Justice and peace meditations on the lectionary readings for the Easter season.

If you are going to live on Planet Earth, you might as well come out of the culture of death and live in freedom. The lectionary readings for Easter are a true treasury of beauty, wisdom, goodness, mercy, justice, love, redemption, hope, peace, and joy. May these meditations on them be a blessing to you. Robert Waldrop, Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House.

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Do not be afraid!, April 24th

Save yourselves from this generation!, April 25th

The Beggar who is Beautiful, April 26th

Reform your lives redux!, April 27th

There is no other name!, April 28th

We will speak of what we have seen and heard., April 29th

My Lord and my God., April 30th

Is this not the carpenter's son?, May 1st

Live simply, that others may simply live., May 2nd

The Apostles escape from jail., May 3rd

You disobeyed us!, May 4th

Nothing can oppose God's work., May 5th

A call to servant leadership, May 6th

Who are the followers of Jesus?, May 7th

Tragedy, Martyrdom, Resistance, May 8th

Kill the prophets!, May 9th

The first great persecution of the Church, May 10th

The Ethiopian believes., May 11th

Why do you persecute Me?, May 12th

Apostolic healing., May 13th

We are God's family., May 14th

Salvation is for everybody!, May 15th

The persecution intensifies., May 16th

The Church prepares for a famine., May 17th

Mirrors reflecting the culture of death.., May 18th

Jesus is the Way., May 19th

What shall we pray for?, May 20th

Love, Justice, and Vinyard Community, May 21st

Neither a liberal scheme nor a conservative plot., May 22nd

The peace of Christ., May 23rd

Our witness to the world, May 24th

The universality of the Gospel., May 25th

Love is the foundation of justice., May 26th

Come over to Macedonia and help us!, May 27th

The Sunday of Love., May 28th

Be prepared for persecution., May 29th

The conversion of a persecutor., May 30th

The encounter with classical Hellenism., May 31th

Paul the worker., June 1st

A joy that no one can take from us., June 2nd

Are we wearing Cafeteria Plan spectacles?, June 3rd

Do not be conquered by evil., June 4th

Overcome evil with good., June 5th

Another journey to Jerusalem., June 6th

Paul the personalist., June 7th

You are going to Rome!, June 8th

Feed my sheep., June 9th

There is more to this story!, June 10th







Do not be afraid! TOP

Easter Monday, April 24, 2000

Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-32 - Matthew 28:8-15

Jesus is risen from the dead! Who can believe this news? Perhaps because it is brought to us by women? Jesus' words echo the Word of God over many centuries: "Do not be afraid!" Look at this Man and believe this in your hearts: Do not be afraid!

Even if you are member of a conquered nation. Even if you give you allegiance to a man identified as a traitor to Rome. Even if the rulers tell lies about you. Even if the whole world rises up against you. Do not be afraid! Jesus breaks the power of death and hell for all eternity.

So come on out of that Egypt of Oppression and live in the Reign of God!

This is the message given to us by those who saw our Risen Lord, who felt the wounds in his hands and his feet. This experience takes the men and women who followed Jesus from being so scared that they hide in an upper room behind locked doors to becoming bold proclaimers of the good news of salvation and liberation from all oppression. And we are reminded that in the midst of this glorious outbreaking of the civilization of life and love into the culture of death, that structures of sin remain strong, and even as the joy of the resurrection mounts, evil is plotted against those who love life and do not worship death.

Save yourselves from this generation! TOP

Easter Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Readings: Acts 2:36-41 -- John 20:11-18

The Resurrection wasn't a gentle announcement of the coming of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. There are no cute bunny rabbits in this picture nor are there any Peeps. Rather we see and hear Peter proclaiming -- Save yourselves from this generation, reform your lives, be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. Whine!!! There go those apostles, how dare they follow the example of their Master and make inconvenient demands on us. Go away, we want to say to them, but this message is not one that can be evaded. Three thousand people that day believed in Peter's Word.

Today we hear John's tender and passionate account of the visit of Mary (the Magdalene) to the empty tomb. The news is still incomprehensible. Where is the body? What have they done with the body? You, gardener, tell me where you have put His body! But it is not the gardener, it is Jesus and she clings to him desperate in her fear, her love, her sorrow, and the sudden new hope which sprang in her heart as she herself touched the Lord's body, not trusting only the evidence of her eyes and her ears.

Incomprehensible, yes, impossible, never!

The Beggar who is Beautiful TOP

Easter Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Readings: Acts 3:1-10 + Luke 24:13-35

If we search our memories, we will find promises -- "The works I do, you shall do." And sure enough, here comes Peter who had betrayed Jesus wandering through Jerusalem over by the Temple gate that was known as "Beautiful". There was a beggar there, and Peter does not pass him by. Instead, he and his companions stop and look at him and the beggar fixes his gaze upon them.

How often do we open our eyes to see the crippled who sit on the sidewalks of our cities? They are often invisible to us in our hurried busy-ness. Invisibility is a protection, because when they are noticed, they are often hurt, attacked, beaten, robbed. So when somebody notices them, they pay close attention to what is happening. Will it be a blessing, maybe a buck or two -- or will it be a curse? The beggar this day hopes for a blessing, but what happens is astonishing to everybody. In the name of Jesus, the crippled beggar is healed. And it's not just any Jesus whose name is used here, Peter says "Jesus the Nazorean" -- the Jesus who is from a poor city in Galilee.

In whose name do we call out to the beggars that they are healed? Or do we bother to heal the beggars? They are, after all, beggars, and as it was in those days, so it is today, there is no place for them in the company of polite society. But the apostles, following the example of Jesus -- and setting an example for us -- take time to pray healing for the crippled ones they meet in their journeys.

Reform your lives redux! TOP

Easter Thursday, April 27, 2000

Readings: Acts 3:11-26 + Luke 24:35-48

The healing of the crippled beggar brings a crowd. Peter continues his dialogue with Jerusalem. Why should people be surprised at this marvelous event? But it's not magic that they are seeing, it's not clever manipulation of the political system, rather, it is the Kingdom of God which comes upon them bringing -- not only miracle cures -- but also making demands upon people. Reform your lives, the clear sound of Peter's voice is heard above the crowd. Turn to God for forgiveness of your sins.

In today's Gospel, we again see the confused apostles -- at first afraid, but then with trembling of heart and hand coming to believe that what was before them was not a ghost, not a collective wish fulfillment, not a Jungian archetype, and it was certainly not the Easter Bunny. It was a man, they could feel his arms and hands and see the wounds and they watched him eat a bit of fish. And this encounter with the Risen Lord makes demands on the apostles: preach to all the nations, starting right here at home.

There is no other name! TOP

Easter Friday, April 28, 2000

Readings: Acts 4:1-12 + John 21:1-14

The rulers were upset with Peter and John. Here they had been thinking that "that was that" for one inconvenient redneck rabbi, and along come these illiterate fisherman proclaiming his resurrection from the dead and doing something dastardly like healing a crippled man. Which is to say, the apostles brought a man who was "far off" -- crippled, excluded, marginalized -- "near, by the blood of Christ", healing his condition and restoring his presence in the community.

Many people had walked by the beggar for many years, and none of them had thought to stop and heal him. So what's the government's answer? Arrest them, of course, we can't have these kinds of random acts of kindness and beauty being committed by just anyone, can we? Why, if we allowed people to be healed just by any old redneck from the provinces, pretty soon there wouldn't be anyone who was excluded or marginalized, and we just can't have that can we? Their culture of death was built on structures of sin, to challenge such structures was to challenge the ultimate legitimacy of the power of evil in this world.

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly preaches truth to power. There is no other name that

brings salvation. Although he was humble and from a poor town, he is powerful enough to cure this man crippled for many years. And if he could do that, what isn't possible for Jesus to do in your life today? Do we not understand that we can invoke the name of Jesus and bring healing to those who are rejected by today's culture of death? Shall we not follow the example of Peter and speak truth to the power of our own day, proclaiming healing through the name of Jesus!

We will speak of what we have seen and heard. TOP

Easter Saturday, April 29, 2000

Readings: Acts 4:13-21 + Mark 16:9-15

Here is ancient wisdom. Powerful people rarely appreciate it when the unpowerful tell them the truth. They are first of all amazed that anybody -- especially uneducated fishermen from Galilee of all places -- would dare to interrupt them in their important busy-ness. Second, they typically don't hear the message. First the rulers ask Peter how he healed the cripple. So Peter tells them. They don't believe him, and in fact are so discombobulated that they withdraw for a secret council. How can we get rid of these guys? But people love them, everybody knows what has happened at the Beautiful gate so the rulers can't just slit their throats and hide the bodies at the city dump.

Do the politicians decide to sit down and dialogue with Peter and John and strive to understand their message? Never, these are powerful people, Peter and John are poor people, they can't have anything to say to the powerful. "Their message does not compute." So they tell Peter and John -- "Don't y'all do this anymore, you hear? Never speak the name of Jesus again!"

Peter and John respond by again speaking truth to power. "We will speak of what we have seen and heard." The court had to let it go at that, for the moment the apostles had the eyes and ears of the city multitude, to cause them harm might cause riots and that the Romans would notice. Pilate would be sure to have inconvenient questions.

So it goes in history and today. The Romanoffs thought listening to the serfs was silly, and Marie Antoinette on hearing cries for bread calls out "If you have no bread, then you should eat cake!" Her court thought it was a marvelously witty remark. Today the handwriting is spray painted on freeway overpasses in world capitals -- "Destroy all banks!" is one of the milder comments. Meanwhile, we continue to believe the popular delusion that demonization and dehumanization are proper social policies. If we can just marginalize the right people, all will be well and the common good will be enhanced. We think we can sow copious seeds in furrows of injustice, and never reap a bitter harvest. The overwhelming lust for power and profit blinds our eyes to what the poor and the signs of these times are saying to us. So like the ancient rulers of Jerusalem who do not hear the bold words of Peter and John, we close our ears to the cry of the poor.

My Lord and my God. TOP

The Second Sunday of Easter, April 30, 2000

Readings: Acts 4:32-35 + 1 John 5:1-6 + John 20:19-31

We don't want to believe the promise of the Gospel, and we have Thomas as patron of our doubts. How can all this resurrection stuff be true -- Kingdom of God, justice, peace, mercy, beauty, goodness. All we can see is violence, injustice, oppression, death. Yeah, we hear the testimonies, but who can believe such nonsense? Yet, in the midst of our unbelief, there stands Jesus, who touches us with his Wounds and brings us faith and healing. We who are "far off" are thus "brought near" by the blood of Jesus Christ.

We see the power of this resurrection faith in the coming together of that first community of Christians in Jerusalem. They held their possessions in common. Those who had more voluntarily chose to have less, so that those who had nothing could have something. Thus Luke can write that the apostles bore witness "with great power." They were living their message.

John tells us that when we love God, our behavior is affected. We obey his commandments, and then a second time we are told, "For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments." Do we need a review? Have we not seen during Lent a general overview of the demands of God upon our lives? Are we not called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly? As it was 2000 years ago, so it is today, people prefer to commit injustice, praise ruthlessness, and walk proudly over other human beings, so the scope of this call should not be doubted.

It is so hard, we think, but that's not what John says -- "and his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world." That is, such obedience may not be possible in our natural state, but as we are begotten as children of God, we receive the grace that is necessary to do these things. Thus the Jerusalem community was able to develop true solidarity, each person seeing the others as as important as his or her own life -- not just in theory, but also in terms of property and money and economics. Eeek! This isn't how we like our religion. We like our faith over here and our stock market over there and we don't like to think about the intersection of the two. But today is one of the many reminders in the lectionary that this just ain't so. Jesus does not invite us to segregate and segment our lives, but rather to live in wholeness and unity, understanding that God's laws govern all aspect of our lives, not excepting our economics.

Is this not the carpenter's son? TOP

Monday, May 1st

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Today we take a quick break from the lectionary progression through Easter to observe the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. The readings today remind us of the divine origin of work -- God himself was the first worker, creating the universe and all is therein. The Gospel reminds us of Jesus' working class origins, and the role that this plays in his rejection by his community. He is not a seminary-educated rabbi, rather, he is a worker, what can he have to say to us about anything other than wood and construction?

On May 1, 1886, a nationwide strike began to demand an 8 hour day. Within a day, workers were killed. On May 4th, a union rally was organized in Haymarket Square in Chicago to protest the previous days murders. A bomb was thrown, and 8 police officers were killed. Eight men were arrested and sentenced to death, four were actually hanged, one committed suicide, and the others were pardoned seven years later. The verdict of history would appear to be that the actual killers escaped, and those arrested were framed. In the resulting national hysteria, which was carefully manipulated by industrial leaders, the 8 hour workday movement collapsed, not to be revived until early in the 20th century. The labor movement soon declared May 1st as an annual day of remembrance for those who had been killed during the struggle to establish the rights of workers. In 1955, Pope Pius XII moved the feast of St. Joseph the Worker to May 1st.

The regular readings for this day continue the story of Peter and John, just released by the authorities after being warned to preach no more the name of Jesus. They immediately disobey this order, and the first reading consists largely of the tender and beautiful prayer they offered to God. The story which has come to us says that as they prayed, the place in which they were gathered shook as they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Because we are Americans, we have been conditioned to keep our religion separate from our economics. So the juxtaposition of the remembrance of the US labor struggle with the account of the Creation and the beginning of Jesus' ministry may seem obscure. We have not generally been taught that the Church's teaching says that employers must pay just wages, we believe the generally popular economic superstition that if you voluntarily agree to take a job, whatever the boss decides to pay you is OK. But that's not what the Church teaches -- going all the way back to Leo XIII, we learn that an employer who pays an unjust wage is committing fraud and violence against his workers. From our secular history as a nation, we know that big business fought violently against workers who demanded just wages and decent working conditions -- but this too is rarely remembered. Instead, we hear daily attacks on unions -- which are effectively attacks on the gospel principles of solidarity and subsidiarity and on the institutions of civil society which are necessary for the promotion of these virtues.

As we keep the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, let us say a prayer of gratitude for those who have gone before us in the struggle for human rights and social justice. May we never forget what they have done for us and the price of the rights we enjoy today!

Live simply, that others may simply live. TOP

Tuesday, May 2, 2000

Readings: Acts 4:32-37 + John 3:7-15

The intersection of the Sunday and the daily lectionaries brings us again today the first reading from Sunday. We hear Jesus speaking with Nicodemus, telling him that he must be born again. Nicodemus is a leader of his people, he is educated, learned, but is having problems with the concepts Jesus is presenting to him. Like everybody else, he resists the thought of such fundamental change in his life, caused by his relationship with this humble Man-who-was-more-than-a-man from a poor city in a poor province.

The way to God is demonstrated in the perfect servant leadership of Christ, who although God and Lord pours himself out for the salvation of all. By being lifted up in condemnation and death, he draws people to him, so that through a relationship of love and discipleship with Jesus they will have eternal life. It really is simple, but we want to make it more complex.

It's a change so fundamental that the first Christians decided to hold their property in common. It bears repeating: those who had more voluntarily chose to have less, so that those who had nothing could have something. Such was their solidarity with each other, their discipleship relationship with Jesus, and their orthopraxis of the doctrine Jesus had taught them, that they spontaneously came to understand that "less is more". As we would say today, live simply, so that others may simply live.

The Apostles escape from jail. TOP

Wednesday, May 3, 2000

Readings: Acts 5:17-26 + John 3:16-21

As far as the rulers were concerned, those dastardly apostles were behaving badly. So the politicians had them arrested and locked them up in jail. But in the night, the Lord sent an angel who opened the gates and the apostles came out. Did they run away and hide, which seems to me to be the sensible thing to do? No, they waited for dawn and then went right into the Temple and started teaching.

The rulers convened the court, and sent to the jail for the apostles, only to find out that even though the doors were locked, and nobody had seen anybody go in or out, the apostles were not there. While they were pondering this confusing information, more bad news arrived -- the apostles were teaching openly in the Temple! So the captain of the Temple Guard goes and brings them to the court, although they are careful to be quiet and polite as it was broad daylight and people were watching.

Jesus continues his sermon to Nicodemus. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but have eternal life. You'd think we'd all be glad to get this news, but that isn't the way the world works. We've already seen the demands this salvation makes on us -- and the challenge it makes to the structures of sin that run this world. "Light came into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were wicked." As it was then, so it is now. People who work in wickedness hate the light, they go to great lengths to disguise what they are doing. They redefine words, purchase ad campaigns, and write textbooks, all to carefully explain that slavery is liberty, war is peace, and oppression is justice. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Be distracted by the smoke and mirrors! The more things change, the more they remain the same.

You disobeyed us! TOP

Thursday, May 4, 2000

Readings: Acts 5:27-33 + John 3:31-36

The drama of confrontation between the apostles and the Sanhedrin continues. The high priest is very angry at the disobedience of these poor people. "We gave you an order! You disobeyed us!" Note their concern that the apostles were exposing the role of the politicians in the execution of Jesus. Instead of cowering in fright, these men who have no power continue to speak truth to power, announcing the truth of Jesus to the men who helped murder him. "When the Sanhedrin heard this, they were stung to fury and wanted to kill them." Ah yes, the "murder the messenger" strategy so often resorted to by the high and mighty of our own day. Long before Machiavelli, Holy Scripture records many such insights about the reactions of rulers to challenges to their unjust authority and wicked acts.

Today's gospel continues Jesus' teachings to Nicodemus. It's not a new teaching, rather, it goes back to the beginnings of the covenant with Israel at Sinai. Before all people are set two choices -- one leading to life, the other embracing death. To believe in Jesus is to accept life, to reject Jesus is to incur the sentence of death. We have the testimony of Holy Scripture, natural law, the history of salvation, and our own experience with grace. All of these things bear witness of the truth that is Jesus. Yet, even in our own day, there are Sanhedrins and politicians who denounce such truth. When their complicity for the murder of Jesus in our own day is exposed ("inasmuch as you have done this unto one of these, the least of my brothers or sisters), they roar with fury and plot evil against the innocent. They command us to be silent, to stick to the party line, to be politically correct. But the call to us is the same as it was to the apostles -- speak truth to power, this is truly one of the messages of Easter.

Nothing can oppose God's work. TOP

Friday, May 5, 2000 +Readings: Acts 5:34-42 + John 6:1-15

Just when we start to wonder if there is any hope among those who would be rulers, the Sanhedrin decides to meet in executive session to discuss what to do with these disobedient apostles of Jesus. There is one voice for sanity and justice. His message is simple. If these men are of God, there is nothing they can do to oppose them. If, on the other hand, they are operating in their own strength, without the call of God, they will destroy themselves. Looking for a way out of a bad situation, the Sanhedrin accepts this argument -- but not before they have one last word in the form of having the apostles whipped. Once again they order the apostles to not preach about Jesus. The apostles rejoice that they have been considered worthy to suffer because of their Lord, and as soon as they are released, they continue to teach and proclaim the good news of the Messiah. What an example of fortitude and perseverence they give us. Those who speak truth to power run the risk of attacks. Big corporations often bring lawsuits against people who preach against their corporate sins and injustices. (To this day, the death of Karen Silkwood of Oklahoma, who exposed the crimes of the Kerr-McGee corporation against its workers and the environment, remains unresolved.) People sometimes lose their jobs when they speak out. The COINTELPRO program was used by the feds to silence movements protesting against racial and economic justice.

The gospel today reminds us of the signs and wonders that Jesus did. Setting the example for us, the sick were healed and the hungry were fed. And nothing was left to waste -- the apostles gathered up 12 baskets full of the left over bread. While there are many truths that we can focus on in this reading, should we not pay attention to Jesus' concern that "nothing be wasted"? This concern is certainly not one that is shared by our materialistic society. Use it once, throw it away, that's the modern mantra. We're too lazy to wash dishes, so we use paper and plastic and then just throw them away. We refuse to reuse and recycle, the idea of "making do with what you got" is a quaint relic of our great-grandparents' era. We have little or no concern for the stewardship impact of our vicious wastefulness and we gleefully poison the land, the air, and the water with our household, automotive, and industrial trash. This is truly a sin of the fathers and mothers that will be visited upon our children's children for many generations.

A call to servant leadership TOP

Saturday, May 6, 2000 +Readings: Acts 6:1-7 + John 6:16-21

Today the first Christians discover that even in their new found joy in the Lord, the effects of sin remain with them, and they create new structures of servant leadership to help manage their situation. Under the influence of the Resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the first Christians had opened their hearts and vision to include both Jews and Greeks and people of many other nations. As it was in those days, so it is today, people are most comfortable with those who are from their tribe; relationships with outsiders remain rocky. So the Greeks complained that there were inequities in the distribution of food. The apostles respond by calling and ordaining the first deacons, a ministry of service in the Church that continues to this day. Notice that inherent in the calling of the first deacons is a mandate to ensure equity and justice in the distribution of goods -- what we would call today "distributive justice."

In today's Gospel we hear those words again -- "Do not be afraid!" Yes, there is a tremendous storm. Yes, Jesus has delayed meeting them. Yes, it is dark, the wind is blowing, and the sea is very rough. But just when we think all is lost, here comes Jesus -- walking ON the water, ABOVE the waves, OBLIVIOUS to the wind. To paraphrase a modern advertising campaign, Behold the power of Gospel!

Who are the followers of Jesus? TOP

The Third Sunday of Easter, 2000 +Readings: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19 + 1 John 2:1-5a + Luke 24:35-48

It's easy to tell who the followers of Jesus are. They are the ones who keep his commandments. Notice that it doesn't say, "The ones who love Jesus are the ones who build the biggest churches." Followers of Jesus are known by the actions they do. Regarding people who say they love Jesus, but do not keep his commandments, well, John says they are liars.

Dare I remind us what the commandments of Jesus are? It's so important it bears repeating. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, shelter the homeless, if somebody does not have a coat, and you have two, give him one of yours. Visit those who are in prison. Collect the leftovers so that nothing is wasted. Love God above all things, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Forgive those who sin against you, love your neighbor, do good to those who do evil to you. Do not oppress the widows or the fatherless. Go and sin no more. Do not be a pious hypocrite who prays on the street corners while oppressing the widows and orphans in secret. Do not pile up burdens heavy to bear on peoples' backs. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.

As you can plainly see, the common allegation that the United States is a Christian country is obviously false.

Two of the apostles had just returned from their journey to Emmaus; they had met the Risen Lord but did not recognize him -- until he broke bread with them. Even as they were telling the others about this in the locked "upper room", Jesus comes and stands in their midst and proclaims peace to them. He reads the fears and concerns in their hearts, and offers them the Wounds in his flesh as a healing balm for their doubts. He even sits and eats with them. And then he opens their hearts to understand what the scriptures teach.

How great is our need for Jesus to come into our midst and heal our own doubts and confusions by the evidence of his own Wounds. Let us remember his solidarity with us even unto his own death -- and then let us ask ourselves about our own solidarity with the poor Jesus who is among us today in the persons of the homeless, the marginalized, the single mothers with kids that live in shacks beside great freeways and rivers. We think it is fine to be healed by a nice plaster Jesus with little dots of red paint on his hands, feet, and side -- but what about the Jesus who comes to us with real open Wounds, dripping blood on our immaculately clean carpets? Can we be touched by those Wounds for the healing of our souls?

Tragedy, Martyrdom, Resistance TOP

Monday, May 8, 2000 +Readings: Acts 6:8-15 + John 6:22-29

Today begins a story of tragedy, martyrdom, and the resistence of structures of sin to the outbreaking of Gospel. Stephen, first among the deacons, is filled with grace and power and wonders happen at his hands. Which is to say, he was going about healing and helping and doing works of restoration and blessing. He was building the Reign of God as a "real-time process" right there in Jerusalem.

Structures of sin will always react violently to outbreaks of "Gospelizing" behavior. "The emperor is naked," cries Stephen, and ten thousand emperors react with vigorous denial. They also order his arrest and bring false witnesses against him. "No good deed goes unpunished." We say this with nervous laughter, but this wisdom saying witnesses to a terrible reality in human affairs. The structures of sin which are so powerful in the culture of death do not like challenge. They will resist, often with great violence and injustice.

People were looking for Jesus. They are hungry, Jesus sees their need within them but knows that there is a deeper hunger that must be satisfied. He invites them to be less concerned about their stomachs and more concerned about their souls. Notice that this is not an attempt by Jesus to set up some kind of "soul-body" dichotomy, but rather instruction in the proper ordering of our "hierarchy of values". And given the holistic approach we have taken with this series of meditations, we also see that "food that remains unto life eternal" has a high justice component. All of us must eat food or we will die physically, this is also true spiritually. Our spiritual food is the Eucharist, but it is also our relationships with others. When we take so much that others do not have enough, we are turning away from the Lord's Table in search of materialistic gratification. To do this is to put our trust in the perishable, and forsake the eternal. Not a good long or short-term investment.

Kill the prophets! TOP

Tuesday, May 9, 2000 + Readings: Acts 7:51--8:1 + John 6:30-35

Stephen has no focus groups or polling organizations to help him craft his message. Nor has he attended a Dale Carnegie course to teach him how to win friends and influence people. Who could really blame Stephen if he had decided that discretion was the better part of valor in his situation. Instead, he opens with a real show-stopper: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcized in heart and ears. . . was there ever any prophet whom your fathers did not persecute?"

Those who heard these words did not appreciate the insight. They were "stung to the heart"; they "ground their teeth in anger at him." Nobody is so filled with vengeance as a politician who has been caught in his own crime. In the midst of the uproar, Stephen experiences an overpowering vision of Jesus standing at God's right hand. Do these people repent of their wickedness and turn to Jesus? No, once again they kill the messenger, dragging Stephen out of the city, and murdering him by stoning. Even as he is dying, Stephen prays for his persecutors. A young man named Saul, who agreed with the mob that Stephen should die, held their coats and cloaks while they committed this evil deed.

The crowd continues to be confused about the message of Jesus. They want an earthly king to drive out the Romans, but Jesus promises them something better -- life and truth and an end to hunger and thirst. In a world of injustice, we can never be sure what form our temporal liberation will take, but of this we can be certain: in whatever situation we find ourselves, we can find sustenance in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are those who say that readings such as this teach us to be satisfied with "salvation in heaven by and by" and neglect our temporal situation. But what this really says is that the right ordering of our priorities is important, our work for justice begins in the "gospelizing" of our lives and hearts through a supernatural and mystical relationship with Jesus, nourished by the Eucharist. In this way we can be salt and leaven in a world of sin and injustice, bringing healing even in the face of overwhelming and apparently victorious evil. Even in the midst of concentration camps, we can maintain our human dignity and personhood through this relationship of grace and love.

The first great persecution of the Church TOP

Wednesday, May 10, 2000 + Readings: Acts 8:1-8 + John 6:35-40

Thus begins the first great persecution of the church. And like all such persecutions, it results in the even wider spread of the Gospel. The apostles who had been concentrated in Jerusalem, were scattered to the four winds. Luke makes a point of noting that Philip went to Samaria, and his ministry there was greatly blessed. Many who were far off were called back into the community by the power of his preaching. If this was happening in the modern world, instead of "Samaria" we could say, "The Town of the Crack Addicts", and just as we would be amazed to find God moving among such people, the people of Jerusalem who read Luke's book would wonder at how God could bless such an awful group of people.

But that's what the Gospel does. It makes friends of those who once were enemies. Philip didn't have to go to Samaria, there were plenty of other towns in Israel, but Philip goes to those who are marginalized and rejected by the Establishment of his era, and offers them the grace of the Kingdom. Unlike the eminently respectable rulers of Jerusalem, the scum of Samaria eagerly embrace the Gospel. They do not kill Philip, rather, they welcome him.

Jesus continues to teach us about the Eucharist, so important in our work of redemption and justice. I freely confess that I do not understand the how and why of the Eucharist, but then, I don't exactly understand how the regular food that I eat is converted into the necessary energy and nutrients which my physical body needs. I do know that if I don't eat food I get physically hungry, and if I go without food long enough, I will die of starvation. So it is with the spiritual food God offers us through the Eucharist, offered at the public prayer of thanksgiving of the gathered community that journeys together to the Reign of God. Just as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we come to know Jesus in the breaking of the Bread and the giving of the Cup.

The Ethiopian believes. TOP

Thursday, May 11, 2000 + Acts 8:26-40 + John 6:44-51

Philip continues his ministry to unusual groups of people. Today the Lord tells him to hit the highway, where he meets an Ethiopian eunuch -- a man of Africa, who had at early age had been castrated; in an era where family was everything, he would have no children. So even though he holds a high office among his people, he is set apart from the rest of the community. He is riding along in his chariot, reading from the book of Isaiah. Philip asks him if he understands what he is reading, and the Ethiopian invites Philip to ride with him and explain the scriptures. Philip teaches him about Jesus and he comes to believe. They come to some water, and the Ethiopian asks for baptism, which Philip freely and eagerly gives him. Immediately thereafter, God takes Philip away and sends him preaching throughout the towns leading to Caesarea.

Jesus continues his catechesis on the Eucharist, speaking words that are hard to understand, but are nevertheless plain. Eat and drink and never die -- has anyone ever offered you a better deal than this? The culture of death has its attractions, but nothing that can compare with this. If it seems easy, that's because it is. But if it seems hard to understand, that's true too. If we think we need strength to do the works that Jesus did -- and we do -- then let us remember to eat and drink freely of his Word and Body.

Why do you persecute Me? TOP

Friday, May 12, 2000

Readings: Acts 9:1-20 + John 6:52-59

Saul was a man with a mission on behalf of the culture of death. He was headed out to Damascus, ready to persecute the outbreak of "Gospelizing behavior" in that city. But as he approaches Damascus, a bright light from the sky takes away his sight, and he hears a voice, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" It is the voice of Jesus, heard even by the men who were traveling with him. Unable to see, his companions lead him by the hand into Damascus, where he sits for 3 days fasting without food or water.

This is also a story about a Christian named Ananias. The Lord appears to him in a vision, and commands him to go and visit Saul. Ananias isn't so sure about this idea. He knows Saul's reputation as a persecutor -- he was present at Stephen's martyrdom, and agreed with the mob's sentence of death. Saul has come to Damascus to arrest Christians -- and even so, Jesus wants him to go visit Saul.

For Ananias it is a great leap of faith to go and embrace a persecutor as a brother in Jesus Christ. For Saul, it is a great leap of faith to accept baptism from those he had previously planned to arrest.

Meanwhile, Jesus is still giving hard sayings to the Jews, causing arguments and quarrels. His catechesis is clear, he will give us his Body and his Blood as a source of spiritual strength and eternal life. Besides the witnesses of Word and Tradition, there is the experience of hundreds of millions of people over 2000 years that bears witnesses to the truth of His message.. We who are nourished with the Body and Blood of our Lord are called to go out and be leaven and salt in our communities, passing on grace and love to others we meet in our journeys.

Apostolic healing. TOP

Saturday, May 13, 2000 +Readings: Acts 9:31-42 + John 6:60-69

Already, the Church has spread through Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, it is at peace, the Holy Spirit is ministering to the people, the apostles were traveling and preaching and baptizing. Today Peter visits Lydda, a town about 30 miles away from Jerusalem, towards the Mediterranean coast. He meets a man named Aeneas, confined to his bed for 8 years, and heals him. In nearby Joppa, a port city, a holy woman named Tabitha has died; the Church there asked for Peter to come. He is met by many widows who tell him of how Tabitha has helped them. Peter raises her from the dead. In developing this story, Luke gives careful attention to this woman's good stewardship of her possessions and her solidarity with the poor. This is significant because it recalls Christ's teachings about material goods, and the person being honored in this story is a woman. Thus, a society that was often very cruel to women is taught of the goodness of this woman.

Jesus' catechesis on the Eucharist has caused dissension among those who follow him. It seems hard to understand, inconvenient. "Many of his disciples" left because of this teaching. Christ asks Peter -- "Do you want to leave too?" Peter tenderly replies, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

We are God's family. TOP

Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2000 + Acts 4:8-12 + 1 John 3:1-2 + John 10:11-18

Of all the possible descriptions of the relationship between God and humanity, one of the most common is family. We are children of God, we are brothers and sisters in God's family. This gives both a theological and a practical foundation for the gospel virtue of solidarity (I like to say that the 4 "cardinal virtues" of the church's social teaching are solidarity, subsidiarity, justice, and stewardship.) Our relationship, as John describes it in today's 2nd reading, is one of intimacy and love, a relationship available to all human beings who open their hearts to the call of the Spirit.

We have encountered the first reading in the daily lectionary for this season, its importance is shown by its repetition in the Sunday lectionary. This is Peter's confession of faith before the rulers of his people; men who have power to imprison him and even to have him killed. He has every incentive to deny the Lord -- he himself denied Christ 3 times the night before he was crucified. But he has learned from his mistake.

In the Gospel, Jesus talks about the difference in the ways a shepherd and an servant would meet a threat to the flock. The servant is not a particularly good employee, he takes his wage, but he does not do his job. But the shepherd is ready to lay down his life for those who are under his protection. When we go to be in solidarity with the poor, do we leave at the first hint of danger or difficulty? Or is our solidarity truly total, willing to accept the risks that the poor face every day? If you think about this one, it can be as hard a saying as anything Jesus said about the Eucharist.

Salvation is for everybody! TOP

Monday, May 15, 2000 + Feast of St. Isidore +Acts 11:1-18 + John 10:1-10

One of the big issues in the early Church was the conversion of Gentiles. The Jews were a proud people, the question on the table was whether Christians were still bound by all of the Jewish ceremonial and purity laws. In today's reading, Peter recounts a tremendous vision of animals, some "clean" and thus fit to eat, others "unclean" and thus forbidden in the diet. Peter refuses the unclean foods -- but is rebuked by a voice, who tells him that what God has purified cannot be called unclean.

Immediately after having this vision, he is invited to the home of a Gentile, and he goes in and has dinner with him. Peter preached to the family, and the Holy Spirit came upon them as it had on the day of Pentecost. When he gets back to Jerusalem, many criticize him for eating with a Gentile family, but after hearing of his visions, they begin to understand that salvation is not for the Jews alone, but for everybody, including the Gentiles.

Jesus teaches us of the importance of listening for his voice, not the call of a counterfeit godling of our own or somebody elses creation. Jesus is the way -- not money, nor sex, nor power. By following Jesus, we come to safety; by following the voices of false godlings of our own creation, we risk damnation. Note that the Jubilee Holy Year 2000 in the United States is also a presidential election year. This will be good advice to remember as the campaign season intensifies.

Today is the feast of St. Isidore, patron of farmers. We should give thanks for farmers, and while we are at it, we should spend a few moments thinking about who will be the farmers 20 years from now. The average age of a family farmer in Oklahoma is over 60. It is possible that the last generation of family farmers has already been born and is going to school. In their place, six giant transnational corporations (which are rapidly consolidating into two big cartels), are positioning themselves to feed us genetically modified factory foods grown with liberal helpings of chemicals and pesticides, using low-wage labor imported from poor countries. We think (because they have told us to think this way) that bigger is better, but that ain't necessarily true, as anyone who has tasted homegrown produce knows when faced with a mushy tasteless tomato bred for its ability to withstand massive doses of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and rough handling during transport. Here's one practical thing you can do to reverse this trend: go to a farmer's market and buy some food directly from a farmer.

The persecution intensifies. TOP

Tuesday, May 16, 2000 + Acts 11:19-26 + John 10:22-30

The first great persecution of the Church in Jerusalem had the effect of scattering missionaries throughout the "neighborhood". By going to Phoenicia, Antioch, and Cypress, the disciples were well positioned to launch missionary enterprises throughout the rest of the Roman Empire. In Antioch, the preaching to the Gentiles really takes hold. The Jerusalem Church hears about this, and sends the apostle Barnabus to study the situation. He rejoiced in the evidence of God's favor for the Gentiles, and then after "confirming the Church" in its faith and message, he goes in search of Saul. Finding him in Tarsus, he returns with him to Antioch, where they spend a year building the Church. This is where we first got our name of "Christian".

Jesus is questioned by people who had been listening to him, actually, they make demands of him -- "Don't keep us in suspense, tell us plainly whether or not you are the Messiah." Their ears are closed, they do not seem to hear what he is saying to them. His is not the voice they are looking for, they want a Messiah of their own making, one that they can control, who will do what they want him to. But Jesus is a King who represents the civilization of life and love. As long as his listeners are admirers of the culture of death, they will not understand the point of his message. And neither will we.

The Church prepares for a famine. TOP

Wednesday, May 17, 2000 + Acts 12:24-13:5 + John 12:44-50

While in Antioch, a prophet came from Judea who predicted a famine throughout the land. As a result, the Church in Antioch sent assistance to the Church in Judea, sending it with Barnabus and Saul. After the end of their relief journey, they visited Jerusalem and then were in Antioch, from which town they are called onto the first great mission into Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Thus the new Church in Antioch maintains its solidarity both with its Jewish parent and with its new destiny as evangelizer of the Gentiles. Those who had food sent food to those who were without. It was a response of prudence and justice and stewardship and solidarity.

Jesus today stakes his claim to oneness with the Father, showing forth the divine origin of his teachings. It's not just anybody who is telling us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and etc., it is the One who has been commanded by God to speak and preach these words. Those who reject these commandments will nevertheless find that they will be judged by those commandments. This kind of accountability is not what we like to think about. We like to think that objective good -- and objective evil -- belong to an earlier, "simpler" era. In our day, we like to pretend that black and white are really more like a mushy gray. This is a structure of sin that enables much injustice and oppression. It allows us to praise and encourage and profit from evil while at the same time maintaining that we aren't doing anything really wrong since after all, there are no absolutes, are there? This is a wide and attractive road that leads to injustice, violence, and death. Jesus offers us a way of justice and peace and light that illumines the darkest hour.

Mirrors reflecting the culture of death.. TOP

Thursday, May 18, 2000 + Acts 13:13-25 + John 13:16-20

Paul begins his preaching in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch in modern Turkey (they had left from Syrian Antioch going there via the island of Cyprus), at the beginning of his first missionary journey, with an account of the salvation history of the Jewish people. He connects Jesus' ministry with that of John the Baptist, who was notable for his preaching of justice of the powerful.

The gospel today reminds us that the one who would be great must first of all be the servant of all. Since no servant outranks the master, if the Lord of all will kneel to wash the feet of his disciples, a pre-eminent sign of those who follow His footsteps will be their desire and ability to be servant leaders, preaching first by example, using words as necessary. He also highlights his unity with the Church, telling us that whoever accepts his messengers, greets the Lord himself.

Servant leadership is one of the most difficult disciplines of the works of justice and peace. Yet, in a world which suffers greatly due to corrupt and wicked leadership, it is one of the most necessary aspects of the journey towards justice. Servant leadership is a characteristic of the civilization of life and love; toxic leadership is symptomatic of the culture of death. By looking at our leaders, we see mirrors reflecting images indicating the ascendancy of life or death in our civilization. (If that last sentence is a true statement, and not just a rhetorical flourish, we may be in deep trouble.)

Jesus is the Way. TOP

Friday, May 19, 2000 + Acts 13:26-33 + John 14:1-6

Saul (now generally referred to as Paul, in those days, many Roman citizens had names in both their native tongues and in Greek or Latin) continues his sermon in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch. He again remains "on topic" -- announcing the good news that Jesus was the Messiah and had risen from the dead, in fulfillment of ancient promises. His message is still true in the Pisidian Antiochs of our own day. Make your choice, civilization of love or culture of death.

Jesus gives us a promise of hope and redemption and comfort. The Way, the Truth, and the Life is Jesus; our relationship to him as a person and as God is a doorway that opens the possibilities of joy, peace, justice, healing, and wholeness.

What shall we pray for? TOP

Saturday, May 20, 2000 + Acts 13:44-52 + John 14:7-14

Paul and Barnabus are attracting big crowds in Pisidian Antioch. But success often breeds envy and opposition, and we've already seen how the structures of sin that constitute the culture of death fight bitterly against their redemption. So the persecution comes to Asia Minor, hard on the heels of the evangelists' apostolic preaching.

Jesus continues to teach his apostles regarding his unity with the Father. He says that those who have faith in Him will do greater works than He did! And then there's this bold promise: "Anything you ask me in my name I will do." Do we want to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and shelter the homeless? Then that's what we need to ask Jesus for. People often ask me, "Bob, where do you meet all of these people?" Most of them find us, and perhaps this is because we pray for God to lead us to people in need, and for God to lead people in need to us.

Love, Justice, and Vinyard Community TOP

The Fifth Sunday of Easter + May 21, 2000 +Acts 9:26-31 + 1 John 3:18-24 + John 15:1-8

When Saul returned from Damascus to Jerusalem, he was not initially welcome. He had been a persecutor, he assisted with the lynching of Stephen, and had encouraged others to harass and persecute the Church. It's easy to imagine them thinking, "What kind of a trick is this?" But the conversion of those who persecute the poor is indeed part of God's plan. He does not desire the death of anyone, he calls all to love and unity within the community of faith. The fruits of Saul's conversion were, however, plain and visible. He who had attacked the new community of Justice now defended it, preaching the good news that Christ had risen from the dead and the Reign of God was upon us. Soon plots were launched against his life and safety, and he was evacuated to his home town of Tarsus.

St. John the Beloved is not giving us an easy out today. He calls us to love in deed and truth, not simply in word or speech. It's not included in this particular reading, but the verses just before this reading (1 John 3:17) asks, "If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?" So this reading explicitly connects "distributive justice" (access of all to the goods of creation) with keeping the commandments of God. This isn't an option, it's not a cafeteria where you get to pick and choose your preferred diet ("I think I'll pass on the solidarity and simple living, but give me two helpings of instant gratification and lust.") John says Jesus' call is to love God and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If you were accused of keeping these two commandments in a court of law, would there be enough evidence to convict you? As to "who is my neighbor?", we always find it easy to love neighbors who are like us -- similar demographics, lifestyles, incomes, politics. That's one reason why we legally segregate our neighborhoods by economic class, making it against the law in many areas for poor people to live among rich people. We don't want to have poor neighbors, and will go to great lengths to ensure that this can never happen. I wonder how long it will be before we discover that juridical segregation of neighborhoods by economic class is as deadly to the common good as segregation by race?

But Jesus dramatically teaches us who is our neighbor by using the metaphor of the vineyard. "I am the vine, you are the branches." The poor family who lives across the tracks in the "bad" part of town is as much your neighbor as the person who lives next door to you. And those who are poor need also to remember that the rich on the other side of the town are their neighbors too. The rich have things to learn from the poor, this vineyard community thing is not a one way street where the poor somehow become the dependents of those who aren't.

All are called to participation in the life of the community; policies and laws that marginalize people and separate people attack this vineyard community at its very roots. Structured juridical marginalization is a terrible social evil. Organized depersonalization campaigns are advocacies of hate and aspects of the culture of death.

We've seen where the popular nihilism takes us. All of us have looked into the depths of the culture of death and seen horrors. Let us have the courage to look as deep into the civilization of love and the culture of life and see the blessings which are therein.

Neither a liberal scheme nor a conservative plot. TOP

Monday, May 22, 2000 + Acts 14:5-18 + John 14:21-25

Pisidian Antioch to Derbe is about 70 miles, with Iconium being about at the half-way point. Paul is moving back towards Syria, going along a road that eventually leads back to Tarsus and Syrian Antioch. Structures of sin reacting against his preaching in Iconium organized plots to abuse and stone him. So he and Barnabus are on the road again. They see a man crippled from birth, and heal him. The people are so astounded the priests of the pagan temples come out to offer sacrifice to the apostles. Paul announces the good news of Christ, and speaks of how God can also be known through our relationship with nature and each other, in the joys and delights of humanity.

The Jesus that Paul announces is the same Jesus who in today's gospel lays down the law for his apostles. Those who obey the commandments are the ones who love Jesus. We are to be true to His word. His word is God's word. It's not a liberal scheme nor a conservative plot. The relationship we have with Jesus changes the way we live. As it changes the ways we live, our communities and societies and cultures are changed. What's that you say, "it's hard to see evidence of this today?" Well, this is why Jesus says we have to open our eyes in order to see. When he healed a blind beggar he said, "Wash the mud from your eyes." There's more going on "out there" than you think. And in any event, if there isn't enough Gospel in your neighborhood, look in the mirror to find a messenger. See that invisible mark of the Reign of God placed on your soul at your baptism? There's your credentials. It all the "authorization" you need to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and bring reconciliation and healing to those who need it.

The peace of Christ. TOP

Tuesday, May 23, 2000 +Acts 14:19-28 + John 14:27-31

We already know how this story goes. Paul arrives in a town, preaches the gospel, stirs up a ruckus, has to leave town quickly. This time they retrace their steps, visiting the new Christian communities which had sprung up in their wake, calling elders to preside in the community, and confirming people in their faith. At Pisidian Antioch they turned south to the Mediterranean coast, going back to Syrian Antioch by boat from Attalia and gave an account of their travels to their community.

Jesus is proclaiming peace, it is his last gift to the apostles. With his peace comes comfort and fortitude during trials and tribulations. By the time John wrote his gospel, the new Christian

communities had experienced much reaction from the structures of sin of the era. In our own era, these words are hardly less important. Even when trouble is upon us, we can lay aside our fears by trusting in the peace of Christ. We live not only with the concentration camps and the genocides, but also with the death of much that is true and dear in our own cultures. A crass materialistic consumerism cannibalizes our cultural heritage, selling our birthright values for monotone politically correct liberal and conservative sound bytes. When the world has so much war, hate, and violence, the peace that Christ gives is a welcome healing balm.

Our witness to the world.

Wednesday, May 24, 2000 + Acts 15:1-6 + John 15:1-8 TOP

Today we read of the beginning of the first great council of the Church, the Council of Jerusalem. The issue on the table was whether a Gentile must first become a Jew (for men, this would require circumcision) to be a Christian. Men from the Jerusalem church had come to Antioch teaching this, and it caused a big controversy. It was decided that Paul and Barnabas and others would go up to Jerusalem to ask the apostles and elders about the question. After reporting to the Jerusalem church regarding their missionary travels among the Gentiles, some in the community said that these Gentile converts should be "told to keep the Mosaic law." Thus the debate was framed. How universal would this Gospel be?

The intersection of the 2 year daily mass lectionary and the 3 year Sunday lectionary bring us last Sunday's gospel again. Christ and the Church are one vine with many branches, the branches draw life from the vine, producing much fruit. If we think we can do this without drawing strength from the vine, we are fooling ourselves. The work of justice organically grows from our common family relationship as a Christian community. As we model justice within our community and the lives of our households and families, our witness to the world is strengthened.

The universality of the Gospel. TOP

Thursday, May 25, 2000 + Acts 15:7-12 + John 15:9-11

The Council of Jerusalem is meeting to decide the question of Mosaic law observance. Peter recounts the story of his call to preach to Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas described the miracles "God had worked among the Gentiles through them." James offered evidence from Holy Scripture. Note the sources of authority cited by the participants in the debate: (1) Mystical experiences (Peter's dream), (2) the visible fruitfulness of the mission to the Gentiles, (3) Holy Scripture, (4) God's direct intervention in the form of miracles, (5) reasoning from their experiences. In other words, they used a combination of spiritual discernment and inductive and deductive methods of logic.

Why was this so important? In hindsight, looking back over 2,000 years, we can see the question was the universality of the Gospel. Was it to remain the precious secret of a few lucky enough to be born into it, or was it for everybody, everywhere? As Jesus says in today's Gospel, "Live on in my love." God's love for Jesus is the love of Jesus for us. As we keep his commandments (there he goes again, talking about those commandments. . . ), we remain in his love. The fullness of joy is found in this love.

Love is the foundation of justice. TOP

Friday, May 26, 2000 + Acts 15:22-31 + John 15:12-17

Today the Church in Jerusalem sends a letter to the new Christian communities in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia rejecting the idea that observance of the Mosaic law was binding upon the new Christian communities. The universal message of Christ was not to be tied to the ethnic ritual observances and ceremonial purity laws.

Jesus continues his discourse, and the Church continues to teach us by presenting this sequence of readings each year during the Easter season. We are to love each other as Christ has loved us. We are not slaves, but rather friends of God. The reading begins and ends with exhortations to love one another. This love is truly the foundation of justice, solidarity, and stewardship.

Come over to Macedonia and help us! TOP

Saturday, May 27, 2000 + Acts 16:1-10 + John 15:18-21

Paul is into his second great missionary journey. He is moving northwest through modern-day Turkey, headed for the coast of the Aegean Sea. Along the way, Timothy joins the team as Paul's disciple, and from the way the story shifts into a first person "we", Luke was also on pilgrimage with them. While at the coast, he has a dream in which a man says to him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" So they embarked on a ship for Greece, source of much of the culture of the Roman world, and home to ancient schools of philosophers that were known throughout the world. The new Christian message was headed for a close encounter of the third kind with classical Hellenism.

The lectionary fathers showed a keen insight by pairing this first reading with today's gospel. "If you find that the world hates you. . . " The opposition of the culture of death to the culture of life is a common theme in the readings of Easter. It doesn't welcome prophets and apostles and other such busybodies. Always running around, preaching peace and justice, calling people to repentance, dashing water on our so-called "good times", meddling with issues that religion shouldn't be concerned with such as what the rich do with their wealth (and what the poor do with their poverty). We'll get as much respect as Jesus did, and look what happened to Him. Yes, indeed, look what happened to him. Cast down, he rose again from the dead, triumphant and victorious. Yes, indeed, look what will happen to us if we keep his commandments and live in peace and love.

The Sunday of Love. TOP

The Sixth Sunday of Easter + May 28, 2000 + Memorial Day weekend in the United States + Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48 + 1 John 4:7-10 + John 15:9-17

Call this one the Sunday of Love. Let us love one another . . the love of God was revealed to us. . . keep my commandments, remain in my love. . . I also love you. . . Twice this week we read this Gospel. The Church thus shows the importance of love in the life of the community and the spiritual life of the believer. Lest we decide to quibble about who we are to love, these readings are coupled with Peter's experience in preaching to and baptizing Gentiles -- people not of his traditional community.

On this weekend, in the United States we traditionally remember those who have died in wars. There have been a lot of wars this century, and a lot of people have been killed. It's an accident of calendar that today's readings emphasize love on a weekend we remember the fallen in battle, but in the Lord's timing, such accidents are more providence than chance. The answer to war is conversion and love. Christ came into the world to end war -- the spiritual war within our souls, which is the source of wars between people and nations. Tens of millions of people have died during wars in the 20th century, and as we go into the 21st, during this Jubilee Holy Year 2000, thousands are dying every month from war and its consequences.

Our own nation is quick to fire its cruise missiles, and does not shrink from making war on non-combatants, holding entire nations hostage because of the bad behavior of their leaders. In particular, the people of Iraq suffer cruelly from our argument with their leader -- a man we helped to get power and to keep it for many years. We are very far from keeping God's commandments to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If we weren't, there would be no question of the US maintaining a policy for going on ten years that is killing another nation's children. We knew it would do this when we imposed the embargo, we know it is happening every day, and our secretary of state is amoral enough to proclaim proudly to the world, "We think it is worth the price." May the day come when America the Merciless is redeemed as America the Beautiful.

Be prepared for persecution. TOP

Monday, May 29, 2000 + Acts 16:11-15 + John 15:26-16:4a

Paul, Luke, Timothy and company sail to Greece, traveling to Philippi (a city to which he would eventually write one of his famous letters that is now in the New Testament). There they met Lydia, a woman with a successful business in dyed cloth. Her heart was open to the gospel, and she became Paul's patron in Philippi. See how this Pharisee's life had been changed! Instead of shunning contact with the Gentiles, when invited he was willing to live in the household of a non-Jew -- and it is a household headed by a woman!

"You must bear witness," Jesus says, "for you have been with me from the beginning." Be prepared for the persecution.

Sobering words to recall on this day of remembrance of those who have fallen in battle. What is the body count for the 20th century, how many millions? And in the 21st, only a few months old, thousands have already perished. Not a good start.

The conversion of a persecutor. TOP

Tuesday, May 30, 2000 + Acts 16:22-34 + John 16:5-11

Paul converts one his of his persecutors today. Persecution has arisen in Philippi, and Paul and his companions are thrown into jail, maximum security. In the middle of the night, an earthquake opens the prison doors and frees their chains -- but they do not leave. The jailer is astounded by this, and hears the Word they preach to him. He himself bathes their wounds and lays out a feast for them, and he and his household are baptized that very night. Sometimes the oppressors are converted, we've seen some notable ones already in the readings for this season.

The Church continues to give us a sequence of gospels drawn from Jesus' last discourse with his apostles, as recorded in John's gospel. He speaks of the coming Paraclete, the Comforter. As God's on-going presence in the world, the Holy Spirit exposes the truth about the culture of death and clearly shows forth the splendor of the culture of life and the civilization of love. Leaving behind sin, embracing justice, rejecting the dark ruler of this world with his false promises, this is the call of the coming Pentecost.

The encounter with classical Hellenism. TOP

Wednesday, May 31, 2000 + Acts 17:15, 22 - 18:1 + John 16:12-15

After being released from jail in Philippi, the town rulers ask them to leave, so they go on to Thessalonika. Chased from that town by persecutions, they go first to Berea, and then on to Athens, cultural and philosophical capital of Greece. There he gives a speech in the city square, the cultural heart of Athens. His sermon quotes from Greek philosophy popular in the era, and builds a bridge from what they already have experienced of the Divine to the revelation of the Good News he has brought to them. Some scoff, others want more conversation, but some do believe.

Truth, its nature and source, was an important question for the Greek philosophers. Jesus teaches us that the source of Truth is the Divine, the Holy Spirit, third person of the Trinity. In a world of many voices, with many claims to truth, the importance of the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we discern the signs of these times is clear. It's not just what we can figure out on our own, it's what we do with our hearts and what we hear from the Spirit that brings resolution to our dilemmas. In our work for justice and peace, it is not always obvious what we should or shouldn't do. While we certainly can do our very best with our moral and intellectual faculties to prudently discern God's will, we must also have recourse to prayer, fasting, study of Holy Scripture, and other spiritual disciplines.

Paul the worker. TOP

Thursday, June 1, 2000 + Acts 18:1-8 + John 16:16-20

Paul continues his travels through Greece, moving from Athens to Corinth. Along the way, he pursues his trade as a tentmaker. Yes, this intellectual Pharisee, now a committed Christian apostle, is also a worker, a tradesman who made tents. He continues to be rejected by his own people, but welcomed by many in the Gentile world. Once again, the universal nature of the Gospel is emphasized.

Jesus disciples are confused by his comments to them. This isn't new, it seems to be common to their experience with Jesus. And there's no doubt He is a most confusing man. Can he really be serious about all these things he's saying? This talk about love, and more love, and the Holy Spirit, and solidarity with the neighbors, fine pious talk but does he really expect us to live this way? The burden of the text seems to be yes, he does. It's not that he doesn't know that this is hard for us -- he does, he was one of us, remember? But that's why he's talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus prophesies that while the world rejoices, the apostles will weep, but that their grief will be turned to joy. How true and important is this promise for us today, for surely there are many tragedies to bring grief, and healing comes slowly if at all for too many. This is where hopefully we disciples of the Lord will remember that those who grieve are our neighbors, we must go to them so that they too can be touched by the Wounds of the Master Healer, and find peace and wholeness and comfort.

A joy that no one can take from us. TOP

Friday, June 2, 2000 + Acts 18:9-18 + John 16:20-23

Paul finds a congenial home in Corinth, he stays there for at least a year and a half. He is eventually attacked and brought before the Roman judge who refuses to hear the matter, discerning that it is an internal matter of the Jews and nothing to do with the civil order. Paul eventually returns to Syria by sea from Corinth, thus ending his second great missionary voyage which took him from Middle East directly to the cultural heart of the leading city of Greece.

Jesus is promising us a joy that no one can take from us. Quick, let us go and find this joy! What, you say it is right here, in my heart? It resolves all mysteries? Why, so it does, so it does indeed. We are tiny individuals going several thousand miles per hour rotating around the earth, which itself moves at its high velocity around the sun. Our sun rotates at a dizzying speed crawling around the outer edge of this galaxy, and the galaxy itself is in motion moving away from an imaginary point in the center of the known and visible universe. It's enough to make one dizzy, not to mention confused about how all this came to be and what our role is within the greater scheme of things. Well, at least part of that role is joy. Sometimes we have to go through pain to get to the joy (the metaphor of child birth and labor pains is used), but it is our birthright as children and friends of God. The work of justice and peace, which is part of the Work of God, is therefore a work of joy. We see many tragedies doing the works of justice and peace, but we see and participate in much beauty also. In all this we find the joy which nobody can take from us.

Are we wearing Cafeteria Plan spectacles? TOP

Saturday, June 3, 2000 + Acts 18:21-28 + John 16:23-28

After some time in Syrian Antioch, Paul departs on his third great missionary journey, moving systematically through Asia Minor (Turkey) to preach the word and confirm the new Christian communities. In Ephesus, where Paul would stay for several years, some of Paul's disciples encounter Apollos, a native of Alexandria, Egypt, who becomes a notable convert and evangelist. So the Church grew, one heart at a time, changing lives and histories.

Jesus again reflects on joy, suggesting that a source of joy was prayer and worship. The intimacy of the connection between Jesus and the believer is intensified by these practices. As we place our faith in Jesus, we are having faith in God. Jesus was about to physically leave the apostles, yet he was telling them (in "veiled" language) that he would actually never leave them, his presence would always be with them -- in the Eucharist, in the gathered body of believers, in the proclamation of the Word, in the action of the Holy Spirit, in the person of people who are in need of food, clothing, housing. When people look at us, do they see the love of Jesus looking back at them? When we look at others, do we see the love of Jesus in their hearts, or do we put on our special Cafeteria Plan Spectacles that effectively hide the Jesus who is in our neighbor?

Do not be conquered by evil. TOP

The Seventh Sunday of Easter +June 4, 2000 +Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26 + 1 John 4:11-16 + John 17:11b-19

The first reading today takes us back to the beginning of Acts, and the importance the Jerusalem community placed on calling a new apostle to replace Judas who had betrayed Jesus. They selected two candidates, prayed, and then democratically elected Matthias, who was counted with the other apostles.

The second reading continues the series of readings in 1 John, and the theme -- surprise! -- is love: God's love for us, our love for God, our love for our neighbor. If we diagramed that, it would be a triangle, and scientists would say "that is the most stable form." Take away any of the three, and the unity of the structure is harmed. It's importance is clear: it is one of the fundamental structures of beauty and goodness that constitutes the culture of life. It's not based on domination, greed, or lust, but rather on love, love, and more love. If you don't understand this, study the reading again.

Jesus is praying his great prayer of protection for his disciples. It is the brave and prophetic prayer of a man about to be crucified. He does not pray that we be taken out of the world, but that we be kept from the evil one. Because of our relationship with Jesus, we are no longer part of the culture of death, and thus that world will hate us and reject us. Our challenge is to respond with love, and thus to redeem the hate and rejection that is placed before us. Do not be conquered by evil, Paul wrote in Romans, rather, overcome evil with good. As we model this in our lives, we authentically embrace the consecration that Christ became for us on the Cross and in the Resurrection.

Overcome evil with good. TOP

Monday, June 5, 2000 + Acts 19:1-8 + John 16:29-33

There's some thought among scholars that before his conversion, Paul belonged to a sect of the Pharisees that practiced a rather joyous and ecstatic and mystical interpretation of Judaism. Certainly, a wide variety of ecstatic religious experience seems to follow him around. He is known for his dreams and visions, and people receive ecstatic gifts of the Holy Spirit at his hands.

Paul was also a highly educated man, holding the modern equivalent of advanced theological degrees from leading religious institutions. He was always willing to be in conversation with people about the new Christian experience, and he was not shy about speaking truth to power. He did his homework and spoke to the needs of his audience. All of this is good advice as we do works of justice and peace. We must have our facts and figures in order, and always be ready to give a reason for the hope of justice that is within us.

Take courage, Jesus advises his disciples. Hard times are coming, you will suffer. But take courage! Jesus has overcome the world. The Reign of God is upon us. By grace we move from card carrying members of the culture of death to becoming co-creators with God of the culture of life. Finally, his disciples say, "you are speaking plainly." Jesus knows they will scatter in the garden of Gethsemene, yet he also knows that the seed he has planted in their hearts will bear fruit. Like the prodigal son, they will return and then be sent out again, confirmed in their faith, bearing witness of what they had seen and heard and experienced. We never know when we may be scattered, as we do the works of justice and peace. The culture of death can act with great violence against apostles of peace, and sometimes this is overwhelming. So Jesus' advice 2000 years ago remains appropriate for us today: "Take courage." Even as Jesus overcame the world, so too in his strength and by his power, we can overcome evil with good.

Another journey to Jerusalem. TOP

Tuesday, June 6, 2000 + Acts 20:17-27 + John 17:1-11

Now it is Paul's turn to make a Journey to Jerusalem, not knowing for sure what awaits him, but having been warned through mystical experience that chains and hardships await him. He takes his leave of the community in Greece, and calls them to remain true to the word he has preached to them.

The intensity of our Lord's last discourse in the upper room is intensified as Jesus lifts his eyes to heaven and begins his high priestly prayer for the apostles. Jesus' life has given glory to God, he has done what the Father sent him to do. He fed the hungry, clothed the naked, healed the sick, and welcomed the stranger. He prophetically condemned those who oppressed the poor, and who made merchandise of the Word of God. He called into being a new community, whose foundation stones were before him, a community with vertical and horizontal relationships uniting individual human beings to God and to each other with divine adoption and love.



Paul the personalist. TOP

Wednesday, June 7, 2000 + Acts 20:28-38 + John 17:11-19

Paul continues his farewell to the Church of Ephesus in Greece. He commands the elders to mind their own lives and to watch carefully over the church community. There will be disputes and disagreements, salvation comes from staying true to the message they had received and the relationships they had with both God and each other. He reminds them that they should help those who are poor with the products of their own hands and households. He quotes Jesus, saying "There is more happiness in giving than receiving." At the end of his sermon, they all knelt down and prayed and the community began to weep. Paul had been with them for 3 years, he was going away never to return. "Then they escorted him to the ship." He didn't say, "Demand bread from the emperor." Rather, he commanded them to give relief to the poor from their own resources. In other words, Paul was a personalist, like Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker movement.

Jesus's prayer to the Father continues to ask for protection and strength for the apostles. For someone about to go to his own death, Jesus' primary concerns appear to be for those he would leave behind. Thus his model of servant leadership is again before us, a consecration of Cross and Resurrection that endures for all time, throughout all history, until the end of this age.

You are going to Rome! TOP

Thursday, June 8, 2000 + Acts 22:30, 23:6-11 + John 17:20-26

Paul has returned to Jerusalem, and has been arrested. There has been a ruckus, the chief priests and the Sanhedrin were summoned so the Roman authorities could inquire into the charge against him. In this case, Paul has one advantage over Jesus: he was a Roman citizen, so he was entitled to some serious due process. In this reading, Paul shows a bit of his ability as an orator, using the divisions among his enemies to gain advocates from among his accusers (nice work if you can get it). The dispute became quite heated, so much so that the Roman guards withdraw Paul and take him back to the headquarters. That night, Jesus appears to Paul and tells him: Keep up your courage! You are going to Rome!

Now Jesus makes clear that his prayer is not only for those gathered in the Rome with him, but for all people who would come to a relationship with Jesus through their preaching and ministry. He prays for unity and love in the Church, and connects it with his unity and love with the Father. How great we have sinned against this unity, our divisions remain a scandal in the world. The unity which Jesus prayed for is not even found within the Catholic church when it comes to social issues. The Church has its social doctrine, but few Catholics agree with it, most of us have formed our consciences in accordance with various secular political movements. Often, the Church's teaching is hijacked to serve the needs of power, and truth is twisted to serve profit. May the unity which Christ prayed for be ours once again.

Feed my sheep. TOP

Friday, June 9, 2000 + Acts 25:13-21 + John 21:15-19

The Romans decided to move Paul to Caesarea because of a serious plot against his life, sending him to appear before the Roman governor Felix. In his defense, Paul had appealed his case to Caesar. King Agrippa and Bernice were children of Herod, and he ruled a small principality under the Romans. Since his situation was obviously delicate given local sensibilities, one can imagine that Felix was relieved to be able to pass the buck upwards to Roman authority. Thus it came about that Paul was to be sent to Rome, capital of the Empire.

Today we hear Peter's three-fold confession of faith in Jesus (thus balancing his three denials), and in response to each confession, Jesus gives Peter an active instruction: Feed my sheep. Be the shepherd, Jesus is telling Peter, do not turn away from this responsibility. Oh, and by the way, eventually you are going to be crucified upside down. It kind of gives some meaning to his last instruction in the reading, "Follow me." From Jesus' mouth to Peter's ear and through him to us. Understand the consequences, know where you are going, but follow Jesus anyway.

There is more to this story! TOP

Saturday, June 10, 2000 + Acts 28:16-20, 30-31 + John 21:20-25

This is the last mass of the Easter season, 50 days of solemn but joyful remembrance of the Resurrection. During this time, we have reflected on 107 different readings from Holy Scripture, written over perhaps a 60 year period. It's been a dizzying tour of cities and journeys and persecutions and blessings and confusions and disputes and mystical phenomena. We've revisited the initial encounters of the new outbreak of the Gospel with the ancient cultures of Judah, Greece, and Rome.

Paul has arrived in Rome, under the customs of the era, he is not incarcerated in jail but rather under house arrest in a lodging of his own choice (and expense). As the Roman imperial court system is rather slow, he stays in that house for two full years, offering hospitality to all visitors, preaching the Word of God with assurance and without any hindrance from the authorities, civil or religious.

John's Gospel ends on a reflective note of personal witness. "I saw it, I heard it, I wrote it down, this is my testimony. Sorry if you don't believe me, but I can't help what I saw and heard and experienced. This stuff really happened, it's not a fairy tale." (This would be my loose paraphrase of the last part of the reading.) But John hasn't recorded all that Jesus did, there were many other things that happened, so many that if they were all written down, the world would be filled with the books. As a matter of fact, the story continues this day, 2,000 years later, as the works of Jesus continue in the world.

The experience of Easter is a cup that generously overflows giving life to all who drink therein, it is bountiful and free for us to drink from, unlike most things, the more you drink, the more there is to share. The experience of the first Christians with the Resurrected Jesus was powerful enough to send them shooting out of Palestine like drops of water skipping across a hot skillet. They transcended the culture of their birth and opened the way for people of many diverse cultures and languages and nations to live together in peace under the big tent of Christ. They showed keen understanding and prudent organization in developing the on-going Christian mission. Opposed at every turn, they responded with love and fortitude and went on to the next town to plant a new community in that place.

May our reflection on their history bless us with prudence, wisdom, love, and conversion.

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