Note to the Reader:
Fr. Howard will be away from Franciscan Retreats most of this week.
Rather than leave the week blank,
the homilies are a repeat of the 2008 homilies for the same week.
Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 24
Feast of the Ascension
Today, on this Seventh Sunday of Easter, we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus. The Gospel for the Feast is taken from that of St. Matthew, c. 28. It begins with the rather strange words: “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshipped, but they doubted.” Jesus has now been with them some three years, lived with them, taught them, performed many signs and miracles before their eyes. Now, as he is ready to go to the Father, they saw him, worshipped him, but they doubted him. Do you mean to tell me that after all they had been through with Jesus, after all they had seen and heard, they still doubted? Yep, that’s what it says.
All that they had gone through with Jesus, all they had seen and heard, did not change them from being human. And I believe it is true to say that as long as we are human we will have doubts. I can certainly see this in myself. I was born a cradle Catholic, went to Catholic grade school for eight years, spent somewhere around 16 years studying in the seminary and at Catholic University. I have been a professor in the Major Seminary, pastor of parishes, associate pastor, a hospital chaplain, in retreat work for many years and guess what — I still have doubts. And I will continue to have doubts until I die. Human beings doubt. It is as simple as that.
But I have noticed that it does get better as it goes on. At least it has for me. From the time I grew aware of the spiritual plan of Jesus as it is expressed in the 12 Steps, I have had fewer and fewer doubts. Things are clearer. I have a pretty good idea about what I am supposed to be and do as a follower of Jesus. But I still have some doubts. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost to bring us all truth and I can see this working in my life and in the lives of others. But despite all this and despite the fact that Jesus and the Spirit will be with us until the end of time, we still have doubts.
Jesus, please help me to receive the gifts of your Spirit and come to know you and accept your way, truth and life more and more.
Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter, May 25
John 16: 29-33
Do I detect a bit of complacency in the disciples in this Gospel selected to be read today? The disciples said to Jesus, “Now you are speaking plainly, and not in any figure of speech. Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have any one question you.” It is almost like they are saying: We got it, Lord. Now at last we understand what you are saying. Go no further! You don’t have to worry about teaching us anymore.
Dangerous words, complacent words, words indicating the disciples are pleased with the progress they have made. They are all set. They need go no further. I remember one time going out to play golf and I had a really good day. I shot 72 and was proud as a peacock. I had that course tamed! The next day I played the same course again and shot an 86. That’s what complacency does.
Jesus knew this. He proceeded to tell his know-it-all-disciples that they would scatter during his passion when push came to shove. They would leave Jesus alone. And that’s exactly what happened. If they really understood, they would never have deserted Jesus. Chalk up another one for complacency.
Let’s try not to fall into this trap. We never have it made. There is always room for change, growth, learning, improvement, progress. We learn and grow hopefully until the day we die. Complacency is a form of pride.
Lord, keep us humble and always willing to be open and to learn.
Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter, May 26
John 17: 1-11
Today’s Gospel compliments yesterday’s about complacency. In today’s Gospel, Jesus prays to the Father: “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” This and this alone is eternal life.
How can we read these words and continue to strive more and more for the false gods of our world? Worldly possessions, worldly goods, millions and millions of dollars, lead to our friend complacency that we spoke about yesterday. Remember the parable in the Gospel about the man who had such a big harvest his barn wouldn’t hold it all? What did he do? He built bigger barns and when he had everything in place, he figured he had it made. Eat, drink, and be merry, he said. I’m set for life! And that very night, he died. Where did all of his complacency get him? In the parable he is called a fool. He fooled himself. Again we are reminded to put first things first. Eternal life first of all involves a knowledge and continued awareness of the one true God and the one whom he sent, his Son Jesus Christ. Without this, all the rest equals zilch.
Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter, May 27
John 17: 11-19
The priestly prayer of Jesus continues in today’s Gospel. The end is near and his prayer is a farewell address in which he prays for his disciples that they be consecrated in the truth: ”Holy Father, consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.”
To consecrate means to set something or someone aside for a holy purpose. We encounter this idea in sacramental theology concerning the three Sacraments that impart a character to the recipient. I can remember in grade school studying the old Baltimore Catechism that this “character” was referred to as an indelible mark. At that time all of us knew what an indelible pen was. It contained ink that wouldn’t wash off when you got it all over your hands as we were wont to do. It was there until it literally wore off, much to our Mom’s chagrin. When we heard of this indelible mark or character, I remember looking all over my body trying to find it.
The three Sacraments that give this character are, of course, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. Because of this character, these Sacraments may be received only once. Some theologians attribute a quasi-character to the Sacrament of Marriage, which on occasion, however, may be received more than once.
All of us then have been set aside in the truth. We are special and it is good to remember that. It is up to us to see to it that we protect this special gift, this gift of God’s grace, and do all we can to have it bear fruit, to be what God wants us to be.
Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter, May 28
John 21: 20-26
The priestly prayer of Jesus continues. In today’s Gospel, he prays for all those who will believe in him through the preaching of the disciples. This wonderful prayer of Jesus makes those who preach the Gospel pleased and happy. Jesus gives credence to our preaching and gives it a certain efficacy. We know that the prayer of Jesus is efficacious; what he prays for happens.
Those who will come to believe through the preaching of the disciples include, of course, the Gentiles. Jesus wishes us all to be one in our love for each other. There is to be no place in the Christian community for bickering, jealousy, and lording it over others. In modern times, we pray for the unity in and among our parish communities. If you are aware of any disunity, bickering, gossip, holier than thou activity in your parish, see what can be done to bring unity instead of division. The object of our prayers, work and cooperation is the same for all: love of God and love of one another. This deserves our mature cooperation, not our childlike complaining and murmuring.
Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter, May 29
John 21: 15-19
Say what you will about the weaknesses of St. Peter, he loved Jesus very much. Today’s Gospel reconciles Peter with Jesus after his threefold denial of him in the courtyard. Three times Peter denied he ever knew Jesus and three times Jesus asks him if he really loves him. Peter’s answer each time is, “Lord, you know that I love you.” And after each affirmation of love, Jesus affirms Peter as head of his Church: Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.
It is obvious that Peter loved Jesus very much. There is nothing really that he would not have done for Jesus. It was his great love, paradoxically, that set him up for his goofs and denials. If he hadn’t loved Jesus so much he would have never followed him into the courtyard during his passion; he would have fled the scene with all the others. But his great love brought him into the courtyard where the denials took place.
And I am sure it is the same with us. We all love Jesus a bunch, yet from time to time we deny him and follow our false gods. At such times, let us pray that an awareness of our great love for Jesus will come to us and our actions will not let us down.
Lord, you know well that I love you. Keep me constantly aware of that love.
Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter, May 30
John 21: 20-25
There is a note in my Bible concerning the verses of today’s Gospel. As I read them, I wondered if indeed these final verses of John’s Gospel were written by John himself or added by another writer after John’s death. Then I read this footnote: “This whole scene takes on more significance if the disciple (John) is already dead. The death of the Apostolic generation caused problems in the Church because of a belief that Jesus was to have returned first. Loss of faith sometimes resulted (see I Peter 3: 4).”
There was a rumor in the early Church that Jesus would return before the disciples died. Such a rumor had been associated with John. His death, then, caused concern in the community, so that the disciple (author) who added this final chapter of the Gospel explains that Jesus had not promised that the beloved disciple, John, would life forever.
The final verses of John’s Gospel contain an exaggeration perhaps, but one that focuses on the depth and magnificence of Jesus’ revelation to all of us. The author of these final verses is quite obviously in awe of Jesus’ accomplishments. We too should bow before Jesus always with awe and deepest reverence.