Second Sunday of Easter, April 11
John 20: 19-31
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland……” (Gen. 1: 1).
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1).
“The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” (Gen. 2: 7).
“And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20: 22).
I am beginning this homily for the Second Sunday of Easter with the above four quotes from the Scriptures, two from the Book of Genesis and two from the Gospel of St. John. In these quotes we are able to see a great deal of similarity. Both the Book of Genesis and the Gospel according to John begin with the same phrase: In the beginning; and both Genesis and the Gospel of John have God “breathing” upon what he was working on. The Hebrew word ruah means breath, wind, or spirit and is used in both of the Scripture incidents cited. Both Genesis and John have God or Jesus breathing life into something new. In Genesis God breathes new life into the clay of the ground from which he formed man and woman. Creation is something new. Something now exists where before it did not. In John, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into the community of believers. This is new life. Something new exists that did not exist before. And wonderful things are going to happen.
The uneducated, doubting, and unsure disciples of the Lord are transformed into courageous, knowledgeable and assertive followers. The marks of the suffering servant that we spoke of last Friday, boldness, accepting of suffering, mighty and courageous, with the well-trained tongue of a teacher, all exist now where they did not exist before.
The same transformation has taken place in us with the reception of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. We were born from our mothers as fallen human beings: greedy, lustful, violent, selfish, resentful, unforgiving and hateful, just to mention a few. Through Baptism and Confirmation and the breath of the minister in both Sacraments, we are transformed – given the ability – to be loving, compassionate, forgiving, serving, gentle, suffering people. We are a new people.
This whole Easter Season, beginning with the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, reminds us of what we are now and how we are to act. A whole new set of values has been breathed into us by God. Where once there was nothing, now we see the daughters and the sons of God.
Let’s not forget who we are and the gifts of new life we have been given.
Monday of the Second Week of Easter, April 12
John 3: 1-8
I believe that it was St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote that there are seven Sacraments because seven corresponds to the seven necessities or needs of physical life. And he writes that there is a balance between the physical and the spiritual. We all have to be born in order to be, we grow, to grow we must eat, we all do dumb things, we all get sick and we all have some sort of calling or vocation in life. I feel quite sure that if Jesus had given us 10 Sacraments, Thomas would have found 10 corresponding physical necessities to balance them off.
Anyhow, just as we must be born physically from our mothers, we must also be born spiritually through our Baptism. This ties in with what we were talking about yesterday: It is through our spiritual birth that we become new creatures. Baptism welcomes us into God’s family; we become the daughters and sons of the Divine Family. Quite a difference from the person born in physical birth. And just as we have a loyalty, I hope, to the family into which we were born physically, we are also to have a loyalty to our Divine Family. The virtues of obedience, listening, cooperation, respect and awe that are necessary in our physical families are also necessary in the Divine Family. The one indicates how it is going to be in the other. If I disobey my physical parents and disrespect them, I will also disobey and disrespect God. Actions speak louder than words.
How am I doing as a daughter or son of my family with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter, April 13
John 3: 7-15
“Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen.”
In our Gospel for today’s Liturgy, Jesus questions whether Nicodemus will be able to understand the “heavenly things” that he will reveal. Jesus is able to reveal these things because he is the only one who was actually in God’s presence. Many of us have no trouble at all believing what Jesus said. It is kind of like the old bumper sticker I once saw on a car: Jesus said it, I believe it, and that settles it. Well, almost! Those of us who are “cradle Catholics” have an easier time with a lot of Jesus’ revelations than someone who is not. It is obvious that Nicodemus didn’t have a clue about all of this being reborn and so on that Jesus was talking about. Many yet today do not either. For that matter, all of us depend on God’s grace and his helping our unbelief.
On Easter day we told the story from an ancient homily of Jesus searching for Adam after his death on the cross and his descent into the underworld. When Jesus finally found him, he said to Adam, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
During this Easter Season let us all pray for Christ’s gift of light that with it our faith in all that he has revealed to us may increase a hundredfold.
Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter, April 14
John 3: 16-21
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
Verse 16 of John’s 3rd chapter is a bit different from some other references to the “world” in Sacred Scripture. Any number of times, we are told to have nothing to do with the things of the world. For example, we read in Romans 12: 2 that we are not to conform any longer to the pattern of the world. And we read in John 18: 36 where Jesus tells us: “My kingdom is not of this world.” Yet, we see today’s in Gospel that God did not hate the world, but rather loves it. He created all the earthly beauty we are so used to seeing here in Minnesota. The negativity we see in the Scriptures about the world has to do with our making idols and false gods of the riches of the world, the power of the world, and so on.
Today’s reading tells us that God loves the world. The Greek word kosmos is used in John 3: 16 for the word world. The word kosmos can also denote the world as “the universal community of humankind.” So this quote from the Scriptures can be read to mean that God so loved the world, this universal community of humankind, that he gave his only Son to bring this community eternal life. In this sense, the world is people. Once again, our faith in Jesus is required for this eternal life. Some of the world believes, some does not. Let us pray and work for the spread of our faith that we hold so dear to the many unbelievers of our world.
Thursday of the Second Week of Easter, April 15
John 3: 31-36
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.”
Our Gospel for our Liturgy today gets into the topic of eternal life. Eternal life is a very difficult concept to really nail down. It is probably impossible to define it, though there are many descriptions of it. In my own limited knowledge I do not think that eternal life is essentially about time, that there is going to be no end to it, even though eventually it probably comes down to the fact that it will last forever.
John 17: 3 is a classic place to go in the Scriptures to find out about eternal life. There we read: “This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” I read in a footnote in my Bible that this verse of Scripture was clearly added in the editing of the Gospel of John as a reflection on the preceding verse; Jesus nowhere else refers to himself as Jesus Christ.
In John 17: 3, then, eternal life involves knowing God and Christ. Knowing them means regarding them as existing and having them as part of your life. This makes eternal life, then, a condition, a manner of living. I possess God the Father and his Son, Jesus, as my way, truth and life. My life centers around them here on earth and in the hereafter. Eternal life is living the life of Jesus whose life is also the Father’s life. When we are born again by Baptism or conversion and do our very best to live life as loving, compassionate, serving, forgiving, suffering, happy, peaceful, kind and gentle people, we are progressively living eternal life. The culmination will come in our life after death when our condition will be complete and totally fulfilled, when I am indeed holy as he is holy.
Still confused? Join the club – so am I. But I believe it is good we cannot wholly find the words to figure all of this out. This way it adds a bit of mystery to our Godhead and gives us something to look forward to in the life to come.
Friday of the Second Week of Easter, April 16
John 6: 1-15
Today’s Gospel is John’s rendition of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. For us, this story is an anticipation of the time when Jesus will nourish us with his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. To receive Eucharist is to be like Jesus in the world. It is our participation in the eternal life we spoke of yesterday.
Many times during life we wonder about our own worth. We say: What good am I among so many with my few gifts and talents? By ourselves I think we all realize we can do very little. But when we put ourselves together with a lot of others, the few become the many. And when all of us put together give the best we have, no matter how small it may be, our combined efforts will be more than sufficient for whatever.
I can also take the few gifts and talents I have, surrender them to Jesus, put him in charge of my using them, and he will make much out of a little. All we have to do is get out of his way. I saw this happen in caring for my developmentally handicapped brother after the death of my parents. I surely didn’t have what it took to take care of him, but I surrendered him to Jesus’ care, did the best I could with what I had, and everything worked out just great.
If we do our best and then let God be God, everything will work out fine according to his plan.
Saturday of the Second Week of Ester, April 17
John 6: 16-21
Today’s Gospel from St. John’s 6th chapter casts a little more light on what we were talking about yesterday. Just because I surrender my life to God, just because I put him in the center of my life, doesn’t mean there will be no storms or crises in my life. Despite our surrendering to him, we will still have many fears, illnesses, crises, grief and hurts in our lives. The good part of all this is: If I surrender all of this to him instead of trying to carry it all alone, I will find the load easier to bear. We do much better in life with Jesus than we do without him. Man, I’ve proved that to myself a million times!
“It is I; do not be afraid.” Powerful words, indeed.