Every farmer looks forward to the Harvest time because it declares the success of the planting and nurturing season. Most People mark the plentiful harvest season with thanksgiving to God, who provides the rain, air, sun, and other natural and supernatural preconditions for plants and animals to strive and multiply. The harvest time brings joy and celebration. The Psalmist (Ps. I26 5-6) says: “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves”.
Beyond the physical harvest of crops and livestock, the Bible also talks about spiritual harvest, which involves the reaping of fruits of our spiritual and attitudinal seeds. The book of Proverbs (18:20) says that from the fruit of the mouth one’s stomach is satisfied; the yield of the lips brings satisfaction. St. Paul writing to the Galatians (6:9) advises that we should not lose heart in doing good for in due season (harvest time) we would reap if we do not give up. And for the Apostle James, (Jas. 3:18), the seed whose harvest is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
In the Gospel Reading of this Sunday (Luke 10:1-12,17-20) our Lord Jesus Christ gives the harvest-time a new meaning, and it involves harvest of lives for God through the missionary work of those he sends out to evangelize the people. The Gospel reading begins with the appointment of the seventy-two others whom he sends out in pairs to every town and place he intends to visit. Remarkably, he gives them the “dos” and “don’t” of the mission. Finally, they report their mission, and our Lord gives a concluding appraisal.
He appoints seventy-two others and sends them out in pairs, why?
The preceding chapter (Luke 9:1ff) tells us about the mission of the twelve apostles to whom the Lord gives the power and authority over demons and to cure diseases. Now our Lord is recruiting seventy-two others to function as laborers in the vast harvest.
The mission of the seventy-two reminds us of the seventy elders in the story of Moses, who would help him in the administration of the people according to God’s command (Numbers 11:16-30). The appointment of seventy-two unnamed disciples after the twelve apostles tells us that the work of evangelization is open for every Christian though in different ways.
Further, sending them in pairs shows that everyone needs someone. In the Book of Genesis (2:18), God makes it clear that it is not good for the man to be alone. A famous saying goes that “two heads are better than one.” This is very true in the missionary works as we could see in the ministry of the early Christians. Peter collaborated with John (Acts 3:1-12), Paul ministered with Barnabas at one point (Act 13:2; 14:8-18) and Silas at another time (Acts 16:16-40) and according to our Lord Jesus Christ, when two on earth agree about anything, they ask for it shall be done (Matt. 18:19).
They should carry nothing, why?
Taking nothing for the journey could have been one of the most challenging parts of the narrative. It would be unimaginable and even weird to go on a trip without a little bag for personal effects. Let us review the instruction in this regard, “carry no money, bag, no sack, no sandals;”. Here, our Lord tries to lead the disciples through the path of detachment from material concerns and to focus on the mission. In our day and age, we can attest to the amount of distraction we get from our mobile devices as we try to maintain communication and stay connected with the events around the world. One of the challenges facing most preachers in the world today is the attachment to material possessions and gains.
Added to the instruction of traveling light, the directive further tells them not to greet anyone on the road, nor move from house to house and to eat whatever that is set before them. All these relate to the same fact of detachment, which is crucial in the work of evangelization.
Moving Forward: The Fruits of Peace, Joy, and Salvation
“Into whatever house you enter, first say, peace to this household…” Peace is at the heart of the good news. Peace is not the absence of war; it means being calm in the face of tribulation and knowing that everything is in God’s hands. The world cannot give peace; instead, peace comes from God (John 14:27). Peace is both a seed and fruit of the work of evangelization. We could recall that when Jesus rose from the dead, his first statement to his disciples was “peace be unto you” (John 20:21).
The Gospel reports that the seventy-two were joyful at the success of their work. There is joy in serving the Lord, and it gives strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) that moves us to have good feelings and appreciation towards God for His power around us.
While the seventy-two rejoice about the success of their ministry, our Lord tells them to direct their joy at the salvation of their souls, which consists in having their names in the book of life in heaven. What our Lord is stating here is that our efforts in the work of God should have a long-term goal, namely, being finally with God in heaven. Our Lord Jesus Christ asked, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36).
As we reflect on the mission of the seventy-two, we need to take time to look inward and to gauge our disposition towards the good news through detachment and commitment. God bless you.
Like most kids and the last child, I loved to follow my parents whenever I see them going out. Sometimes they would try to stop me or pull a trick on me and leave without me. On one occasion, my dad was preparing to go out for an event that would not have kids in attendance, but I wanted to follow him so severely, but he declined. In between my tears, an idea jumped into my little head, “hide in the trunk of the van!” That was what I did. My heart was racing while hiding in the hot rear of the van, sweating and waiting for him to come out and drive off.
Suddenly I heard my name called several times in the house, but I couldn’t answer; I was in the wrong place and I didn’t want anyone to know. My dad was searching for me to give me some coins for candy as if to pay me for refusing to allow me to follow him. Soon it became a desperate search, and everyone became apprehensive about my sudden disappearance. Somehow, one Patricks, who helps in the house reports about seeing me around the van a while before my unexpected recession from view, and he was right; my dad found me!
In our Christian life and practice, followership or discipleship is a decisive response to God, which involves a lifetime commitment. The First Reading today (1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21) gives us a fascinating narrative about the vocation of the prophet Elisha as a disciple of the prophet Elijah. Elijah comes upon Elisha as he works on the farm and throws his cloak over him. This silent gesture speaks to the discerning mind of Elisha, who eventually gives up his twelve yokes of oxen and follows Elijah.
In the Gospel Reading (Luke 9:51-62), our Lord Jesus Christ defies some oppositions on the way as he resolutely heads towards Jerusalem. On his way, he meets three prospective followers, and their characteristic dispositions form the base his instruction on followership. Let us explore these types of followers as the framework for our reflection.
The “Comfort-Minded” Follower: Our Lord did not call the first follower. He instead jumps into the idea of following him for a reason our Lord would disclose from his response to his request, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Our Lord seemed to have answered what was going on in his mind as he would do most times when people come around him with a hidden agenda (Matt. 9:4; Mark 2:8; Luke 5:22; Luke 6:8). The problem of the first follower is the misplacement of priority. He wanted to follow for the wrong reason, and that is the desire for material comfort.
The “Dead Father” Follower: The second follower gets the call to followership from our Lord Jesus Christ, but he begs to go first and bury his father. This might sound like a good reason to answer the call in a later time, but the response from our Lord Jesus Christ says the opposite, “let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” It would be necessary to know the meaning of Jesus’ response.
First, our Lord was not asking him not to bury his father because his father was not dead yet (maybe he is old or sick). Our Lord’s statement shows that he qualifies to proclaim the good news, but he prefers to postpone the Lord’s invitation to a later time. Our Lord’s response shows that procrastination could lead to spiritual death.
The “Family-Man” Follower: The third follower agrees to follow our Lord but wants to go back home to say farewell to his family. To this follower, our Lord says, “no one sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” Here, we discover that this potential follower has a more significant commitment to his family than to the call to follow the Lord. We could recall the following words from our Lord in the Gospel of Luke (14:26), “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ didn’t mean that followership should disregard family; he was advising that family should not come before God; God comes first always. God is the author of family and any reference to family without God is a waste of time.
Moving Forward: Becoming the “Faithful Follower”
We discover the characteristics of the ideal follower from the responses of our Lord to the three followers. The faithful follower is not interested in the potential comfort from following the Lord. The First Reading tells us that Elisha gave up his farming business and followed Elijah after receiving the touch of his cloak. We often mistake serving God with the overflow of wealth in various forms and shapes, and most contemporary preachers are not making the matter simple, as they often confuse Christian followership with the gospel of prosperity.
The faithful follower does not postpone his response to the call to followership. Often, we give lousy excuses for not getting in tune with what God expects from us; we have more “dead fathers” than we need in our lives. Sometimes we think that there would be a better time to become serious with the things of God and that time would never come. The best time is now, just like Elisha followed Elijah without looking out for that best time.
The faithful follower places God above family and not the other way. Often, we get so involved with the family that we lose our needful relationship with God. Any family relationship that diminishes our connection with God is most undeserving and toxic to our spiritual growth. St. Paul in the Second Reading (Gal. 5:1, 13-18) tell us that our call involves freedom from attachment from worldly concerns that are in opposition to our spiritual wellbeing.
Today we need to reappraise our followership disposition. It is common in the world today for most people to follow people on televisions, social media, networking sites, and other platforms that encourage followership but how many of us are faithfully following our Lord Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life?
As we reflect on God’s invitation to discipleship, may we resolve to be more responsive to the Lord’s call to follow him. Have a blissful Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.
Entering the minor seminary at a very tender age, we had to go through an orientation program which includes in-depth instructions on prayer life, personal conduct, hygiene, and table etiquette. With regards to table manners, I could recall one of the student prefects telling us that we are not permitted to bite directly from a loaf of bread when served at breakfast, rather we are to eat it by breaking it off piece by piece just as much as one can chew at a time.
All the Gospel accounts of the institution of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, including St. Paul’s testimony, report that our Lord broke the bread after blessing it before giving it to his disciples to eat as his body. (Matt. 26:26-28, Mk.14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1Cor. 11:23-25). During the feeding of the five thousand, in the Gospel today (Luke 9:11b-17) we learn that our Lord broke the loaves after blessings and handed them over to the disciples before they started sharing them out to the people.
We see the “bread-breaking” trend happening after the resurrection when Cleopas and an unnamed disciple encountered Jesus on their way to Emmaus. Luke (24:30-32) tells us that the two disciples could not recognize Jesus until he blessed and broke the bread at the table that night, but he vanished from their sight at that moment of breaking the bread. In the apostolic times, the breaking of bread becomes a way of describing the prayerful unity of the people who are following the new way; namely, the community of believers in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:42,46; Acts 20:7,11).
“From Breaking to Being Broken
The breaking of bread by our Lord Jesus Christ and its subsequent re-enactment in our daily celebration of the Holy Eucharist is deeply symbolic. Reflecting on the words of the institution of the sacrament, we would discover that what we break is not just bread but Jesus Christ himself because the breaking happens after the bread and wine had become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Eucharist, our Lord becomes vulnerable in other words, “breakable” so that we can eat him. In fact, without being broken, we would not be able to have him as real food. This “brokenness” explains what he accomplished for us through his passion and death on the cross. St. Paul says that our Lord Jesus Christ did not count on his equality with God but humbled himself taking the form of a servant and being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient even unto death on a cross (Phil. 2:6)
we could relate with the events of our Lord’s “brokenness” following immediately after the institution of the Eucharist. Judas betrays him with a kiss (Luke 22:47-48), Peter denies him three times (John 19:15-27), the soldiers mock, flog, and crown him with thorns (Matt. 27:27-31), they crucify him on the cross, and he dies (John 19:17-18,30).
Moving Forward: Being Broken for one another
Jesus is not only our Lord and Savior; he is also our teacher and model. In one of his instructions, he says: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt. 1129).
Reflecting on the preceding, our participation in the Holy Eucharist should help us to replicate the brokenness of our Lord Jesus in our lives. First, there would be a need for us to break away from sin to give us a chance for worthy reception of the Lord in Holy Eucharist.
Furthermore, we need to be broken for one another by our intentional acts of service in love and charity starting from our families and communities. Our brokenness for one another would also involve forgiving each other as our Lord did at the height of his brokenness on the cross when he asked the Father to forgive his executors because they lack true knowledge (Luke 23:34).
On this Feast of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us try to make a far-reaching reappraisal of our commitment to the Holy Eucharist by working towards making intentional replication of what we celebrate; being broken for the Lord and one another.
I wish you a Happy celebration and a blessed week ahead.
Let us break bread together on our knees, (on our knees)
Let us break bread together on our knees. (on our knees)
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me. (on me)…. Joan Baez.
I love to eat almond nuts, and those who are close to me know so. Significantly almond nuts could be eaten whole natural, roasted/salted or roasted/unsalted. Whichever way the nut appears, they retain the same unchangeable essence.
In addition to the preceding description, most people believe that there is power in the number “three” as most things in life show three dimensionalities. The human person has a body, mind, and soul. We give prizes in most competitions to the first, second, and third and often rate them as gold, silver, and bronze. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Time could be in the past, the present, or the future. At any point on earth, we can be only on land, in the air, or on water.
Today we celebrate the core doctrine of the Christian faith, namely, the Holy Trinity. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity states that three distinct divine persons are subsisting in one God. To make this clearer, the Father is God (Phil. 1:2), the Son is God (Titus 2:13), and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4), but we have only one God, not three. If we go back to the analogy with almond nut, we would agree that all the three presentations of the nut (whole natural, roasted/salted, and roasted/unsalted) share one thing in common their “almondness” irrespective of those distinctions.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is primarily a mystery which human reason unaided by faith cannot completely grasp. Let us know that no analogy, including the ones above, can give the perfect description of the Holy Trinity. In the Trinity, each of the divine persons is fully God, and wherever you find any of the persons, the others are also present. Hence there is eternal unity and community in functionality which does not exist in any other reality.
We don’t see the name Trinity in the bible as most biblical critics would rightly argue, but there are convincing references that demonstrate that there are three persons in the one Godhead; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
The opening sentence in the Bible discloses the reality of the Holy Trinity. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1). Going through the original Hebrew text, we discover that “God” (Eloah) in the statement was used in the plural form that is Elohim. Furthermore, before the creation of man, God the Father said, “Let us make man in our image after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). We could also recall God the Father’s reaction to the builders of the Tower of Babel; “Come let Us go down and confuse their language” (Gen 11:7).
During the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, the reality of the Holy Trinity becomes clearer in some significant events like his baptism (Matt 3:16) as well as in some of his statements; “I will ask the Father, and he will send another advocate to be with you forever.” (John 14:16). In the Gospel of Matthew (28:19) our Lord tells his disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The First Reading today (Proverbs 8:22-31) identifies God as wisdom, and in the theatrical dialogue, we see wisdom which reflects the personality of the Holy Spirit saying that the Lord possessed him from the beginning as the forerunner of his prodigies when He was poured forth before the earth was made. The reference above would remind us of the action of the Spirit of God over the face of the deep before the creation of the world (Gen. 1:2).
In the Gospel Reading (John 16:12-15), our Lord Jesus takes time to unveil the active relationship and interdependence he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. “Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason, I told you that he (The Holy Spirit) would take from what is mine and declare it to you.”
Attempting to prove the reality of the Three Persons in One God to anyone would be ineffective if the individual’s heart is not open to receive the divine light of understanding. This statement is true because it takes God to reveal who He is to whosoever desires to know Him. We shall, at this point, turn over to look at the veritable lessons we could learn from the three persons in One God.
We Don’t Need to be of the Same Personality to be United
The above fact would be another way of describing unity in diversity. In the one Godhead, there are three persons with characteristic distinctions in their personalities but having an amazing unity. It is little wonder then that our Lord Jesus Christ made the topic of unity a focal point in his high priestly prayer. Among other things he says, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:11b).
Disunity is one of the biggest obstacles on the route of our Christian faith and practice. We degenerate into disunity when we become absolved in our personal goals and aspirations to the expense of our collective vision. Common purpose helps us to achieve our collective plans and aspirations while keeping us on the path of progress.
Commitment and Responsibility
Commitment involves dedication to a line of action while responsibility deals the avowed sense of duty in accomplishing the line of action in question. In the Holy Trinity, we discover a thorough sense of commitment and responsibility.
The Christian life is an invitation to commitment and responsibility. We can attest to the perfection in creation and God’s consistent direction from the first day of creation to this time. The ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ shows a great sense of commitment and responsibility in one instance he says, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish it” (John 4:34). The powerful impact of the Holy Spirit from His descent on the day of Pentecost until the present is also immeasurable.
Moving Forward: Living Trinity in our Christianity
Parents try as much as possible to train their children to grow up to reflect their values. God desires even more than our parents that we reflect Him in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Towards the end of the sermon on the mountain, our Lord Jesus Christ instructs that we become perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48).
As we celebrate the solemnity of the Holy Trinity, we are invited to work towards unity irrespective of our diversity. The celebration of the feast of the Holy Trinity encourages us to step up our commitment and dedication to our Christian faith and practice leveraging the power of the three-in-one.
I wish you a memorable celebration of the feast of the Holy Trinity and may you receive abundant trinitarian unction and benedictions in the new week ahead.
To possess something means to have or own the thing in question, for instance, to possess a mobile phone means that you have or own one as personal property. Another sense of the usage of the word “possess” refers to being under the influence, control, or enchantment of something, for instance, one could be under the control of one’s mobile phone, in this way, the possessor becomes the possessed. Let us keep this description in our minds as we proceed in the reflection.
The Personality and Mission of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is a person, and at the same time, God. Confusing? Well, that confusion is not a new one. The one Godhead consists of three persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy. From the Book of Genesis, we learn about the action of the Holy Spirit over the face of the deep (Genesis 1:2b).
The Old Testament did not clearly define the personality of the Holy Spirit. We rather have such descriptions like the Spirit of God working temporarily through some individuals like Moses and the seventy elders (Numbers 11:25), Joshua (Numbers 27:18), Gideon (Judges 6:34), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:1), Saul (I Samuel. 10:10), David (1 Samuel 16:13). David had so much contact with the Holy Spirit during his highly contentious rulership, and when he sinned, he begged God not to take the Holy Spirit away from him (Psalm 51:11).
The first reference to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament was when the angel Gabriel visited Mary and revealed God’s proposal for her of becoming the mother of the Savior, and she asked, “how can this happen since I am a virgin” (Luke 1:34). Responding the angel says to her, “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 holy; he will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35).
The Holy Spirit vitalized the entire ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. At his baptism, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:16). Afterwards, the Holy Spirit led him to the deserted where he fasted forty day and nights and was tempted by the devil at the end of the legendary spiritual exercise. During his sermon in the house of Cornelius, Peter mentions that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Ghost and power and he went about doing good, healing those that were oppressed by the devil because God was with him (Acts 10:38).
Before his passion and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took time to introduce the Holy Spirit to his disciples. He made the following promise, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” (John 14:16). Our Lord further indicates that the Holy Spirit is a person that the world has not known, “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows Him, you know Him because He abides with you and He will be in you.” (John 14:17).
From our Lord’s introduction of the Holy Spirit, we understand the following important characteristics:
We have further descriptions of the work of the Holy Spirit following our Lord’s introduction. He would teach and remind (John 14:26), He would convict (John 16:8), he would guide (John 16:13), He would empower (Acts 1:8), He would embolden (Acts 4:31), He would lead (Romans 8:14), He would help (Romans 8:26), He would sanctify, (2 Thess. 2:13), He would anoint (1 John 2:20, 27).
The Pentecost Encounter: Possessing the Possessors
The Pentecost is an annual festival among the Jews which comes fifty days that is seven weeks after the Passover (Deut. 16:9-12). The people also call it the feast of weeks and thanksgiving for the first fruits of the harvest. (Ex. 23:16; Numbers 28:26). So, we understand that the Pentecost is not the coming of the Holy Spirit but the apostles and some other disciples of the Lord, including the Virgin Mary, received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
Now, we need to understand what happened when the risen Lord appeared to the apostles at the Upper room within the closed door and breathed on them saying, receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22) and the event on the day of Pentecost where they experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
In the opening section of this reflection, we pointed out the distinction between possessing a mobile phone and being possessed by one when we must respond to it whenever it rings or delivers a notification. Bringing that image to what happened on the day of Pentecost we understand that the apostles already possess the Holy Spirit and on that historic day, they allowed the Holy Spirit to possess them when they gathered together in one accord and prayer.
Moving Forward: Allowing the Holy Spirit to Have you!
Some time ago, someone asked me why we prepare and pray to receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday since we were already baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and also we received Him on the day of our confirmation when we received the sealing with the Holy Spirit.
My simple answer to that question was that we couldn’t have enough of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and though many of us have Him, we need to allow Him to have us. Put in another way; we need to allow whom we possess through the sacraments to possess every aspect of our lives.
It is thus possible to have the Holy Spirit without Him having us. St. Paul made his clearer in his letter to the Galatians (5:25) where he says if you live in the Spirit walk in the Spirit. Furthermore, in the letter to the Romans (8:14), Paul adds that those who are led by the Spirit are children of God. Being led by the Spirit means allowing the Holy Spirit to possess and direct your life in all circumstances.
As we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and all those present at the Upper Room, may we strive to make ourselves available for the awesome impartation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we can bear His gracious fruits. Have a blessed day.
Have you considered the energy and power behind the word “up,” especially when it comes before or after another word? Let us consider some examples: upward, upcoming, upgrade, update, wake up, brighten up, open up, take up, stir up, build up, and look up. You would observe that when one removes the “up” from these words, they tend to lose their vitality and dynamism.
In the First Reading (Acts 7:55-60), we read the story of the death of Stephen; the first Christian martyr. The Jewish authorities at the time accused him blasphemy for preaching about the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and hatched a plan to stone him to death. In the narrative, we learn that Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and looking up to heaven; he saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
The Gospel Reading (John 17:20-26) on the other hand tells us about the priestly prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ which focuses on the oneness of his followers and their need for divine provision and protection. The passage starts with our Lord Jesus Christ Looking up to heaven. There is something about looking up that the liturgy of the word of this Sunday wants us to learn especially following the ascension of our Lord into heaven which left the apostles gazing up towards heaven (Acts 1:10).
Looking up means redirecting our attention; changing our focus from a lower region to a higher one. In the Book of Psalms (121:1-2) David exclaims, “I lift up my eyes to the hills- from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth”. The life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ show a constant looking up to heaven for divine encounter.
After his baptism he looked up, the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove, and the voice of the Father comes saying, “This is my son the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16-17). Before the miracle of the five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven and gave thanks to God, and there was multiplication that fed five thousand people excluding women and children (Mark 9:14-16)
Moving Forward: Look Up to God!
To look up to heaven means looking up to God. In the Letter to the Colossians (3:1-2), St. Paul instructs as follows; “If you have been raised with Christ seek the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above not on things that are on earth”. From these words of St. Paul, we understand that Looking up is a mindset, in fact, a heavenly mindset and an important key to success. The apostles would receive the Holy Spirit after the ascension of the Lord because they went up to the UPPER ROOM from where they kept looking up to heaven in prayer (Acts 1:13-14).
In life, we often look up to people and to certain events to take us from one point to the other. Often, we get more stressed than blessed, more frustrated than favored, and more setbacks than success when we keep looking around for help and assistance. David says my help shall come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
We need to look up to God because His love would never fail (Psalm 136), and He is always faithful (1 Cor. 1:9). We need to look up to God because He would supply all our needs according to His riches in glory (Phil.4:19). We need to look up to God because He cares about us even when our closest relatives abandon us (Psalm 27:10). We need to look up to God because His goodness and mercies are forever (Psalm 23:6).
As we celebrate the last but one Sunday of Easter and look forward to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, let us stop looking back and looking around but resolve to look up to the Lord whose steadfast love and mercies never end. If you don’t look up, you screw up and God will not raise you up, and you may end up giving up. So brace up as we move up to the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Have a glorious Sunday and a beautiful week ahead. God bless you!
Growing up, we had seminarians from the major seminaries come to our parish during the summer holidays (long vacation) for their yearly apostolic work. We, the children in the catechism class, normally look forward to having them because they come with loads of stories and lessons apart from their friendly and playful dispositions. The sad part would be when they would end their apostolic work and leave the parish; we always had tears to shed, especially for the good ones.
I could still recall that when we go about in the parish church lamenting that the seminarians would be leaving us the priests would often calm us down by promising us that we would have better ones come again and they would teach us better things and tell us more beautiful stories. Those words often help to calm our agitated minds as we hope for fresh teachers and guides in the future.
From this opening story, one could imagine the amount of tension the apostles felt when our Lord Jesus Christ announced that he would be going away from them soon. The Gospel of John (16:6-7) reports the following response from our Lord to their agitation:
“But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”
The liturgy of the word this Sunday introduces us to the person and mission of the Holy Spirit. After his earthly mission, our Lord Jesus Christ promises to send another advocate, the Holy Spirit, to consolidate his work in the community of believers and to be with them forever (John 14:16).
The First Reading today tells us about the resolution of one of the internal conflicts that confronted the early Christian community. Some people in the community were insisting that the mosaic circumcision must be a precondition for salvation and that brought a lot of misunderstanding in the early Church.
Being a delicate issue that could potentially cause disaffection and disintegration in the community, the apostles gathered together and sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Afterward, the council declares thus:
“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farwell.”
From the above statement, we understand that the early Church was dependent on the Holy Spirit to make decisions. This point supports the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel today where he says that the Holy Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of what I have told you (John 14:26).
At this point, the disciples may have forgotten that our Lord Jesus Christ broke the barriers separating the Jews and the Gentiles, the righteous, and the sinful. They may have forgotten that he converted a Samaritan woman by the well (John 4:7 ff). They may have forgotten that he brought salvation to the sinful tax collector, Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2-10). They could not remember that he cured the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:25-30); surely, they needed the Holy Spirit to teach and remind them of all these.
Moving Forward: Giving Attention to Our Teacher and Guide
A good teacher with inattentive students would be running a chaotic class. Good students, on the other hand, display commendable traits which include the ability to pay attention to the teacher, understanding, and proper application of learning, which leads to success.
For us Christians, the Holy Spirits remains our ideal teacher and guide. The Christian life is impracticable and impossible without the Holy Spirit. Without Him, in our plans and aspirations, we make mistakes and fall short of our expectations. Imagine if the early Church had to decide on the admission of the uncircumcised in the community by themselves without the superlative direction of the Holy Spirit.
In our world today, we could see the obtrusion of teachers in various forms and shapes. We have some people who claim to know more than God Himself and leading gullible minds away. Some time ago, a preacher claimed to have a telephone number to heaven and placed a call as the service was going and making the helpless congregation to believe that he was talking to God. Today, most people pay more attention to electronic teachers like their television, telephones, and internet more than they would to the Holy Spirit. It is now more about what is in the news than what is in God’s word.
Our life on earth would become more worthwhile and spiritually effectual if we relied on the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is within us but mostly undiscovered and unserviced. As we march towards the celebration of the great descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, let us start refocussing our minds on the importance and necessity of the Holy Spirit as our teacher and guide.
God bless you and have a glorious Sunday and a wonderful week ahead.
Some time ago while giving a reflection on the Gospel of John where Jesus said “if you love me you will keep my commandment” (John 14:15), I asked the congregation why the theme of love is constantly repeated in most of the readings every liturgical year. As one would expect, there were numerous answers and references, but two of them stood out for me; “we cannot help but talk about love” and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). If we put the two answers together in a sentence, we could say, “we cannot help but talk about love because God is love.”
The Gospel narrative (John 13:31-33a,34-35) recalls the Last Supper of our Lord with the apostles. It is important to note that our Lord Jesus Christ begins the instruction on love as a new commandment when Judas left the dinner table to conclude his plans to betray him; hatred gives way for love to express itself. The words of our Lord run thus;
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
When our Lord talks about a new commandment, any active mind would like to know what that the old commandment entails and why the new is important. The old commandment of love states, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Lev. 19:18).
Our Lord’s prescription does not diminish the importance and value of the old commandment but takes it further and gives it a new dimension. In the old commandment, one uses oneself as a measure for love, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Here, there is a presumption that one loves oneself to the extent that he or she is ready to give the same quality of love to another person.
It is understandable that when God gave this instruction, there was no sustainable example of love that would serve as a measure of love. However, at this point when our Lord was about to demonstrate what true love entails “laying down one life for others” (John 15:13) he uses himself as a perfect measure for love; so, he says, “love one another as I loved.”
Our Lord was telling them to stand in for one another as he stood for them, to go the extra mile for one another as he did, making a sacrifice for one another as he would do with his own life. The perfect way to love is not by using the standard of what we do to ourselves because most people lack love for themselves not to mention loving others. Love should, therefore, follow the fashion and style of our Lord Jesus Christ not by our approach and inclinations.
Moving Forward: Living by the Love Identity
The final statement of the Gospel today leaves us with so much to digest. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”
Reading the Acts of the Apostle (11:19-30), we understand that persecution broke out against the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, and they were scattered throughout the whole region spreading the good news everywhere. Now, after observing their rare character and selfless love, which includes sharing, the Antiochians gave them a nickname; Christians, that means those who are living their lives after the pattern of Christ. And the pattern of the life of Christ entails selfless giving even to the point of death.
Love should be the perfect identity of every Christian. With the provisions of the new commandment, love is not how you feel; it is what you do for another without conditions and limitations in the way and manner of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is very unfortunate that many people understand love from the angle of what they could potentially gain from what they love.
True Christian love does not ask “what is in there for me” but asks “what more can I do for you.” The Gospel Reading today is a veritable challenge for all of us Christians to live according to the provisions of our identity, namely, “Christlikeness.” Christlikeness involves forgiveness, charity, selfless service, helping and not hindering others, honesty, truthfulness, peace, and harmony.
As we march into a new week, let us continually pay attention to the challenge of reflecting the Christian identity in all aspects of our lives. Have a blissful Sunday and a glorious week ahead.
On every fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church celebrates the Good Shepherd Sunday, and most reflections focus on our Lord Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd par excellence. The Gospel of this Liturgical Year (C) is characteristically different from other years not only because of the briefness of the Gospel account but more significantly because of the focus on the sheep than on the shepherd.
Without followership leadership has no job, in the same way, the sheep makes the work of the shepherd worthwhile. However, a good shepherd with a bad sheep is a disaster. In the Gospel today (John 10:27-30), our Lord Jesus Christ sets the parameters for the good sheep vis-a-vis the good shepherd.
Hearing the Voice of the Shepherd and Following
The Gospel starts with our Lord’s declaration, “my sheep hear my voice.” Apart from visual and touch recognition, voice recognition is one of the factors that one could use to identify others and maintain familiarity. In most areas where sheep farming is prevalent, it is very common to see a shepherd leading a substantial number of sheep just by making some audible sounds and marching ahead of them as they follow.
The verb “to hear” in Biblical Hebrew is Shema, and it implies giving full attention and obedience. We could recall the eternal instruction, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4). When our Lord says my sheep hear my voice, he was reinstating the Shema which calls for listening to the instructions of the Shepherd and following accordingly.
Inattention and disobedience are among the major challenges facing the practice of Christian life, and they are on high demand by God. How do we respond to the instructions we receive from sermons and spiritual exhortations? Are we still paying attention to the commandments which our Lord Jesus Christ summarized with the theological virtue of love? (Matt. 22:37-40)
The Benefits of Being a Good Sheep
Obedience comes with blessings. For the sheep who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow, the Lord promises eternal life and salvation; “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” If you ask an average Christian what he or she would like God to accomplish in his or her life, you will hear things like good health, financial security, general well-being, and success; only a very few would remember to ask for eternal life and salvation of the soul.
It is very unfortunate that we often desire everything good but overlook the most essential; that which would be of immense benefits to our souls. In one of his instructions, our Lord Jesus Christ asked; “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8:36). Thinks about this!
Moving Forward: The Good Sheep Project
The Lord intends that we become good sheep of His sheepfold, and this would be for our lasting good. There may be trials on the route to the response to the divine call, but the Second Reading tells us that the good sheep would survive the time of distress because they washed their robes white in the blood of the lamb (Rev. 7:14). Concerning the eternal benefits of the good sheep St. John says:
“For this reason, they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple…. They will not hunger or thirst anymore… And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”. (Rev. 7:16-17).
The liturgy of the word today invites us to give full attention to the resurrected Lord and the Good Shepherd who is ready and willing to lead us to eternal life if we resolve to follow whenever he calls. Have a beautiful Sunday and Happy Mother’s Day to our lovely mothers.
How would you feel if you happen to face someone you hurt so badly in the past? Would you shield your face or face your shame? Peter falls into this situation today in the Gospel (John 21:1-19) when the Lord visited them one early morning by the sea of Tiberias, and he had to answer the question about his exclusive love for the Lord.
It might be easy to blame Peter for his despicable denial of having any knowledge about his Lord and Master at the most critical time of his life. The Bible tells us that when the cock crowed, Peter realized that he screwed up three times and wept bitterly (Luke 22:62). It is important to note here too that he could not go back to say sorry before our Lord was taken away for crucifixion; so, his narrative with the Lord had a hurtful ending.
When we hear that the disciples were afraid and locked themselves up in the Upper Room, it may not only be for fear of the Jews as the Gospels tell us (John 20:19) but also for the shame of deserting their Lord and Master (Mark 14:50).
The Gospel today is filled with symbolic locations, words, and actions; we shall explore these while focusing on the theme of our reflection which is the resurrection of love.
“I am Going Fishing”
The Gospel begins with Simon Peter declaring his desire to go fishing. We could recall that fishing was the former carer of Peter and the two sons of Zebedee; James and John before their call to become fishers of men by following our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 4:19).
Going to fishing means going back to the former way of life. It shows hopelessness, despair, and disconnection from their vocation. The resurrected Lord seems to be “elusive”; appearing and disappearing and one could feel the pressure on them to back off from their vocation.
“But that Night they Caught Nothing.”
When we follow our route instead of the Lord’s we miss the mark. When we depend on our strength instead of depending on the Lord, we labor in vain (Psalm 127:1-2). For the entire night, they caught nothing because they were in the wrong place doing the wrong thing and the Lord was not with them.
Jesus Appears on the Shore
God knows every bit of our struggles, and He often comes at the points of need. Jesus comes at the end of their human struggle to grant them divine assistance. Appearing, he asked, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”. Our Lord rightly calls them children because their action showed it.
Knowing the futility of their previous night, our Lord instructs them to cast the net over the right side of the boat, and they made a very big catch. It was at this point that they realized that they have been on the wrong the whole of the night and catching nothing.
Breakfast with the Lord
The apostles in this narrative get to the shore to discover that the Lord had breakfast ready for them; fish on a charcoal fire and bread. Note here that they had nothing to eat before, but now something is waiting for them.
Here we remember the multiplication of five loaves of bread and two fish when the people had nothing to eat in the desert place (John 6:1-14). St. Paul was right when he says that the Lord will supply all our needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).
“Do you Love Me more than these?”
After breakfast, our Lord takes Peter aside to ask him the question above. You can imagine the eye-to-eye contact between our Lord and Peter as he presents the three-time question while Peter answers with some disquiet in him as he possibly recalls the three times, he denied the Lord by the charcoal fire the night before the crucifixion.
Love is not just what we profess; people do so daily; love is rather what we practice; it is a verb, not just a noun. We notice that each time Peter says I love you Lord he tells him what to do something, feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep. We understand here that our Lord not only forgives Peter but also commissions him for the task ahead. Notice here that our Lord does not revisit any of the past events he rather focuses on the future.
Moving Forward: Let Love Arise!
The high point of today’s encounter with the resurrected Lord is the narrative of love. Love is at the heart of our relationship with God, and without love, there would be no God just as love cannot exist without God because God is love (1 John 4:8).
Our Lord’s visit to the group early in the morning after their fruitless search for fish is a deep expression of God’s love for us amid our confusion and fruitless search for meaning. Our Lord comes with the message of love and reconciliation with those who abandoned him during his suffering, and he beautifully does that with the presentation of a hot breakfast after the cold night.
Do you reach out with love to those who denied and abandoned you at the most critical moment in your life? The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ invites us to allow love to rise and reign in our lives and relationships. Love is not an option that you can take or leave; it is a commandment (John 13:34-35).
As we continue to celebrate the joy of the resurrection, it is important for us to personalize our Lord’s question to Peter, “do I love him more than these (my job, wealth, relationships, family, education, and my life)? Your answer would be as good as what your life would become.
Have a blissful Sunday and a lovely week ahead.