Jesus shares with those who follow Him

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year C) April 25 (Acts 13:14, 43-52; Psalm 100; Revelation 7:9, 14-17; John 10:27-30)

Religious controversy is nothing new. New ideas and hot-button issues are always guaranteed to stir up passionate debates as well as the darker side of the human psyche.  

In this sense we share much with the people of the first century depicted in the pages of the New Testament. Paul and Barnabas recounted Israel’s lengthy salvation history (omitted passages) and proclaimed the Messianic status of Jesus by portraying Him as the fulfilment and summation of that history. Although some were intrigued and open to their message, it stirred up controversy among many others. People do not like change, especially when cherished ideas or traditions are challenged. Zealous “defenders of the faith” mirror the story’s intolerant behaviour in our own time.

Love others to the fullest, let go of ourselves

Third Sunday of Easter (Year C) April 18 (Acts 5:28-32, 40-41; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19)

It is extremely difficult to remain silent when we have exceptionally good news. The words burn within us and we can hardly wait to share something wonderful. Imagine how much more difficult it would be — if not impossible — to remain silent when the news we had to share had a universal and life-altering impact.

'Today, you will be with me in Paradise'

One of my great teachers was Helen. 

She was a tiny, elderly woman with a limp from a bad hip and swollen feet, with yellow curly hair and no teeth. She loved to greet strangers, bake muffins for people, help out at the breakfast club and the mission. She smiled and laughed easily. She was a chatterer, but her chattering was generally random and disconnected, hard to follow and easily dismissed.

She herself was among the easiest of people to dismiss: an old, poor, solitary woman, living on social assistance in a squalid apartment. Though a wife and mother of many, she was quite alone in the world; long separated from an abusive husband and from her children, taken away one-by-one by the Children’s Aid Society. When I met her, Helen had largely left the world of sanity — with good reason, as refuge from the world which, for her, was a crazy and dangerous place.

When Helen had a stroke and was taken to hospital, she must have seemed an insignificant patient. Mostly incomprehensible at the best of times, she was now completely so, unable to communicate, powerless. Soon, the health care system decided she, her suffering, her life, were unnecessary. When I visited her, she had no feeding tube and was being given nothing orally. Helen died in a large Catholic hospital in urban Canada.

Breaking death's barrier

Second Sunday of Easter (Year C) April 11 (Acts 5:12-16; Psalm 118; Revelation 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31)

Simplicity and power often go hand in hand. In many of the accounts of the earliest days of the Christian community, life was indeed simple — not easy — but accompanied by what Acts refers to as “signs and wonders.” There were no creeds to give ascent to for the simple reason that they had not yet been formulated. The simple entrance requirement was faith in the person and mission of Jesus the Messiah and a belief that He was indeed God’s emissary.

An essential part of this profession of faith was a commitment to discipleship, fidelity to the spiritual path of Jesus and a willingness to share in the joys and struggles of the community that bore His name. It is also very striking that the initial attraction of the faith for outsiders was not liturgy, worship spaces or social standing. The attraction was the obvious signs of God’s presence working in and through believers for the good of others. It was this that led people to view the community with awe and respect.

There is one humanity under God

Resurrection of the Lord (Year C) April 4 (Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18)

God has saved the most amazing and world-altering part of His revelation in Jesus until the last. Peter recites the ancient proclamation of the good news: the wonderful and powerful deeds of Jesus, the healing that He performed and the many deeds of compassion and mercy that flowed from Him.

Jesus' suffering was for our good

Passion Sunday (Year C) March 28 (Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56)

The professional martyr or victim is a character known to us all. This individual drinks deeply from the cup of self-pity and victimhood and firmly believes that their “persecution” is because they are right and others wrong. They are standing up for what is right while others operate out of self-interest or corruption. But more often than not, they are suffering for their own opinions, prejudices and behaviour that is aggressive and intolerant.

The final judgment will be up to God

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year C) March 21 (Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11)

The God of Exodus was the God of mighty signs and wonders. But the God of Isaiah is set on outdoing Himself as He describes His intended liberation and restoration of the people of Israel. They are to forget all of the things that God has done in the past because they will pale in comparison to what God has in mind for the future.

God's grace is at work in so many ways

Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year C) March 14 (Joshua 5:9, 10-12; Psalm 34; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

It was a new day for the people of Israel. After 40 long and hard years of wandering in the arid wilderness, they had finally crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land — the land “flowing with milk and honey.” They were provided with manna to eat during their journey through the desert but that now ceases. They eat from the produce of the land and they will have to walk on their own feet now. 

Why carry rocks around?

Long ago, I let a friend down. It’s still vivid in my memory. I’d promised, but at the last minute I phoned up and cancelled, leaving her in the lurch. She was cold and angry on the phone; we hung up quickly. I couldn’t blame her; I’d hurt her. Though I’d apologized, the effects remained.

I don’t know what happened with her, because she stopped speaking to me. But for me, a burden was created which I long carried: guilt. A paralysing burden. Perhaps part of me was reluctant to put it down, as though staggering under it would gain me points, and enough collected points would earn me forgiveness. This type of guilt, someone observed to me, is like a knapsack full of rocks strapped to one’s back: a dead weight that gradually, increasingly wearies the bearer.

God calls us to change our ways

Third Sunday of Lent (Year C) March 7 (Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Luke 13:1-9)

Many of God’s manifestations in the midst of everyday life are quiet and subtle. But sometimes they are anything but subtle — in fact, they can be dramatic, awe-inspiring and even a bit frightening.

Take up the cross and follow in His footsteps

Second Sunday of Lent (Year C) Feb. 28 (Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:7-4:1; Luke 9:28-36)

Gazing into a starry sky on a dark night can be a humbling experience. The entire universe seems alive with billions of points of light. The inspiring nature of this encounter with the infinite can deepen one’s faith. But it can also be extremely humbling and some may even find their faith shaken as they contemplate comparative human insignificance in the face of such incredible expanse.