Friday, 22 May 2015

Gospel: John 15:26-27; 16:12-15
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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Gospel: John 15:26-27; 16:12-15
Jesus said to his disciples
‘When the Advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness.
And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the outset.
I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now.
But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth,
since he will not be speaking as from himself but will say only what he has learnt;
and he will tell you of the things to come.
He will glorify me, since all he tells you will be taken from what is mine.
Everything the Father has is mine; that is why I said:
All he tells you will be taken from what is mine’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The first reading tells us how each visitor to Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost heard the Apostles’ words in his own native language. This is not a story about amazing linguistic gifts being bestowed on the Apostles! It is a story of how the Spirit of God gives each one of us the gift of being able to communicate heart to heart the story of the great works of God. The Gospel makes this clearer. Jesus tells us that he will send the Paraclete who will lead us into truth by taking from what belongs to Christ and revealing to us the things of the future. What does all of this mean? The Holy Spirit puts us into right relationship with the things of the future. When my future is unclear, then I can become easily anguished. If my marriage is in crisis then I can quickly fall into negativity and despair. The Holy Spirit puts me into a right relationship with the future because he reveals the hand of God in everything in my life. He tells me that God’s providence is working in everything and leading me to a future full of light and life. He encourages me to see the crisis in my marriage as a situation permitted by God so that I can enter into a deeper and more adult relationship with my spouse. In short, when I am illuminated by the Holy Spirit, I become serene, trustful and filled with hope. This capacity to discern the providence of God in everything confers on me the ability to communicate heart to heart with others about the wonderful deeds of the Lord. I become a witness to Jesus. This is the goal of the spirit – to transform us into witnesses. We communicate little with abstract words and concepts. The Holy Spirit makes us communicators par excellence by transforming us into witnesses to the person of Christ.

The Pentecost capacity of the Apostles to speak to people who understand different languages is not a linguistic gift. The gift that the Spirit gives is the gift of communication.
Pentecost is the culminating event of Easter. Let us never forget that God’s goal is not simply Christ’s resurrection but our resurrection, our living a new way of life that is rooted in heaven. Pentecost is not just the end of the Easter Season, it is the goal of the Easter season when we become recipients of the life of God. The event of Pentecost is not described in the Gospels but in the Acts of the Apostles. The first reading each Sunday usually illuminates the Gospel. This Sunday the situation is reversed because the first reading describes the Pentecost event directly and the Gospel provides the Johannine interpretation of the event. The description in Acts from the first reading tells of this extraordinary experience of communication in which the barriers between different linguistic groups disappears. The diversity between peoples is not overcome by making everyone homogeneous; rather it is the capacity to communicate that overcomes the barriers. This group of people described in the passage do not attain the capacity to speak the same language, think the same thoughts and do the same things. What unites them is not bland uniformity but the activity of God. The Holy Spirit, who is ultimately love, gives this ability to make oneself understood.

We attain the gift of being able to communicate with others when we learn to speak of the things of God.
Everyone manages to understand in his own “native language” – what a beautiful expression! Our mother tongue is the one that is closest to our hearts, the language we learned as children and that is closest to our personal identity. The Apostles speak in their language and the hearer understands in the language that is closest to his heart. What is transmitted between the two is the news of the “great works of God”. The Gospel passage speaks of the gift of the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father. This Spirit witnesses to the truth and transforms the disciples into witnesses themselves. The Gospel goes on: “But when the Spirit of truth  comes he will lead you to the complete truth, since he will not be speaking as from himself but will say only what he has learnt; and he will tell you of the things to come”. What are these things to come? First of all it is worth noting that when a person changes his relationship with the things of the future – when his future is illuminated with light so that he goes forward with faith, serenity and trust – this transforms his life completely since a person is his relationship with his future; every act he engages in is directed towards something. All of us are directed towards certain things that are coming our way. If my immediate or long-term future is illuminated by the activity of God, then I become serene. I am not filled with the anguish of someone who feels he is in a blind alley. I have a sense of transformation, beauty, novelty, surprise, discovery. But how do I attain this beautiful relationship with the future? The Gospel goes on: “He will glorify me, since all he tells you will be taken from what is mine. Everything the Father has is mine.” In the first reading we heard how the people in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost heard the great works of God being proclaimed in their native languages. The Gospel talks about the Holy Spirit taking from the things that belong to Jesus. The point is this: the language that communicates par excellence is that which is concerned with the things of God. We achieve illumination, desperate circumstances are transformed into hope, when I manage to see the providence of God in the happenings of my life; when I see the things of God hidden in the events that are going on around me. For example, when there is a crisis in a marriage, we can look on the situation and despair, or we can see the crisis as part of the process of growth, a stage that the Lord is permitting so that the spouses can learn to love each other in a deeper and more adult way. If we do not see the hand of God in that which happens, then situations become blind, empty and worrying. When, by contrast, we see design, wisdom, the love of love of God, the things that belong to Christ, in that which happens to us, then I attain the capacity to accept and welcome these things.

We communicate when we become witnesses to the person of Jesus. We communicate less well when we cease being witnesses and start to speak in abstract terms.

The Holy Spirit changes things from within. He makes me speak with conviction and light, gives me the capacity to show others how God is working in things. When I speak under the influence of the Holy Spirit, my listener begins to understand, begins to apprehend my words close to his heart. It is one thing to try to communicate Christ with concepts, but another thing altogether to take from the things that belong to Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit and apply them to the events of life. In this way we become witnesses. We can make enormous efforts to communicate norms or abstract thoughts, but to be a witness is to leave all these abstractions behind and bear witness to Jesus as a person. To illuminate someone’s intelligence is no substitute for speaking about the love of God. The Holy Spirit does not reveal the future to us in the sense of telling us the tedious details of events that will happen; rather the Spirit announces to us the wonderful fact that our future will be filled with the providence and activity of God.

Friday, 15 May 2015

May 17th 2015.  Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord
Gospel: Mark 16:15-20
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL: Mark 16:15-20
Jesus showed himself to the Eleven, and said to them, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’
And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The Ascension is one of the articles of the Creed and has immense significance for each one of us personally. All of our actions are directed towards goals. That is the sort of creatures that we are. But if the goals are false or illusory, then our lives are chaotic and meaningless. The Ascension of Jesus makes our true final goal crystal clear! Jesus is fully human and the Ascension tells us that his (and our) final goal is to be with the Father in heaven. How many false objectives pull us this way and that! We have wrong goals for our bodies, our intellects, our possessions and our relationships. The end result is that our lives are bland and without substance, or are chaotic and tragic. We are like sailors in a wild and desolate sea. We need a point of reference to orient our lives, and that point of reference is God the Father! All of our actions should be directed by a simple criterion: “Is this choice something that is compatible with heaven? Is this something that leads me to heaven?” The things of this world must never become ends in themselves. All of us are called to eternity! We have been designed for something that is greater than the universe itself.

The Ascension is not simply the triumphal going up of Jesus. It is a truth of dogma of immense significance for all of our lives
On Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Ascension. At first sight, this event might seem like the moment in which Jesus simply goes up to heaven and is glorified. But the Ascension is nothing less than the sixth article of the Creed. The Apostles’ Creed is a simpler and more ancient version than the Creed we recite at Mass. It is divided into twelve articles and one of these refers to Jesus’ ascension into heaven and taking his place at the right hand of the Father. The Ascension, therefore, is of comparable importance to the article which states: “I believe in God the Father Almighty”; or; “I believe in the Holy Spirit”. Its significance is especially underlined this year. Of the three-year liturgical cycle, it is this year that presents the Ascension event in a particularly forceful way. Both the first reading and the Gospel recount the story of how Jesus is raised from the earth and takes his place at the right hand of God.

All of our activities are directed towards goals. If the goals are illusory, then our lives are chaotic or lack substance. The Ascension tells us about our final goal
What does it mean to “ascend”? Why does the risen Lord ascend into heaven? What significance does this final event have in the terrestrial life of Jesus? The Gospel of John says: “Knowing that he had come from the Father and was returning to the Father . . .” And later the same Gospel says: “Knowing that the time had come to go to the Father . . .” After the resurrection, Jesus says to Mary Magdalene: “I have not yet ascended to the Father . .” The point is that this earth is not a final destination. Once we accept this fact, a lot of our problems are instantly eliminated. Often, the process of discernment regarding a particular issue involves clarifying its final goal. Where do these choices or initiatives lead us? In everything we do, we are beings that pursue goals; we are intentional creatures. But if our goal is a mistaken goal, then the fallout is dramatic. My life might be full of good things that are directed to a wrong end. Our bodies, our intellects, our resources and possessions can all be directed to goals that are distorted. If this is the case, then everything can become chaotic and disordered. We are capable of enduring great hardships for a goal that we consider worthwhile, but we can have difficulties remaining patient for five minutes when we are pursuing a goal that does not make sense to us. The final objective of our efforts has a determining influence on everything.

Jesus is fully human and reveals the final destination of our human nature. Our final destination is the Father! How illusory are the goals that we sometimes follow!
What we are celebrating this Sunday is really the finality of everything. Jesus reveals the true nature of humanity because, though he was God, he assumed human nature in a complete sense. Being fully human, he reveals the true final destination of humanity. The endpoint of our journey is God the Father. Our final homeland is in heaven. This earth cannot be regarded as a destination in itself. We are pilgrims on a journey and until we recognize this fact, we will have a distorted viewpoint on the things of this earth. Saint Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians asks us not to live our lives in a disordered way. We have need to be oriented in the right direction and this feast calls us to do just that. Navigators at sea use a sextant to orient themselves correctly with the stars in the wildest and most desolate waters. All of us have need to be oriented to the correct point of reference! This requires abandoning the deceptive goals and illusory points of reference in life. How many false ideas we encounter in our journey! How many wrong idols pull us this way and that, leading us nowhere, turning our existence into something bland and without substance! Our true goal is the call we have to eternity. This is the litmus test for everything in our lives that does not have the character of eternity. If Christ ascends to heaven, then I too am called to heaven. What truly counts in my life is that which counts in heaven. My acts in life must be guided by this criterion.

All of my actions must be guided by the criterion that my final destination is heaven!

The disciples in the Gospel passage from Mark are sent out to manifest the signs of this eternity to which we are called; the signs of that which goes beyond death, sickness and evil; signs that make present the eternal aspect of God. As Christians, we are all called to a life of actions that are valid and presentable even in heaven. Before doing something we should ask: “Will I be glad of this action or ashamed of it when I die?” This is a parameter that we should always keep in mind when it comes to serious decisions, but also for more ordinary ones. It is essential that we live in the manner of one who is heading towards heaven. Sometimes we observe people on their way to a celebration or to a sad event. We encounter people who have been waiting for a particular event for many years.  People are marked by the characteristics of that towards which they are heading. Christians are people who are on a journey towards heaven. They are a people on pilgrimage towards an encounter with the Father. In everything they do, they make a step on that journey, knowing that everything that Providence brings is not directed towards our lives here below but is oriented to making that transition to heaven. We must never turn the things of this life into absolutes! These things only serve to lead us towards the fullness of life. This world is too little for the hearts that we have been given! Each of us has been designed for something more immense, something that is larger than the universe itself.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

May 10th 2015. Sixth Sunday of Easter.
Gospel:   John 15:19-17
Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio's homily follows the Gospel for Sunday

Gospel:   John 15:19-17
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you
and your joy be complete.
This is my commandment:
love one another, as I have loved you.
A man can have no greater love
than to lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends,
if you do what I command you.
I shall not call you servants any more,
because a servant does not know
his master’s business; I call you friends,
because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father. You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you
to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last;
and then the Father will give you anything you ask him in my name.
What I command you is to love one another.’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary  . . . . The Gospel tells us that friendship with Jesus is the high-point of our relationship with him. Friendship is such a simple and human thing! But then Jesus says that we will be his friends only if we keep his commandments. What kind of friend places conditions on his friendship? How are we to make sense of this apparent absurdity? Don Fabio says that our friendship with Jesus only becomes real and concrete if we respond to Jesus in the same way that he acts towards us. And this makes sense. Imagine that we are in a room surrounded by fifty people who love us. If we love none of them in return, then we are really alone in that room. Friendship is only felt when it is a two-way thing. In the same way, there is no doubt that Jesus loves each one of us totally. But if we do not respond to his love in kind, then the life-giving relationship between him and us does not really get kick-started at all. It is essential that we do things for Jesus, that we stoke the relationship of friendship between us. Mother Teresa spent half of her time alone in prayer and the rest of her time helping the poor. It was from the time and space that she gave to God that she derived the energy and power to do marvellous things. This is the story of all the saints and it will also be our story! We must do things for Jesus, behave like friends towards him, devote time to him, have a secret and intimate relationship exclusively with him. Then we will remain in his love and experience his friendship in the fullest sense.

We are inclined to think that God saves in certain fixed ways, that the faith can only be lived according to certain formulae. But it is God that saves us, not the particular pathway that we hold dear!
Sunday’s liturgy presents us with a change in mentality of the early church that is documented in the Acts of the Apostles. The first believers in Jesus were Jewish. This didn’t happen by chance. Over many centuries the Lord prepared the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah, through figures like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the Judges, and the prophets. Through this remarkable process of preparation, the Jewish people were made ready for the coming of God’s blessed Son. This fact led the early disciples of Jesus to think that only those who came from the rich Jewish tradition were capable of welcoming the Messiah. The surprising thing was that God intended his Spirit to be given also to the pagans. We are inclined to look at everything through our own limited conceptual schemes. We find it difficult to accept that God can bring his plan to fruition along pathways that we do not consider possible. St Paul struggled greatly against the mentality that it was still necessary to follow the observances of the Law in order to be pleasing to God. It took a monumental effort to convince people that God could work with people in different ways than the particular scheme that they held dear. All of us fall into this trap! Once we have a positive experience of the faith, we tend to make this particular expression of faith an absolute that we expect others to conform to. We become attached to certain modes of salvation, not recognizing that God has many others. It is God that saves us, not the pathway that we hold dear! We must not become fossilized in our ideas about salvation.

What God wants from us is not the fulfillment of certain precepts, but a relationship of genuine friendship
The Gospel tells us to remain in the love of the Father and the Son: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you”. This is not a fixed scheme or protocol, but a relation. In the very same total sense that the Father has loved Jesus, so Jesus loves us. Jesus remains in the Father’s love by observing his commandments. This is not a mechanical observation of laws and regulations, but living in a relationship with the Father. Here we enter into the most surprising aspect of this Gospel passage. Friendship is presented as the high-point of the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. What a strange thing! Friendship is such a simple and natural aspect of being human. It is possible to cultivate friendships with anyone.

What does Jesus mean when he says, “If you want to be my friend, do what I say”? Is he placing a condition on friendship?
But then Jesus says: “You are my friends if you keep my commandments”. What kind of relationship is this? A conditional friendship? Jesus is the one who gives himself to us gratuitously! At first sight this seems absurd, but from a different perspective we can enter into the beautiful sentiment expressed by this passage. Sometimes when a friendship is forming, both parties move at different speeds. One person opens up a little and then the other responds. But the real friendship begins for me on the day that I try to do something for the other person, actually putting myself out on their behalf for no ulterior motive. Then I begin to behave truly like a friend. The fact is that we do not really appreciate the love of Christ for us just from the fact that he loves us, full-stop. It is only when we respond to his love, that his love ceases to be a mere concept for us. It is when we try to mirror his love that it becomes a more concrete thing for us. Then we begin to appreciate his friendship and experience the depths of his love for us. Say that I am in the middle of fifty people who love me. If I love none of them in return, then I am alone. Similarly, if Christ loves me totally but I do not respond to his love, then the new life of Easter does not really get going in me at all. Christ makes demands on me, as all true friendships do. It is essential that I do things only for him, things that are directly uniquely at my relationship with him. Just think of the saints who achieved incredible things for others, like Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She dedicated herself to people who were in great poverty and close to death, but half of her time was dedicated to being completely alone with the Lord. The rule of her congregation prescribes that the sisters spend half of their time helping the needy and half of their time in prayer. She understood the need to donate time and space to God. From this intimacy with God springs the power and energy that is the hallmark of so many saints. The key to endeavor that does not become weary, that continues to be beautiful and full of life, is to do these secret things with God, as the Gospel of Matthew says. Friends are intimate with each other and share secrets. In the same way, we too must have that secret connection exclusively with Christ.

Friday, 1 May 2015

May 3rd 2015.  Fifth Sunday of Easter
GOSPEL: John 15:1-8
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL: John 15:1-8
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes
to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already,
by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
is like a branch that has been thrown away
– he withers;
these branches are collected and thrown on the fire,
and they are burnt.
If you remain in me
and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will
and you shall get it.
It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples.’

 The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The Gospel tells us that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. If we are to have life, then we must remain attached to Jesus. The parable tells us that without Jesus we can do nothing! We tend to think that we can do quite a lot by ourselves, but the Gospel gives us the startling message that all of our apparently wonderful achievements have no lasting value if we are not rooted in Christ. But how are we to be rooted in Christ? The Gospel answers this clearly. We remain attached to Jesus if we keep his word in our hearts. Our hearts are filled with many other words, sterile, angry, bitter and sad words! The Father prunes us by eliminating these words from our hearts. To be “pure” means to be of one nature only, to be no longer duplicitous, to have only the words of Jesus in our hearts, and no other words. God has spoken a word to each of us personally. We are faithful to ourselves only if we are faithful to that word. We must allow God to purify us, to clear away the other words that lead nowhere. We must allow the word of Jesus to penetrate deep into our hearts and yield fruit that will last. In this way, the resurrection of the Lord will transform us from within.

Let our judgement not be influenced by the events of the past! God is doing something new with people and with history!
The first reading presents us with a figure who could easily go unnoticed in the Bible – Barnabas. He is the one who accepts Saul even though the other disciples feel that this previous persecutor of Christians must be a spy. Do we see people as being purely products of their past? Or do we allow that God’s initiative can transform a person? There are many saints of the church who had a questionable past. If we were to view them solely in terms of the people they were originally, or they things that they had done, then we would reject them altogether and miss the gifts of grace that had led to their complete transformation. St Francis of Assisi or St Ignatius of Loyola are just two example of great saints with a chequered past. Barnabas does not allow past events to colour his judgement and he takes the former persecutor, Saul, with him to the Apostles. Barnabas explains what has happened and becomes the custodian of this gift that the Church has received from God.

If we are to have authentic life, then we must be attached to the vine that is Christ. If we are not rooted in this vine, our achievements will have no lasting value.
The Gospel this Sunday tells us that life comes from God. It also tells us the road we must travel if we too are to have life in God. We must be the branches of the vine that is Jesus, a vine that is cultivated by the Father. The issue is not whether we are good, or bad, or talented, or disciplined: the issue is whether or not we remain attached to the vine. A branch cannot bear fruit unless it remains attached to the vine. One phrase in particular of this Gospel is frightening: “Whoever remains in me will bear much fruit. Without me you can do nothing.” We tend to think that we can do a lot of things by ourselves! Even those of us who consider ourselves Christians try to do a lot without Christ. And we interpret things and judge others from our own limited point of view, not from a viewpoint informed by an attachment to Christ. This phrase from Jesus – without me you can do nothing – is terrible, but it is profoundly true. So much of what we do has no lasting value. Many of our achievements cannot endure any robust testing from reality over time.

How do we draw life from Jesus? By keeping his word in our hearts.
“If you remain in me . . .”. Jesus says. How do we remain in him? How do we ensure that the life we have is a life that comes from him, the life of the Resurrection, the life that comes from his pardon? The things that we possess are the things that spring from the flesh. These can be dignified too, in their own way, but they do not have eternity within them.  Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you . .” These two things are completely identifiable.  I will remain in the vine that is Jesus, cultivated by the Father and irrigated by the Holy Spirit, if I keep the word of Jesus in my heart. Deep within me there is a personal zone. If Jesus’ word is allowed to penetrate this zone then it becomes the fount of life in my heart. It is important to have this seed in our heart if we are to produce an eternal harvest. Saul was transformed from being a persecutor to being an Apostle by a word that entered his heart. The Lord Jesus spoke these words to his heart, throwing him to the ground and shaking him from his previous convictions, changing the fundamental orientation of his being.

The Father prunes us. This is an act of purification in which the word of God eliminates other “words” from our hearts.
The Gospel tells us that we are pruned already on account of the word that has been spoken to us. What does it mean to be “pruned”? The original Greek term refers to a process of purification, but in a chemical sense rather than a moral sense. Something is pure if it is of a single nature, not contaminated with impurities. To be pure means to be no longer duplicitous. When the word of Jesus enters our heart, it has a job to do: to chase out other “words”. There is a battle raging at the depths of our being, a process of selection of words. Each one of us has a profound need to listen to what Jesus is saying to us. God directs a word into the depths of our being. That sacred root is the fount of the fruitfulness of our life. We are challenged to be faithful to ourselves and to what God has planted within us, to be purified by the word of God, recognizing that there are other words that need to be eliminated.

If we are to become channels of grace then we must become totally centred on the word God has planted within us. Sterile, bitter, angry and vain words must be eliminated from our hearts.

The parable tells us of the work of the Father in pruning, cutting away, simplifying, so that we become channels of grace, instruments of God. This requires that we must become simple and totally centred on the word that God speaks to my heart. As the Gospel of Matthew says, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. Our lives must be based on what God says to us. Instead we often try to base our existence on sterile words that lead us nowhere. Our hearts are filled with words that are bitter, angry, sad, imposed on us by the secular culture around us. These are not the true words that God has placed in our hearts. The resurrection transforms us from within, from the word that Christ directs personally to our hearts.

Friday, 24 April 2015

April 26th 2015. GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY. Fourth Sunday of Easter
GOSPEL John 10: 11-18
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

(Check us out on Facebook – Sunday Gospel Reflection)

GOSPEL John 10: 11-18
Jesus said:
‘I am the good shepherd:
the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.
The hired man, since he is not the shepherd
and the sheep do not belong to him,
abandons the sheep and runs away
as soon as he sees a wolf coming,
and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep;
this is because he is only a hired man
and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd;
I know my own and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me
and I know the Father;
and I lay down my life for my sheep.
And there are other sheep I have
that are not of this fold,
and these I have to lead as well.
They too will listen to my voice,
and there will be only one flock,
and one shepherd.
The Father loves me,
because I lay down my life
in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me;
I lay it down of my own free will,
and as it is in my power to lay it down,
so it is in my power to take it up again;
and this is the command I have been given by my Father.’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The Gospel contrasts the Good Shepherd with the hired hand. The Good Shepherd cares for his sheep and lays down his life for them. The hired hand is only in it for his own profit. Once the situation ceases to be beneficial for him, he disappears. Jesus comes from the Father, an environment in which the natural mode of relationship is self-giving love. We, by contrast, live in a world where everything must be bought and paid for. When we are kind to others, we expect something in return. We tend to relate to others in ways that benefit ourselves. Then we project this same mode of relating onto God! When we place ourselves before God, we tend to think that he will only love us if we do this or do that. We approach God with fear and trembling, with the mentality of the orphan who distrusts relationships and focusses on what he can get out of the situation for himself. We must cease to relate to God like that! Jesus is the Good Shepherd who has died out of love for us! He does not care what we do or do not do. He offers us his unconditional love and pardon at no price! We have been traumatized by a world in which nothing is given freely. Let us immerse ourselves fully in the sea of love that is offered freely by God!

Jesus is the corner-stone, the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. The hired shepherd works only for his own advantage and disappears when the situation is no longer of benefit to him
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, the first reading gives us a key for understanding the Gospel. Here, Peter says that Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders that eventually becomes the corner-stone. Jesus is the sure and only means of redemption. There is no other name under heaven that saves us. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and this signifies that there are plenty of bad shepherds. The passage from John’s Gospel, in fact, makes the contrast between the Good Shepherd and the hired man. The hired man does not give his life for his sheep because he is just that – a hired hand. He runs from the wolf because he doesn’t care about the sheep; he works only for profit, for his own reward. The Good Shepherd, by contrast, cares for his sheep. They belong to him and he to them.

Jesus very mode of being is to relate to others in a self-giving way. Our mode of being is more like the hired hand: we relate to others in a self-preserving way
The text goes on: “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my own sheep and they know me, just as the Father knows me and I know Him. I lay down my life for my sheep”. It is the relationship between Jesus and the Father that is the basis of the relationship between the Shepherd and the sheep. Jesus is to the sheep as the Father is to him. It is like a person who lives a life of great earnestness and sincerity. Wherever he goes in the world, he continues to live life and to relate to others in this way. This is Jesus very mode of being. He comes to us and relates to us just as he relates to the Father. We, on the other hand, are like orphans. We tend not to relate to others in this giving and protective way. We are more like the hired hand who relates to others to the extent that it suits him, or is profitable for him. Inside we have a great emptiness and coldness. The environment that we come from is a self-absorbed one. We find it difficult to go beyond that which benefits us. We are filled with fear of that which is not to our advantage.

When we experience the unconditional love and pardon of Jesus towards us, we are enabled to relate to others in a similar way.
The letter to the Colossians speaks of a new creature in Christ who lives a new kind of existence; a person who does not relate to others as a hired hand does. This is a creature that comes from a relationship in which he knows he is treasured, and he is enabled to relate to others in the same way. When someone receives the mercy and pardon of God, he begins to understand the need that others have for forgiveness. He begins to understand the life-changing transformation from the coldness of merely following regulations to the warmth of receiving forgiveness. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who touches the coldness within us, the sure corner-stone upon which we can build a life of authentic relationships. Jesus comes from the Father where there is true love and knowledge of the other. Let us not forget that in Hebrew, “knowing” another person refers to a relationship of great intimacy between people. The Good Shepherd loves us with this kind of knowledge, this kind of profound union. From where can we find the capacity to relate to others in a way that is different to the kind of relationship typical of the hired hand? We can learn to care for others when we experience the care that Christ has for us.

Jesus’ nature is pure gift. He emanates from the life-generating love of the Father and continues to pour this love onto us. He could never act like a hired hand!
At the end of the Gospel we are told that: “The Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will”. It is a completely free act on the part of Jesus. The incarnate Word, true God and true man, generated from the Father, gives himself freely to us. He continues the stream of joy and love that emanates from the Father. It is a curious thing that the “command” that Jesus receives from the Father is the command to love! This is Jesus very nature, that of being pure gift. Christ is the fruit of the generosity of the Father. And this is how he relates to us, not as a hired hand!

We must cease projecting our own mode of relating onto God. We come from the realm of hired hands, where everything must be bought and paid for. When we stand before God we continue to think that we must buy his love. But God loves us regardless of what we do or don’t do.
But sometimes we place ourselves before God like hired hands, measuring the things we have done and the things we have failed to do, in a state of fear before him. This is nothing other than the manifestation of the inner mentality of the orphan, standing before God in a distrustful and trembling manner. But how can we doubt the intentions of God when we consider the cross of Christ? How can we fear someone who has died out of love for us? We project the ambient from which we have come onto God. We live in an environment where everything must be paid for; things are only done if there is a reward in exchange. We are traumatized by the lack of unconditional giving. The relation with God, by contrast, is a full immersion in gratuitous giving! We are accepted by God for who we are, not for this ability or that. Just as a mother loves her child because he is her child, not because he is beautiful or smart. We must learn to feel that we belong to Jesus! The Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep because they belong to him, and they know that they belong to him. I belong to the Good Shepherd! Every person is a treasured possession of God. Let this Gospel prompt in us an Easter transition from the coldness of our own solitude to the warmth of his mercy.

Friday, 17 April 2015

April 19th 2015.  Third Sunday of Easter
Gospel: Luke 24:35-48
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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Gospel: Luke 24:35-48
The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised Jesus at the breaking of bread.
They were still talking about this when Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you!’ In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they could not believe it, and they stood dumbfounded; so he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?‘ And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.
Then he told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms, has to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . The Gospel recounts the surprise of the disciples when the Risen Lord appears among them. The resurrection is always a surprising event in our lives! The Lord redeems us and touches us in ways that we do not expect. This is how it has always been in the history of salvation. Abraham climbed a mountain thinking he would have to sacrifice his son, but in the end it was God himself who offered his own son. Moses arrived at the Red Sea with his enemies closing in on him, thinking he was at a dead end, but God opened the most unexpected path in front of him. All of us experience difficulties and problems, dead ends and unresolved conflicts. It is in these very places that the Risen Lord is active in our lives! Let us open ourselves to the unexpected action of God in the desperation and despair of our lives, just as the Father raised the Son amid the despair of the crucifixion. The last lines of the Gospel speak of the repentance and forgiveness of sin that comes about as a result of the resurrection. This is the most powerful manifestation of the Risen Lord among us. At every moment of every day he offers us the generous pardon of the Father, leading us to repentance and transformation.

We are redeemed in ways that we do not expect. Therefore we must always be open to the surprising initiatives of the Lord towards us on a daily basis.
The Gospel recounts the surprise of the disciples when they encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It is in the breaking of the bread that they finally recognize him. The first reading also highlights our need to be open to the novelties that the Lord continually places before us. Peter tells the Jews that they have betrayed and handed over the very one that God has glorified. They have taken the Just Holy One and killed the Author of Life. Here Peter highlights the absurd and paradoxical nature of Christian belief. Salvation, the Easter event, is not a logical consequence of our schemes for understanding the world. Our concepts can aid us in approaching God to some extent, but, on the other hand, they are also in need of being overturned and abandoned. God’s ways of behaving are not our ways. Peter acknowledges this when he declares to his listeners that they acted out of ignorance when they killed Jesus. This ignorance within all of us must be acknowledged. When God saves us, it is always in a manner that we do not expect. The history of salvation is the history of the unexpected. Abraham climbs the mountain to sacrifice his son, but discovers that he is called to so something completely different. God no longer demands Abraham’s son, but, when the proper time arrives, offers his own. Moses arrives at a dead end, confronted by the sea, with his enemies closing on him from behind, but God comes up with the unexpected solution. Easter, similarly, is something that is outside of our expectations. It is not an event that is predictable or planned. We sometimes think that our lives can be codified and regularized perfectly. We work out detailed programmes for the education of youth. But it is God’s work in the end that is important, the way that he responds to our poor initiatives.

We do not encounter the Risen Lord on a purely intellectual level. Our experience of Him in our daily lives is something much more personal and real
In the Gospel from Luke, the Christian community are confronted with the unexpected. Jesus appears in the midst of them and says “Peace be with you!” The disciples are afraid and think they are seeing a ghost. They do not comprehend that Jesus is something real and physically approachable. Jesus asks them why they have doubts in their hearts and encourages them to touch his wounds, saying that a ghost does not have flesh and blood as he has. The resurrection involves a physical experience of Jesus, not just some kind of inner experience. The disciples encounter him with all of their senses, touching him, hearing his word, eating with him, seeing him with their eyes. The resurrection is not simply an event that involves rational comprehension. In fact, intellectual understanding is humiliated by the resurrection and consigned to second place. In order for our minds to be opened, the Lord shows us that the categories of our mind are inadequate. This is a work of the Lord, his initiative in our lives.

We must learn to abandon ourselves to the Lord, accepting his surprising action in our daily existence
We are called to abandon ourselves to the working out of the plan of the Lord within us, to be open to his surprising way of dealing with us. As the disciples did in the Gospel, we must place ourselves at the heart of a Christian community, in a position of dialogue with other believers, allowing Jesus to appear among us and work on us. Through suffering, death and failure, God unexpectedly brings about salvation and transformation. We, instead, would prefer to go step by step, from one safe haven to the next, but the Lord goes from abandonment to abandonment. We like to move from certainties to certainties, but the Lord proceeds from one surprise to another. In our lives there are many doubts and difficulties. What should we do with these things? Open ourselves to the Lord, realizing that he uses these very things to appear as the Risen One in our lives. Easter is not simply an event of 2000 years ago, nor is it simply some intellectual news that concerns the person of Jesus. It is something that is relevant to our existence today, especially those things that we consider wrong or disordered. It is right here that the Easter of the Lord manifests itself.

The continual surprise of Easter involves being open to the generous and surprising pardon of God that is offered to us at every turn in our daily lives, a pardon that facilitates our conversion and transformation

The Christian life is not something that tends towards a static state of self-sufficiency. It is something that causes our minds to be continually opened, a state of surprise that is never exhausted, a repeated act of acceptance on the part of God of each of us, his pardon of our weakness and poverty. As Jesus says when he appears: “ . . in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem”. Repentance entails overcoming our previous state of sinfulness; the forgiveness of sins entails the acceptance of our uncleanliness and poverty by the generous love of the Father. Living this life of repentance and the forgiveness of sins is not possible if we try to confine our Christian existence neatly within a rational box. The forgiveness of sins is illogical. The acceptance of the injustice of another doesn’t make sense from our limited perspective. Easter involves a total change of perception. It is a constant state of openness to the transforming and redeeming power of God in our lives.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Gospel: John 20:19-31
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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Gospel: John 20:19-31
In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you,’ and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you,’
After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’
Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord,’ he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you,’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:
‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’
There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . Sometimes we are inclined to think that we can live the faith in a private, individualistic way. Read the readings on Sunday and think again! The first reading tell of the wonderful communion of the early church. Their experience of the risen Lord (through the testimony of the apostles) led them to share everything, living completely in the service of others. When we live as a community of faith we testify to the power of the risen Lord. In other words, the way of life of our community is the most powerful way of bringing the message of Christ and his pardon to others. Faith arises from a community and causes people to live as a community. The Gospel tells us that Thomas was not with the others when Jesus appeared and he refused to believe in the risen Lord. Exactly a week later, Thomas was present when Jesus appeared again. The Christian assembly gathered every week then, as it does now. Thomas was brought to faith in the resurrection only when he participated in the weekly assembly, and that is how it is with us. We must enter into the life of the Church if we are to be brought to a deeper faith in the risen Lord. And when we enter into the life of the church, we will be enabled to bring the message and pardon of Jesus to others.

The early church lived a life of wonderful communion
We will read this marvellous Gospel in the light of the first reading which describes the life of Christian believers. None of us is born with the faith – we must become believers. The Christian faith is a gift that is offered to us and that we accept. The first reading tells us that the early Christian community were of one heart and one soul. It is possible to have great uniformity in a community but to have many different hearts. The heart refers to the centre of a person’s being. The soul (in the Hebrew conception) referred to the personality of a person. Thus, to be united in heart and soul is a wonderful picture of true communion. The early community were profoundly united and had similar attitudes towards things.

Was this communion an early form of communism? No! Communism involves external constraint, whereas the life of the early community came from the Spirit within
They also shared everything they had. Was this an early form of communism? No; they simply were not attached to the things that they owned. They still owned those things (unlike communism) but they used them in the service of others. These possessions consequently became an instrument of communion, instead of being a function of one’s self-absorption. This is not a statement against private property, but the Holy Spirit was acting in the hearts of the believers, inspiring them to put everything to work in the service of others. It was the love in the hearts of the believers that led to this radical sharing. The illusion of an ideology like Communism is that it compels people to share everything by the force of law, but the mutual love in the hearts of people is missing. Communion cannot be created by the imposition of external constraints! If the heart is not open to placing everything at the service of others then such external constraint is futile. Corruption and sin destroys systems of this sort that depend on external factors. Only the interior conversion of the heart can lead to true communion.

The mark of a genuine relationship is that it should tend towards selfless communion with others
We need communities of this sort that call people out of individualism and into a life of love. All of our relationships should tend towards self-emptying love of this sort. All other relationships lead to tension, frustration and ultimate conflict. The first reading tells us that everyone placed what they had at the disposal of the apostles, who were witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus. Anyone that was in need could then avail of whatever they required. The joy of the believers consisted in these acts of giving. They did not require formal structures that prescribed what they ought to give. Everything was done in a spirit of fraternity.

Thomas only encounters Jesus when he is present at the weekly assembly. Similarly, we too will only encounter the Lord through a life of communion with others
In what way does all of this illuminate the Gospel? The Gospel has various themes. The risen Jesus appears to the disciples and gives them the Spirit of pardon, the Spirit that defeats sin. Thomas is not present and says that he cannot believe in the risen Lord without seeing him. A week later the disciples are gathered again, as it was the custom of the Jews to gather on a weekly basis. The Gospel speaks of “eight days later” because the Hebrew way of counting a week from now included the present day as well. On this occasion Thomas is present and he encounters the Lord. We must ask the question? How does Thomas encounter Jesus? By being present in the weekly Christian assembly. The first reading speaks of the way in which the Christian community bore witness to the risen Christ through their life of giving and mutual acceptance. The Christian faith is not a private, individual thing. No-one encounters the risen Lord except from within a situation of fraternal communion. If the resurrection is not experienced from an ecclesial standpoint, and if it does not lead to ecclesial communion, then it is not the resurrection of the Lord; it is a deceptive form of individualistic perfectionism, or the fruit of our imagination. The resurrection is fundamentally a fraternal, ecclesial event. Sometimes we have a tendency to think that we can experience the resurrection as individuals, but the entire Christian faith is something that is plural in nature. The original Greek form of the Creed that comes from the early Church councils consists in statements beginning with “We believe . . .” Believing is something that we do along with others. If my faith does not lead me to union with others, then it is not real faith but a religiosity that has been put together for my personal advancement. The origin and goal of my faith is encounter with others.

The mission of the Christian community is to carry the pardon of God to others, and we do this together as a community bearing witness to the life of Christ. The origin of the faith is in the community and its goal is to create community
The risen Christ sends us out with the mission of pardon, saying: “For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained”. In other words, Jesus is saying that if we don’t carry the pardon of God to others, then who will bear it? We alone can accomplish the task because we are the ones who have encountered the life that is stronger than sin – the life of Christ. It is a community, a church, that evangelises. It is a community that bears witness to the power of the Risen Lord by its way of life. Let us leave behind all private, individualistic approaches to the redemption! True redemption leads us into a life of communion with others.

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