preacher with much success and also have had some successes as a writer. Some say I’m a good organizer. I’ve been a leader most places I’ve been.

 

I’m over 50 years of age and have never preached in one place for more than three years. In some places, I have left town after my work caused riots and disturbances. I must admit I have been in jail three or four times, but not because of any real wrongdoing.

 

My health is not too good, though I still accomplish a great deal. The churches I have preached in have been small, though located in several large cities.

 

I’ve not gotten along well with religious leaders in the towns where I have preached. In fact, some have threatened me, and even attacked me physically. I am not too good at keeping records. I have been known to forget whom I have baptized.

 

However, if you can use me, I promise to do my best for you.”

 

The board member turned to the committee and said, “Well what do you think? Shall we call him?”

 

The good church folks were appalled! Consider a sickly, troublemaking, absent-minded ex-jailbird? Was the board member crazy? Who signed the application? Who had such colossal nerve?

 

The board member eyed them all keenly before he replied, “It’s signed, ‘The Apostle Paul’.”

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

Do I really make an effort to be a true disciple of Jesus by knowing his word and keeping his love command? // What do I do to help people turn to the living God and embrace him?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Jesus Divine Master,

you are our saving Lord who loved us to the end.

Teach us to love you

by being compassionate to those around us

and by serving the poor and vulnerable in our midst.

Send us the Holy Spirit, the promised Advocate.

He will teach us everything

and remind us of all that you told us,

especially your farewell command of mutual love.

You are the Lord of Easter glory,

whom we proclaim to the nations,

now and forever.

Amen, alleluia.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

           

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

“Whoever loves me will keep my word.” (Jn 14:23) // “We proclaim to you good news that you should turn from these idols to the living God.” (Acts 14:15)

 

  

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray for that the mass media and the digital media may be rightly used to promote the truth and not to distort the truth.  Offer an act of charity to a person who seems to be “unlovable” and difficult to deal with. // Identify the “idols” that keep you from serving the living God.

 

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May 5, 2020: TUESDAY – EASTER WEEKDAY (5);

SAINT NEREUS AND ACHILLEUS, Martyrs;

SAINT PANCTREAS, Martyr

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Gives Us Peace … He Works in His Apostles”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Acts 14:19-28 // Jn 14:27-31a

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 14:27-31a): “My peace I give to you.”

(Gospel Reflections by Sr. Mary Cecilia Payawal, pddm; Illustrative Story prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret, pddm)

 

“Peace…” After hearing Jesus’ words of farewell, the disciples are certainly troubled. For their Master is about to leave, and they will be left alone. They might have asked themselves: “Who will guide us now? Whom shall we follow? Who will lead us?” They feel lost. Jesus tells them: “Peace… Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” But how can they be at peace when Jesus is leaving them? What does this “peace” signify?

 

Nobody, certainly, would be at peace knowing that someone whom they love is about to leave; when they know the uncertainly of ever meeting him/her again. What then can give “peace”? This peace is surely not the absence of pain and sorrow, struggle and conflicts. It is the experience of the “presence” of someone that allows you to be embraced by a love that never fades, a love that assures a constant “presence”, despite the “absence”. This peace cannot be given to us by the world. Only God, in the person of Jesus, the Risen Lord, can grant us this peace. Persons can love us and assure us of their presence. Yet this presence is limited by death. But Jesus’ presence goes beyond death. If his resurrected presence is experienced, we will never be troubled or afraid. For even in the midst of pain and sorrow, struggle and conflict, there will be peace in our inner being. And with Jesus, our Risen Lord, we can “rise and go”, we can continue the journey ahead.  

 

Illustrative Story: The following account illustrates how a young man found and experienced the Easter gift of peace (cf. Fr. James W. Modee, “Courage to Change” in 101 Inspirational Stories of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, ed. Sr. Patricia Proctor, OSC, Spokane: Franciscan Monastery of Saint Clare, 2006, p. 144-145).

 

I was in my first parish in Yuma, Arizona, when one day a young man came to the rectory and asked to talk to a priest. He had broken up with his live-in girlfriend in San Diego and had just arrived in Yuma. He was thinking about going back to her but something told him to stop at the church first.

 

We talked for a while. He knew that he wasn’t living the kind of life that the Lord wanted but confessed that fear of the unknown was worse than the fear of the known. He wanted to go back to her, but something kept telling him to seek advice first.

 

We talked about life goals and about the courage to make positive changes even when the future is in doubt. He ended up going to confession and decided to go to his hometown instead of back to California.

 

About a month later, I got a letter from the young man. He was very much at peace with his decision not to go back to San Diego. He felt new and forgiven and that God was going to lead him through the rest of his life. He was grateful that I was there for him and that I had taken the time that was needed to become reconciled with God.

 

 

B. First Reading (Acts 14:19-28): “They called the Church together and reported what God had done with them.”

 

The reading (Acts 14:19-28) tells us that with incredible fickleness, the crowd in Lystra, who had idolized Paul and Barnabas, turn against them. Instigated by the apostles’ Jewish opponents from Antioch and Iconium, they stone Paul and drag his body outside the town, thinking he is dead. Paul, however, miraculously survives a stoning that is usually fatal. The next day the apostles proceed to Derbe and proclaim the Good News, winning many disciples. They then retrace their steps through Lystra, Iconium and Antioch of Pisidia. In each place, they have left communities of disciples whom they now strengthen and encourage. They must have been dismayed by the ill-treatment suffered by the apostles and have experienced persecution themselves. Exhorting them to persevere in the faith, the apostles assert that they need to undergo many hardships on behalf of the Kingdom of God. Moreover, they assure the pastoral care of the fledging Christian communities by appointing leaders whom they commend to the Lord with prayer and fasting. Finally, Paul and Barnabas go back to Antioch in Syria, the home base for their mission, and report to the Church on the work they have completed and how God “opened the door of faith to the Gentiles”.

 

The sufferings of Paul and the apostles for the sake of the Kingdom continue to be experienced by today’s Christian missionaries, as well as God’s protection and the ecclesial support (cf. “Prayer Is the Key” in Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, ed. Jack Canfield, et. al., Deerfield Beach: Health Communications, Inc., 1997, p.317-318).

 

A missionary was serving as a medic at a small field hospital in Africa. Periodically he had to travel by bicycle through the jungle to a nearby city for supplies. It was a two-day trip so he had to camp out overnight. He had made this trip several times without incident. One day, however, he arrived at his destination and saw two men fighting. One was seriously hurt, so he treated him and witnessed to him and went about his business.

 

Upon arriving in the city again several weeks later, he was approached by the man he had treated earlier. “I know you carry money and medicine”, said the man to the missionary. “Some friends and I followed you into the jungle the night you treated me, knowing you would camp overnight. We waited for you to go to sleep and planned to kill you and take your money and drugs. Just as we started moving into the campsite, we saw you were surrounded by 26 armed guards. There were only six of us and we knew we couldn’t possibly get near you, so we left.”

 

Hearing this, the missionary laughed and said, “That’s impossible. I can assure you I was alone in the campsite.” The young man pressed his point: “No sir, I was not the only one to see the guards. My friends also saw them, and we all counted them. We were frightened. It was because of those guards that we left you alone.”

 

Several months later, the missionary attended a church presentation in Michigan where he told his experiences in Africa. One of the congregants jumped to his feet, interrupting the missionary, and said something that left everyone stunned. “We were there with you in spirit”, said the man. The missionary looked perplexed. The man continued. “On that night in Africa, it was morning here. I stopped at the church to gather some materials for an out-of-town trip to another parish. But as I put my bags into the trunk, I felt the Lord leading me to pray for you. The urging was so great I called the men in the church together to pray for you.”

 

Then the man turned around and said, “Will all of those men who met with the Lord that morning please stand?” One by one they stood – all 26 of them!

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do we treasure Jesus’ farewell gift of peace and his Easter peace benediction? Do we share the Lord’s peace with others?

 

2. Like Saint Paul and the apostles, are we willing to undergo many hardships for the sake of the Gospel? Do we entrust ourselves to God’s protection, and do we feel the support of the faith community?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO 

 

O loving Lord,

peace is your farewell gift to us

as well as your Easter gift.

Help us to treasure the peace

that springs forth from your presence.

You are our Risen Lord

and with your Easter benediction of peace,

we can “rise and go” to continue our paschal journey to the very end.

O Risen Lord,

make us channels of your peace

and help us to toil for the Gospel.

We love you and praise you.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen. Alleluia.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Peace I leave with you.” (Jn 14:27) // “They called the Church together and reported what God had done with them.” (Acts 14:27)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

When troubled and agitated, make a special effort to focus on the gift of divine peace that is within you. Be a channel of peace for the people around you. Unite any hardship or suffering you will experience today with the apostolic intention of entering the Kingdom of God.

 

 

*** *** ***

May 13, 2020: WEDNESDAY – EASTER WEEKDAY (5); OUR LADY OF FATIMA

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the True Vine … He Guides the Church

 

BIBLE READINGS

Acts 15:1-6 // Jn 15:1-8

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 15:1-8): “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.”

(Gospel Reflections by Sr. Mary Cecilia Payawal, pddm; Illustrative Story prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret, pddm)

 

Once more, let us underline significant words repeated in this part of the Gospel: vine, branch, fruit, and abide. Other words and phrases which may speak to us are: bear fruit, can do nothing, abides in me, can do nothing, thrown away and withers. It may also help if we sit under a tree or vine and watch the connection or relationship between the tree/vine and the branches. We may notice some dead branches that fell to the ground, while others may be attached to the vine/tree and are bearing much fruit with many leaves.

 

This is the invitation of Jesus in the Gospel of today: “Abide in me, and I in you.” Other translations of the Bible say: “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his book “Jesus of Nazareth” that this is the measure of love: “the remaining”. For true and authentic love remains, no matter what and in spite of… My spiritual director, when I was in Spain, once told me that a friendship or any love relationship that did not last is never a true friendship or love. Jesus remained till the end. He remained loving till such love brought him to his death on the cross. More so, he remained after death. He is risen and remains with us, here and now. He manifests true and faithful love that lasts, that remains - till the end. The Gospel announces good news to us: “God’s love that remains in and through the person of the Risen Lord!” It invites us to love, to remain, to abide, in the same way that Jesus has loved, loves and will love till the end of time.

 

Illustrative Story: In today’s Gospel, Jesus declares that he is the real vine and the Father is the gardener. The vinedresser breaks off every branch that does not bear fruit and prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will be clean and bear more fruit. The following article written by the award-winning author and organic farmer, David Masumoto, from Del Rey, California, gives insight into this (cf. David Masumoto, “The Art of Pruning” in Fresno Bee, January 26, 2014, p. A25).

 

My father taught me how to prune a peach tree … the biggest lesson was that trees like to be pruned … Pruning marked an annual rite of passage on our farm: cut out the things that don’t belong. Purge the negatives. Open up leaf canopies to life. My job was to learn what belongs and what did not. So I whacked and snipped and slashed. Branches fell, wood dropped. I copied the motions of my father pruning a tree next to me. He looked like a sculptor as his tree took shape. Hidden inside the mass of branches and limbs lay a clean, simple tree. (…)

 

Magic came when my father finished his tree. I looked up and could see through the branches. I saw the blue-gray sky of winter. It was as if he opened up a secret world. Trapped behind the clutter of growth, hidden from our view, he had pruned away branches to open up the canopy. “It’s all about light”, he explained. He slowly motioned with his arm and hand, raising it up high and then swinging it downward, wiggling his fingers as he mimicked the sunlight entering the tree top and striking the wood where buds lie, awaiting the warmth of a change of season.

 

He said you want to imagine the sunlight months from now, you want to feel summer when you prune; in the cold winter, you want to see the light of summer as it penetrates and gives life. His skill in life was the ability to anticipate. Destiny, he seemed to tell me, was determined by your prior actions. Fate was built on everyday seemingly simple deeds.

 

As my father whipped around another tree, opening it up to light, I could see the negative space he left behind. I saw branches – but also space between the branches. He helped me finish my tree and my lesson. I had more questions but he spoke little. He was about showing, not telling.

 

Now it was my turn. I struggle every year. It’s hard to purge things in our lives. Prune away the excess. We live in a world of accumulation. And I’m not sure I have the vision of my father as I try to see the future in the present.

  

 

B. First Reading (Acts 15:1-6): “They decided to go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters about this question.”

 

Today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles (15:1-6) reports on the burning issue presented to the Council of Jerusalem by the Church in Antioch on whether a non-Jew who becomes a believer in Christ should be compelled to undergo circumcision in order to be saved. The Benedictine scholar, Adrian Nocent, comments: “Radical decisions have to be made, yet a certain flexibility must also be preserved. The scene is the famous Council of Jerusalem, the first example of a Church Council. Leaders are chosen from the Jerusalem community, and they set out for Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to announce the decisions reached by the Council.”

 

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Council of Jerusalem - the Church’s first Ecumenical Council – made a radical and significant decision to officially break ties with Judaism. Thus the Christian assembly arrived at a newer way of defining itself centered on the faith in Jesus, without compelling the Gentile converts to become Jews in order to attain salvation, knowing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that the ultimate and final word of God is not the Torah, but Jesus Christ.  Salvation is brought about, not with the observance of Jewish law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Under the impulse of the Holy Spirit and the freedom that he brings, the Gospel of the Risen Lord spread to the ends of the earth.

 

Against the backdrop of the first Ecumenical Council in Jerusalem it is fitting to recall the contribution of the newly canonized saint Pope John XXIII to the Church by convoking the Ecumenical Council Vatican II (cf. Barry Hoddock, “The Lasting Legacies of the Church’s Newest Saints”, Our Sunday Visitor, April 27, 2014, p. 10-12).

 

As the highly regarded Archbishop of Venice, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli certainly was a strong candidate for the office of pope. And following the 17-year reign of Pope Pius XII, which had been marked with much drama, an older man of modest personality seemed a good choice to many.

 

But there seems to be no question that the cardinals did not quite get what they expected for a pope after his election on October 28, 1958. From the very choice of name – Pope St. John XXIII proved to be a surprising and inspiring leader. Though he was pope for fewer than five years, he made a big splash; and now, 51 years after his death, he will be canonized by Pope Francis. Two generations later, what is the legacy of John XXIII?

 

Certainly his most prominent and enduring legacy is the Second Vatican Council and its many long-standing achievements. Expected to be a “caretaker pope”, Pope John announced less than three months into his pontificate that he would convene the 21st ecumenical council in the history of the Church. In fact, John’s predecessors, Pius IX and Pius XII, had given serious consideration to calling a council, said Massimo Faggioli, a church historian. “But they never managed to do it”, he said in a recent interview with Our Sunday Visitor. Faggioli is author of the new biography “John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy” (Liturgical Press).

 

The council was in some ways the culmination of developments that had been going on somewhat quietly within the Church for the previous century or more. Progress in the study of liturgy, Church history, Scripture and even science bore fruit during the council’s 1962-65 gatherings. What resulted were major shifts in the liturgy, theology and Church life that continue to affect Catholic life today. These included a dramatic reform of the Mass and other sacraments, a widespread new interest in Scripture study, a keen concern for dialogue toward unity with other Christian communities and an unprecedented support by the Church of religious freedom for all people.

 

“The council”, Faggioli said, “was the most important Christian event in the 20th century.” Half a century later, many believe the reception of Vatican II and its effects upon the Church has only just begun to be seen.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do we respond fully to the abiding presence and the enduring love of Jesus Savior? Do we make an effort to abide in his love?

 

2. What lessons do we glean from the decision of the Council of Jerusalem regarding the controversy on whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised to attain salvation? Do we endeavor to bring about the unity of the Church through our humble obedience to the workings of the Spirit of Jesus?

 

  

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

O Risen Christ,

you are the vine “pruned” by the Father

in your paschal sacrifice on the cross.

We are the branches that cling to you, the true vine.

Grant us the grace to abide in you

through trials and difficulties.

Make us one as Church.

Cleanse us and “prune” us

from all that impedes acts of love and self-giving.

Make us bear abundant fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Give us the grace to relish the Eucharistic wine in the heavenly banquet,

where you live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen. Alleluia.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” (Jn 15:5) // “The Apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter.” (Acts 15:6)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

In gratitude for the abiding love of the Risen Lord, do an act of charity for someone who feels “unloved” and broken in spirit. Endeavor to help manage conflicts and resolve divisive controversies by calling on the light and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

May 14, 2020: THURSDAY – SAINT MATTHIAS, APOSTLE

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Chooses Matthias as His Apostle”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Acts 1:15-17, 20-26 // Jn 15:9-17

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 15:9-17): “I shall no longer call you servants. I call you my friends.”

 

As Christian disciples, we nurture the Easter blessings we receive from God the Father. We are called to live a life of loving obedience to his saving will in imitation of Jesus, his Son-Servant. At the level of service, we are “slaves” since we follow the way of the Servant of Yahweh. Serving with love is deeply rewarding and exalting. At the level of intimacy, we are not “slaves” “because a slave does not know what his master is doing” (Jn 15:15), but “friends”. Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us: “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (Jn 15:15). 

 

The love of Christ moves us to love one another. The fact that God loves us into a new existence in Jesus and that we are no longer slaves but friends, empowers us to follow Christ’s command: “Love one another as I love you” (Jn 15: 12). Christian love, moreover, involves a mandate to go and bear lasting fruit. Attached to the life-giving vine, Jesus Christ, we are impelled to go to the ends of the earth, proclaim the Gospel and bear abiding fruits of conversion and faith.

 

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Matthias. A witness of Christ’s public ministry and resurrection, he replaced Judas Iscariot as one of the twelve apostles. The eleven apostles felt unworthy to choose the “twelfth” of their own accord and prayed to God for guidance. The divine sign was revealed at the casting of lots. St. Matthias is privileged to be chosen by God to share in the apostolic mission of giving witness to Christ’s resurrection. In his personal relationship and service, St. Matthias is a friend-slave of Jesus. According to one tradition, he preached the Gospel in Jerusalem, Egypt and Ethiopia and suffered martyrdom in Colchis (modern Georgia) at the hands of “meat eaters” or cannibals. Another tradition says he died by stoning in Jerusalem. Through his Gospel service and martyrdom, the apostle St. Matthias became totally configured to Christ, our Lord and Savior.

 

 

B. First Reading (Acts 1:15-17, 20-26): “The Lot fell to Matthias and he was numbered with the eleven Apostles.”

 

Today’s First Reading (Acts 1:15-17, 20-26) depicts the early life of the Church after the Lord’s Ascension and before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The election of Judas’ replacement to fill up the college of apostles is prepared by the ministry of prayer of the apostles, of Mary and other women, and of Jesus’ relatives. They are gathered in the upper room in continuous prayer.

 

The rules for Judas’ replacement require choosing “someone” who has been with the apostles during Jesus’ public ministry, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which Jesus was taken up to heaven. Above all, this “someone” is one who has been a witness to Christ’s resurrection. Only “someone” who knew Jesus before his death could witness that the risen Jesus is the same one who died. The group of apostles, reduced to eleven by the betrayal and death of Judas, feels it necessary to restore its full complement of twelve. Guided by the scriptural directive, May another take his office (Ps 109:8), the early Christian community of “about one hundred and twenty persons”, a symbolic allusion to the restored twelve tribes of Israel (12 tribes multiplied by ten – the perfect number), gathers in one place to select a successor to Judas Iscariot. The symbolism of “twelve” apostles is vital for it indicates the new representatives of the house of Israel (cf. Lk 22:30), and evokes the twelve foundation stones of the “new Jerusalem” (cf. Rev 21:14). The “twelve” are tasked to lead the community of about 120 disciples (12 x 10), a symbolic number representing the core of the Spirit-filled Israel at Pentecost.

  

As Jesus prayed to the Father for guidance in his messianic ministry, and as he especially prayed for his disciples when the time of sacrifice was drawing near, the early Christian community prays for guidance in selecting Judas’ successor in the apostolic ministry. They propose two candidates: Joseph called “Barsabbas”, also known as “Justus”, and Matthias. The community agrees that these two men fulfill the requirements for joining the Twelve, but the final choice among the two is left to God. The discernment for the person chosen by God for the apostolic ministry is made in prayer and in great trust of God’s omnipotent wisdom. After praying, they draw lots, and the lot falls upon Matthias who is listed as one of the twelve apostles. The appointment of Matthias to the apostolic college underlines that one does not arrogate the ministry to oneself: God and the Church call one to it.

 

God continues to choose ministers who will serve him according to his heart. The following article gives insight into some factors that favor response to the divine call to ministry (cf. “US Villages Produce Record Number of Priests and Nuns” in Alive! December  2014, p. 2).

 

The New York Times recently did a story on two Catholic villages in Michigan which have given the Church an unusual number of priests. The piece was triggered by the ordination of Todd and Gary Koenigsknecht, 26-year-old identical twins, the previous Saturday.

 

The twins, from a family of 10, grew up on an organic dairy farm, had no TV in their home and prayed the family rosary each night. Their younger brother, aged 19, is also studying to be a priest.

 

“The community naturally fosters priestly vocations”, said Fr. Todd. “It’s in the air.” For the Times, “this rural patch of Clinton County offers a case study in the science and mystery of the call to priesthood.” It reported that the twins’ village, Fowler, with a population of 1,224, had produced 22 priests, with the same number coming from Westphalia, a village just eight miles away, with a population of 938.

 

The houses in the two villages, according to the Times, are orderly, with Virgin Mary statues in front yards, American flags on porches and unlocked doors. “Faith is the center of life; those who live here say: Everyone is Catholic; everyone is related and everyone shows up at Mass. The youth groups are active. “Nearly all the students attending the prom in the villages begin the festivities by attending a regularly scheduled 4:30 p.m. Mass, dressed in their party attire.”

 

A positive attitude towards vocations is also important. Agnes, the new priests’ mother, explained: “They’re not ours to keep. How can you hold them back?”

 

Meanwhile, the parish has a weekly prayer hour dedicated to religious vocations and an annual fundraiser to help cover tuition; it contributed more than $10,000 to each Koenigsknecht twin. “If the families are open to God’s calling them, then the seminarian will come”, said Jerry Wohlfert, a shop-owner in Fowler. For such tiny places, the villages have also produced a remarkable number of vocations among young women, 37 from Westphalia and 43 from Fowler. (…)

 

One boy told the New York Times he had felt attracted to the priesthood watching his parish priest. “I was observing how close he gets to God, and I thought it would be so cool if I could become that close to God”, he said.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. What is our relationship with Jesus Christ at the level of intimacy and at the level of service? Do we endeavor to go out and bear lasting fruits?

 

2. Do we fully trust in the Lord God who knows the hearts of all? Do we allow God to work freely in the acts of discernment that we make day by day? Do we ask his guiding help in making decisions that will have an impact on our community and the people around us? 

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

(Cf. Opening Prayer – Mass of the Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle)

 

Father,

you called Saint Matthias to share in the mission of the apostles.

By the help of his prayers

may we receive with joy the love you share with us

and be counted among those you have chosen.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, forever and ever.

Amen.   

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“The lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.” (Acts 1:26) //“I have called you friends.” (Jn 15:15)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Spend some quiet moments in church, preferably before the Blessed Sacrament, to deepen your spirit of listening and intimacy with the Divine Master. Look around and see how you could share the joy of the Gospel with the people around you.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

May 15, 2020: FRIDAY – EASTER WEEKDAY (5); SAINT ISIDORE (USA)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Loves Us to the End … He Guides the Church by His Spirit”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Acts 15:22-31 // Jn 15:12-17

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 15:12-17): “This is my commandment: love one another.”

(Gospel Reflections by Sr. Mary Cecilia Payawal, pddm; Illustrative Story prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret, pddm)

 

In the Gospel for today (Jn 15:12-17), Jesus continues his teachings on love. He underlines again the commandment of love, the basis of which is his love. However, he added a significant point: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Friendship is one of the most beautiful things that can happen in life. A true friend can lift us up when we are down; can brighten our gloomy day; loves us till the end; remains with us even in the midst of failures and weaknesses. A friend, like the branch, is intimately linked to the vine; is in deep communion with the other friend because of love. Thus Jesus did not consider the disciples as servants, but friends for he loves them despite “betrayals and denials”. And he is willing to lay down his life for them, even if that death was the most shameful - on the cross!

 

Jesus has set an example on how to love. A servant is a stranger to the master. He has no intimate relationship, no experience of deep communion with the master. However, a friend is someone to whom everything is revealed by the other. A friend is someone we trust and love despite weaknesses and limitations. Jesus loved the disciples not as servants but as friends. He revealed to them what the Father told him. He loved them as the Father loved him. Jesus exhorts the disciples: “… I chose you…Bear fruit….Love one another.” May Jesus’ examples inspire us to follow him that we may truly love one another as friends and radiate his living presence, here and now, in our community, in the Church, in the world.

 

Illustrative Story: The following article gives an example of one who has followed Christ’s love command to the full - to the point of laying down one’s life for one’s friends (cf. Gretchen Crowe, “Father van der Lugt Embraced the Smell of the Sheep” in Our Sunday Visitor, April 20, 2014, p. 2).

 

This spring marks the three-year point in the Syrian civil war. During that time, the casualties have been so numerous and the dangers so high that the United Nations in January stopped updating the number of dead. Since then, however, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates conservatively that more than 150,000 people have died – with about 30 percent of those being civilians.

 

One of the most recent civilian losses is Dutch Jesuit priest Father Frans van der Lugt, who, according to Father Alex Basili, Jesuit provincial in the Middle East and the Maghreb, was “abducted by armed men who beat him and then killed him with two bullets to the head in front of the Jesuit residence in Homs” on the morning of April 7.

 

According to Vatican Radio, Father van der Lugt had lived in Syria for nearly 50 years. He was involved in religious dialogue and, in the 1980s, opened a center of spirituality outside Homs, which included a home for 40 Syrian children with mental disabilities. Ever present to the Syrian people during the last three years of strife, Father van der Lugt posted a video online in January in which he pleaded for assistance from the international community to save the people in the city of Homs (in the middle of a more than year-long siege) from starvation. “People can’t find food”, he said. “There is nothing harder than seeing parents in the street looking for food for their children.”

 

When a truce was struck that same month and people evacuated, Father van der Lugt refused to leave, instead staying with his people left behind – the epitome of a shepherd who embraces the smell of his sheep. “The Syrian people have given me so much – so much kindness, inspiration and everything they have”, the priest said in February. “If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties.”

 

Soon after, Father van der Lugt’s death was reported. Vatican spokesman Jesuit Federico Lombardi said the priest “died as a man of peace, who with great courage in an extremely dangerous situation, wanted to remain faithful to the Syrian people to whom he had dedicated so many years of his life and spiritual service.”

 

He added: “Where people die, their faithful shepherds also die with them. In this time of great sorrow, we express our participation in prayer, but also great pride and gratitude for having had a brother so close to the most suffering in the testimony of the love of Jesus to the end.”

   

 

B. First Reading (Acts 15:22-31): “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities.”

 

The role of the Holy Spirit in the Church of the Risen Lord is evident in today’s First Reading (Acts 15:22-29). The passage reports on the burning issue presented to the Council of Jerusalem by the Church in Antioch whether a non-Jew who becomes a believer in Christ should be compelled to undergo circumcision in order to be saved. The Benedictine scholar, Adrian Nocent, comments: “The conciliar decision has been made with the help of the Holy Spirit … The Spirit whom Jesus has sent teaches everything, and bestows perspicacity of judgment on those who exercise authority in the Church. Circumcision will not be required of Gentile converts. The only prohibitions are not to eat meat sacrificed to idols, or blood, or the meat of strangled animals, and to abstain from illicit sexual unions … It provides us with a typical example of the difficulties that the establishment of the Church entailed, and of how the Spirit of Christ helped the disciples reach a sound decision in a matter that was agitating a local church.”

 

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Council of Jerusalem - the Church’s first Ecumenical Council – made a radical and significant decision to officially break ties with Judaism. Thus the Christian assembly arrived at a newer way of defining itself centered on the faith in Jesus, without compelling the Gentile converts to become Jews in order to attain salvation, knowing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that the ultimate and final word of God is not the Torah, but Jesus Christ. Salvation is brought about, not with the observance of Jewish law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Under the impulse of the Holy Spirit and the freedom that he brings, the Gospel of the Risen Lord spread to the ends of the earth.

 

In the following story, the role of the wife gives insight into how the Holy Spirit inspires us to confront new situations with courage and audacity.

 

When the heartbroken Nathaniel Hawthorne went home to tell his wife that he was a failure and had been fired from his job in the customhouse, she surprised him with an exclamation of joy. “Now,” she said triumphantly, “you can write a book!” “Yes,” replied Nathaniel, “and what shall we live on while I’m writing it?” To his amazement, she opened a drawer and pulled out a substantial amount of money. “Where on earth did you get that?” he exclaimed. “I’ve always known you were a man of genius,” she told him. “I knew that someday you would write a masterpiece. So every week, out of the housekeeping money you gave me, I saved a little. So here is enough to last us for a whole year!” From her confidence and encouragement came one of the greatest novels of United States literature, The Scarlet Letter.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do we truly love one another? Are we willing to imitate Jesus in loving so greatly as to lay down one’s life for one’s friend?

 

2. How is the Holy Spirit at work in the early Christian community? What lessons do we glean from the decision of the Council of Jerusalem regarding the controversy whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised to attain salvation?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Jesus Lord,

thank you for being a “friend” to us.

Thank you for loving us intimately.

You loved us to the end.

Help us to prove our love for you

by loving and serving one another.

Grant that as a faith community

we may truly open ourselves

to the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen. Alleluia.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15:13) // “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond the necessities.” (Acts 15:28)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

When the act of loving becomes “sacrificial”, trust in Jesus and beg him for the grace to overcome the difficulties and the pain of the sacrifice. Every day of your life, learn to make decisions in the light of the inspiration of the divine Advocate.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

May 16, 2020: SATURDAY – EASTER WEEKDAY (5)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Strengthens Us in Persecution … His Gospel Is Preached to the Nations”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Acts 16:1-10 // Jn 15:18-21

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 15:18-21): “You do not belong to the world and I have chosen you out of the world.”

(Gospel Reflections by Sr. Mary Cecilia Payawal, pddm; Illustrative Story prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret, pddm)

 

Following Jesus is not an easy task. His preaching, in words and deeds, is like a sharp sword that can pierce the heart of persons. In the same way that his teachings caused conflicts in his time, following his teachings would also cause conflicts in our time. The world may hate us, persecute us, “betray and deny” us, as the people of his time did to Jesus. To follow Jesus requires clarity of motivation and direction. We have to be clear that we are preaching not ourselves but Christ; that in our teachings we do not seek recognition and affirmation, but the “glory of God”; that “in all things, God may be glorified”.

 

However, our human nature needs recognition and affirmation. It is never easy to go against nature. But with the “grace” of God, everything would certainly be possible. Following Christ is putting on the whole Christ, embracing not only the resurrection but, first of all, his passion and death. May God, in and through the “salvation” brought by the resurrection of our Lord, grant us grace to follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus. May we remain in him, even if others may hate us, even if everybody may leave us, even if we may be persecuted because of him. For only in and through this are we able to proclaim to the world, “Christ lives! He lives in you and in me!”

 

Illustrative Story: The following article gives insight into the “persecutions” that Christian disciples may experience in today’s secularized world (cf. Elizabeth Scalia, “Where’s the Tolerance? Mozilla CEO Forced to Resign”, Our Sunday Visitor, April 20, 2014, p. 13)

 

A mere two weeks after taking over as CEO of Mozilla, tech-prodigy and Javascript inventor Brendan Eich was released from his contract. No one had disputed either his leadership or creative abilities, and there was nothing in Eich’s management history that even hinted at unfairness or discriminatory practices or an unwillingness on his part to work with all sorts of people.

 

The issue was a $1,000 donation Eich made in 2008 in support of Proposition 8 – a California law that banned same-sex marriage – and his apparent unwillingness to publicly recant his personal beliefs on what constitutes marriage.

 

Despite Eich’s written commitment “to work on new initiatives to reach out to those who feel excluded or have been marginalized”, some members of the gay community would not give him the time he requested to demonstrate his inclusivity and would not accept his expression of “sorrow at having caused pain”.

 

“If he had apologized years ago”, said Hampton Catlin, “this would be a non-issue”. Catlin is a Web developer; his open letter to Mozilla protesting Eich’s appointment was the catalyst for what followed, including the weirdly self-contradicting apology from Mozilla, which affirmed the “wide diversity of views” it encouraged within its staff, even as it demonstrated that its tolerance on differing viewpoints ran the narrowest of gamuts.

 

Among social conservatives and the religious-minded, the Eich story is being received as evidence that our cultural pursuit of all things “diverse” does not extend itself to diversity of thought. Between Catlin’s permitting Brendan Eich his “personal beliefs” as long as he publicly falls in line with the Obama administration’s often repeated commitment to “freedom of worship” rather than freedom of religion, one need not be a weatherman to sense how awfully chill the wind is blowing. One’s beliefs are fine, it seems, as long as they go unspoken; one’s religion is free as long as it remains behind doors and within the church walls.

 

While some in the homosexual community have applauded Mozilla’s dismissal of Eich – Tyler Lopez of Slate.com suggests that Eich can only be “forgiven” for his sins if he recognizes his “duty to continue to acknowledge it” again and again – others have expressed “disgust”, perhaps none more defiantly than Andrew Sullivan, a long-time activist for same-sex marriage, who wrote: “If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.”

 

 

B. First Reading (Acts 16:1-10): “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

 

In today’s account from the Acts of the Apostles (16:1-10), with Silas as a companion, Paul begins his second missionary journey to his home province of Syria and Cilicia (in modern Turkey) and revisits the communities they had established in their previous missionary expedition. In Lystra, where Paul was stoned and left for dead, a disciple named Timothy, whose father is a Greek and whose mother is a Jew, joins him as part of the missionary team. Paul circumcises Timothy not because it is needed for salvation, but for “pastoral reasons”. It will render Timothy more acceptable as a missionary to Jews as well as Gentiles. The Holy Spirit guides the missionaries in their vision, preventing them from going one direction and steering them in another. Paul extends the evangelizing campaign to other parts of Asia Minor, particularly westward through Mysia to the Aegean coast at Troas, a busy port at the hub of communications between Asia and Europe. There he had a vision. He saw a Macedonian standing and begging him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” Paul realizes that it is God’s will that they preach the Gospel in Macedonia.

 

Like Saint Paul and his companions, the following modern-day Christian disciple has opened herself to the promptings of the Holy Spirit for an important mission in the Church (cf. “Nothing Short of Heroic” in Extension, Christmas 2012, p. 14).

 

By many people, Florence Kaster has been warmly called “the general”. A brave Catholic laywoman, she brought hope and the Catholic faith to African-Americans living in Kingstree, South Carolina, during the 1950s and ‘60s when poverty and racial and religious prejudices were at all-time highs. (…)

 

Florence was a young woman from Titusville, Pennsylvania, when she met Father Patrick Quinlan, a Connecticut pastor who had resigned at his parish to become a priest in Kingstree. Known as a no-nonsense, get-things-done person, Florence had been seeking an experience that would be both challenging and fulfilling.

 

She readily accepted Father Quinlan’s invitation to run a catechism program for the African-American community spread throughout Williamsburg County, where Kingstree is located. Together, Father Quinlan and Florence set up centers in small outposts for families who lived too far away to travel to St. Ann Parish in Kingstree. She made it her life’s work to support the members of this community and to bring the Word of God to them.

 

It was not an easy assignment. Consider this: One night Florence gathered a huge crowd for a religious film. “After the film had started, three shots rang out, and three holes blasted through the screen”, Florence recalled in a 1978 Extension article. Although unsettled by the dramatic incident, she continued the movie. Many years later, one of the residents from the area talking to a friend and, referring to the shooting, said, “Them Catholics don’t scare easy!”

 

The article went on to describe another time when Florence was directly confronted while teaching 80 youngsters in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. “A man broke into the class and threatened to cut off her toes if she did not stop teaching the black children. At that point, she dismissed the class and faced her would-be attacker. He backed down and her toes remained intact.”

 

Father Stan Smolenski, currently director of the Shrine of Joyful Hope in Kingstree, recalled her courage: “The fact that as a 27 or 28-year-old woman, she would come and catechize here at that time was nothing short of heroic.”

 

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Are we ready to suffer persecution for the sake of Christ? Do we cling to Christ for life and strength in the midst of adversities?

 

2. Are we open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit with regards to the mission of the Church in the modern world and our personal role in it?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Jesus Savior,

you suffered death and persecution for our sake.

How could we ever repay you!

Grant us the grace to embrace your sacrificial love.

Make us trust in your life-giving word.

When we suffer persecution on account of your name,

teach us to remember how you loved us to the end.

Help us to be faithful and responsive

to the promptings of the Church at work in the Church.

We love you and glorify you, now and forever.

Amen. Alleluia.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

“If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (Jn 15:20) // “God had called us to proclaim the Good News to them.” (Acts 16:10)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Study the social teachings of the Church. Be ready to take a stand for the Christian teaching, especially when the world’s logic and socio-political forces assail it. If you are not involved yet in any Church ministry, seek information and advice on how you could actualize it.

 

 

***

 

 

Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang  PDDM

 

 

PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI

SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER

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