The Ultimate Victory Over Darkness

The other day, I was planning four faith-sharing sessions for Advent. A  “job hazard” for the liturgist is always living in the future — always planning for the next liturgical season.

For others, living in the future means hoping to buy some new gadget, receive a promotion, achieve some accomplishment and on and on. At the same time, too much “future living” can be dangerous because we can miss all the goodness that is already at hand, right before our eyes.

As we near the end of this liturgical season of Ordinary Time, we always hear Gospels about the end times that call for us to look into the future. These Gospels paint a dark and dreary picture of calamity and doom and we often dismiss them.

The imagery in our Gospel this week is no exception. We are tempted to ask, “When, Lord?” When Jesus answers, “No one knows”, this is our call to pay attention to the present. Now is the time for the in-breaking of Christ. Now is what counts.

There is inevitable darkness in our lives. Jesus teaches us to find in this darkness his in-breaking presence — here and now. We can come to hope in Jesus’ abiding presence through very human ways.

Often, when we face difficulties, it is others who come to us with a word of comfort or insight, helping us to see more clearly, giving us strength to make changes in our lives through their presence and compassion.

We don’t find Jesus in the clouds but here on earth; we don’t await victory over darkness only at the end of time, but here and now. Jesus has given us all we need. We need to live like he did, with compassion and understanding, wisdom and care, love and hope. The future holds no fear for us.

Adapted Renew International Year B

Who Do You Say I Am?

I don’t know exactly how many times in the four Gospel accounts of the New Testament Jesus asks other people to follow him. But it’s well more than 20. The whole question of “Who is willing to follow Jesus Christ?” is pretty much the defining question of Christianity.
Some may ask it personally of you : “You mean you believe all of this stuff about forgiveness, and loving enemies, and this resurrection from the dead?” However it’s worded, the whole matter of following Jesus is central to living the Christian faith.

The question becomes, “What does it actually mean to follow Jesus, especially in modern times, or in middle- or upper-middle class North America?” If you’re going to take the words of Jesus seriously – those ones about “losing your life for his sake” and “denying yourself” – well, what’s your life going to look like?

What does it mean to follow Jesus in your life, and in these times? In our Gospel, Peter recoils at Jesus’ revelation that as “the Christ” he must “suffer greatly…be rejected…be killed, and rise after three days.” Peter is so aghast at the words of Jesus about suffering and death that he fails to hear the most important part of the revelation about who Jesus is and what he is to accomplish. He fails to grasp that through death Jesus will be raised to new life.

Today, Jesus asks us “Who do you say I am?” We may quickly answer, “You are the Christ.” However, we may hesitate when we hear Jesus say, “Take up your cross and follow me.” We must lose our life for the sake of others. this is the difficult lesson to be learned. We cannot avoid dying to self if we wish to rise to new life with Jesus.

How do we die to self? We must die to our way of thinking [taking the easy way of self-interest,] and embrace how God thinks [carrying the cross of goodness, justice, integrity]. Or we must empty ourselves for the good of another even when we are tired or frustrated or don’t like the other person in need.

On our own, living the paschal mystery would be just about impossible. Why we can embrace te dying is because Jesus has already shown us the way. The only way to follow Jesus is to die to self.

A New Commandment

There is a literary device novelists, playwrights and screen writers sometimes use known as a flashback. A flashback fills in details that are helpful to us, the viewer or reader, to understand the unfolding story and/or to remind us of previous incidents. Today’s Gospel functions as a flashback for us. The context is Jesus’ farewell discourse which really happened before Jesus’ passion, death and Resurrection. Now we read these words after those events and hear his words in a new light.

It is only in the Resurrection that we begin to understand Jesus’ final command: “love one another as ‘i have loved you.” This commandment to love one another requires a new way of living our lives for the other without counting the cost; dying to self for the common good. Our dying to self reveals the measure of our love for the other.

Known by the Shepherd

My experience with sheep is limited. I have watched them grazing from a distance. I’ve walked among them on my uncle’s farm and found them skittish and aloof. I am allergic to wool.

Most of what I’ve heard about sheep is unflattering. They are reputed to be stupid, lacking in initiative and likely to fall over cliffs or entangle themselves in brush. They are not playful. Lambs have a winsome charm, but the adult animal is a little boring. Rams are distinguished by their horns. Although there may be some variation in color, most sheep resemble every other sheep in the flock. To see one sheep is to have seen them all.

And there is no such thing as an independent or self-made sheep. A sheep needs the shepherd to guide and care for it and – in dire straits – to rescue it. There is nothing sentimental about this relationship: for the sheep it is a matter of survival, and for the shepherd a matter of economy. The sheep are valuable property, not pets to be cuddled.

In our Gospel today, Jesus names himself the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd knows his sheep as individuals. Each one is worthy of his care and attention. Today, let us rest a bit in what the Good Shepherd offers us when we live the paschal mystery. For all our efforts to dying to self for the sake of the other, they do not equal the gift of self that Jesus gives us.

Let us rest a bit this Sunday, basking in Jesus’ care and protection, listening to his voice calling us to his loving embrace, This, too, is living the paschal mystery.

“Peace Be With You”

This isn’t Ordinary Time but a season of purposeful time. On this Second Sunday of Easter, we continue to remember the events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus and marvel in the light of the Risen Lord. As we do so, we find our identity, as the body of Christ.

Eastertide is about the resurrection of Jesus; yes, but it also and perhaps especially about the new life he opens up for all in the body of Christ and the unstoppable mission on which he sends us as his disciples. It’s a mission of making sure the poor get good news, of releasing captives (and welcoming them back into our communities!), healing and restoring the sick, the lame, and the blind, witnessing to and joining the work of God’s kingdom whenever and wherever it may be found, and declaring God’s saving love and power that brings us into eternal life through Jesus Christ by our words and our actions.

We haven’t seen the risen Jesus in person with our eyes, yet many of us believe. Many of us can testify that “the Spirit bears witness with our Spirit that we are children of God.” Still all of us, at times; and some of us, nearly all the time, struggle with belief, just like Thomas in the story from John’s Gospel. This story comes as a radical shift in tone. This story is for those who haven’t yet believed or seen or felt something of the resurrection of Jesus.

Three times in the Gospel the risen Lord addresses the gathered “Peace be with you.” What is this peace He brings?  It is a peace that allays fears, empowers forgiveness and prompts us to accept that suffering and death is the doorway to new life.

When we live this “Peace of Christ”, our lives are marked by self-giving, forgiveness and genuine care for the other – even our enemies. As we offer the “Peace of Christ” today, let us remember, we move from bright lights to shadows, from joyous determination to fearful confusion. And the good news in this story is that our risen Lord comes to us wherever we are, however we are, and brings us what we need to believe, never condemning us for our doubts but meeting us in them.

Do You Also Want to Leave?

The past four Sundays have focused our thoughts on the Bread of Life. Now today, we hear the conclusion to the discourse -Jesus is the Bread of Life who brings us eternal life. We might think everyone is open to this wondrous gift. But our Gospel today says otherwise! Many would return to their former lives and no longer accompany Jesus. Although the gift is freely given, there remains a choice to accept the gift or not.

Why would anyone not choose this wondrous gift? Why would many leave? Why? Because this simple gift has demands! The demand of the Gift is that we become like the Giver and give ourselves for the good of others. Self giving always leads to new life and this is why we are able to make the choice to stay.