Monday, March 31, 2008

Year A 2nd Sunday of Easter

Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum. Alleluia!

Readings: Acts 2,42-47; Ps. 118,2-4.13-15.22-24; 1 Pet. 1,3-9; Jn 20,19-31

"Peace be with you" is how Jesus greets his frightened friends, who were hiding in a room with the doors locked for fear that they, too, might be arrested and punished. In the midst of their anxiety, Jesus is their peace (Jn. 20,19). Upon seeing their resurrected Lord they rejoiced and were reassured with the words, "Peace be with you" (Jn. 20,21). Far from promising them that their fears would not be realized, he tells them that as the Father has sent him, he, in turn, sends them. At which point he breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit (Jn. 20,22). It is the Holy Spirit who strengthens and equips them for all that lies ahead. It is through the Holy Spirit that Christ, after his resurrection and ascension, remains present to the community of his disciples, the Church. This all sounds glorious and indeed it is, but not in the way that we too easily imagine. Only in time and through their experiences do these disciples come to understand the peace that is Christ Jesus, the resurrected, but still scarred Lord, whose wounds eternally call to mind in order to make present in our lives Divine Mercy.

That the realization eventually dawned on them is expressed by St. Peter in our second reading. God, the Father of Jesus Christ, Peter writes, has given us "new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Pet. 1,3). Because of this new birth, through which we become God’s children, we are bequeathed an "imperishable, undefiled, and unfading" inheritance (1 Pet. 1,4). This new birth is our baptism, which, especially during Easter, we call to mind by being sprinkled again with water.

Like the Kingdom itself, our inheritance is both already and not yet. For now, we have received a down payment from our inheritance. Nonetheless, "for a little while [we] may have to suffer through various trials" (1 Pet. 1,6). The trials we suffer, which are an inevitable consequence of living in a fallen world, albeit one in the process of being healed, enable our faith to become genuine, to become "more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire" (1 Pet. 1,7). By overcoming the world with the help of the same Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, given by Christ to his first followers, our trials will “prove to be for praise, glory, and honor” when Jesus Christ comes again (1 Pet. 1,7).

Like the small band of believers cowering in the room in the days following their Master’s death and burial, Jesus brings us peace. He is not merely the guarantor of peace, he is our peace. As we have seen from our reading of St. Peter, peace is not merely the absence of conflict. Our peace comes from having a perspective, borne of a union between our hope and our desire, that this world with its joys and hopes, its griefs and sorrows while good and blessed despite being broken, is but a shadow of what awaits the children of God, born through and given our true identity in baptism.

Just as the first generation of disciples was strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit, as was Jesus himself, who was anointed immediately following his baptism by John in the Jordan, we are sealed with the Spirit at our confirmation. The sacrament of confirmation for too many Catholics has either been forgotten or is misunderstood. Too often we make confirmation about the choice of the individual being confirmed, about his/her decision to follow Jesus Christ. Dear friends, our decision to follow the Lord was made at our baptism, even for the majority of us who were baptized as infants. Through confirmation, wherein we are anointed with sacred chrism, we are confirmed in our baptismal identity as children of God, as priests, prophets, and royalty, as well as given a substantial down payment on our inheritance. Hence, we are strengthened and empowered for our mission, which is nothing less than ushering in God’s Kingdom.

If the Holy Spirit is the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence, then the sacraments are the media through which his presence is communicated to us; via the sacraments we receive grace. Grace is nothing less than God’s sharing divine life with us. The essence of the divine life of God is love. God is love because God is a communion of divine persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If God were not a communion of persons, he could not be love, for love always requires at least two persons, and the love between two persons, in turn, is life-giving. The result of God sharing divine life with us in and through the sacraments is that the Church, like the Blessed Trinity, is made a communion of persons. The fundamental difference being that the Church is a communion of human persons. This is why the Church is simultaneously holy and sinful. Insofar as the Church is human, she is imperfect. Yet, animated as she is by the Holy Spirit, the Church is also holy. So, we are a communion of imperfect human beings, being brought to perfection- that is sanctified- by the Holy Spirit primarily by means of the sacraments, chief among which is this Eucharist we are gathered to share.

Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us very good model of the kind of communion, the kind of koinonia, the Church is called to be. The word koinonia is Greek and means something like "communion by intimate participation". It is in this passage from Acts that the term koinonia is first used in the New Testament. The koinonia of the early community of disciples consisted in their devotion "to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers" (Acts 2,42). Further, they pooled their resources, took care of each other, and reached out in love beyond their own community. The result of following Jesus in this striking and radically new way was that "every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved" (Acts 2,47). To be sure, there are many things pertaining to our faith that we can all too easily doubt, but it is impossible to doubt the loving concern of others, especially when given in times of need, in times of fear and anxiety, when we are tempted to despair.

Since the Jubilee Year of 2000, this Second Sunday of Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday, but every Sunday is a celebration of divine mercy, just as every Sunday is a celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, even Sundays of Lent. Ordering our lives in accord with this fundamental belief is the only way to realize the peace of Christ. So, with St. Faustina and St. Thomas, who once doubted, we say, "Jesus I trust in You". In turn, Jesus reassures us: "I have risen, I am still with you. Alleluia!" He is made present merely by our gathering this day, a presence further revealed in the breaking of the bread. Let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia!

Writing of communities of disicples, also known as Churches, my dear friend Rocco over at Whispers has a very nice follow-up post on my mere reporting of hierarchy news wherein he gives the details of March (Ordination) Madness .

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