Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C

Readings: Acts 15:1-2,22-29; Rev 21:10-14,22-23; Jn 14:23-29

Discerning the signs of the times, divisions, unity in diversity, guidance of the Holy Spirit are some of the phrases that help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. The readings focus our attention on what in the end keeps the Church united or divided. Jesus leaves three tools for his disciples for use in times of crisis that will certainly confront the Church: faithfulness to his word; the gift of the Holy Spirit; and the gift of peace. All three gifts help to discern the signs of the times, particularly in times of crisis, in order to preserve the unity of the Church. The Acts of the Apostles reminds us, that such unity and harmony could have easily been wrecked by dissent, scandal and disagreements. One of the problems in the Apostolic Church involved a serious controversy in Antioch between some new converts from Judaism to Christianity demanding that Gentile converts must keep the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. The controversy led to the first General Council of the Church in Jerusalem. The decision of the Apostles and the Elders was conveyed in writing to Antioch, in order to preserve unity and restore harmony and peace in the Church. The Apostles and Elders reached such a decision through a process of discernment under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus challenges his disciples and us of today to make use of the three tools that he leaves for us. He challenges us to be faithful: “Anyone who loves me will be true to my word.” We find the word of Jesus Christ in Scripture and Tradition. First, we can only be secure if we hold onto that word. The second tool that Jesus gives us is the Holy Spirit who is still at work in a special way through the teaching office of the Church. The same Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church today, in discerning the complex pastoral situations the Church must face today. The third tool is the gift of peace: “My peace is my gift to you...not as the world gives peace.” The world defines peace in terms of the absence of war, pain and conflict, but that kind of peace can be destroyed by a single terrorist; by one single bomb or bullet. It does not last. Jesus Christ is the only lasting peace. In the last decade, Regional Synods of Bishops took place in Rome to discern under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the pastoral situation of the Church in each region. What happened at the Council of Jerusalem is an important example for what the Church in each region of the world needs to do in order to discern the signs of the times. At all levels of Church life, we are called upon to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. But above all the most urgent gift we need is peace, not in terms of the absence of war in the world, but in terms of a restored and renewed relationship with God in the new life we have received in Christ through the Church. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) All three readings challenge us to discern the signs of the times, particularly in times of crisis, in order to preserve the unity of the Church. 2) At all levels of Church life, we are called upon to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us rather than being guided by our likes and dislikes. 3) We are invited to rely on the Holy Spirit in bringing about unity in our families, parish communities and dioceses.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Easter Year C

Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Rev 21:1-5; Jn 13:31-33,34-35

The resurrection brings a certain freshness and vitality in living the commandment of love. That sentence sums up the good news proclaimed this Sunday. All three readings speak about the newness of life brought about by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and celebrated by the Church during the Easter Season. The readings are therefore in tune with the freshness of this season. Practically every parish around the world experiences the joy and wonder of receiving new members into the faith through Baptism at Easter. Such an experience gives newness to the parish life, as the community welcomes new members and accompanies them on their journey of faith. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul and Barnabas after their first missionary journey, give an account to the Church in Antioch of all that God had done with them, and how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. Through their pastoral visits, Paul and Barnabas had put fresh life into the hearts of the newly baptized. But Paul is quick to remind members of the local Christian communities that they would have to suffer before entering the Kingdom of God.

The farewell discourse of Jesus in the Gospel, brings newness and a challenge. “I give you a new commandment: love one another; as I have loved you, so you should love one another”. That sounds simple and straight forward until we begin to realize what Jesus is really asking us to do. In this passage, Jesus challenges us to live the new commandment, which implies the demand to follow his example – “as I have loved you”. That is the mark of a true, genuine disciple. Being Christian is not about knowing the faith or knowing what the catechism says. It is first and foremost about relationship with Jesus and with one another. Jesus expects us in this parish to love each other. He did not ask his disciples to “like” each other! That would be very easy. Loving each other is much more demanding. It is the test by which you and I will be judged by the world around us. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Such a love makes us more credible, more effective instruments of God’s transforming action that brings about a new heaven and a new earth that John speaks about in the Book of Revelation. If we are credible witnesses, others will want to become Christian. Mahatma Gandhi was once asked why he did not want to become Christian. He said: “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Our love for one another makes us more credible, more effective instruments of God’s transforming action. 2) If we truly love one another, then we will be able to convince others to join us, and God will then make his dwelling among us. 3) Love for one another is the key to bringing about a new heaven and a new earth prophesied in the second reading; it is the key to wiping away all tears from those who suffer, and removing pain and death from our midst.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year C

Readings: Acts 13:14,43-52; Rev 7:9,14-17; Jn 10:27-30

Evangelization, the fourth sign a dynamic Catholic is the overarching theme in the readings of this Sunday. The lamb who is the shepherd is the key phrase that captures the central message. A true story is told of an artist who was working on a church roof in Werden, Germany. His safety belt snapped and he fell. The area below was filled with sharp rocks. As fate would have it, a lamb chose that moment to have its lunch of grass between the rocks. He fell on the lamb who died immediately, but the artist survived. I tell this story because the readings focus on the Lamb who was slain for our sins. He is the Good Shepherd who dies to give us life. The Book of Revelations says that “the Lamb…will shepherd them to springs of life-giving water.” This shepherding is fulfilled in the Acts of the Apostles where the young Church following the voice of the Holy Spirit sends Paul and Barnabas to proclaim the message of the Shepherd to the Jews in Antioch. The rejection of the Good News by the Jews becomes a blessing in disguise, because Paul and Barnabas turn to the Gentiles who warmly welcome the Good News. The comforting message is clear. Countless difficulties, opposition, deceit and persecution have never succeeded in blocking the mission of the Church because the risen Lord is always present.

The Gospel of this Sunday proclaims good news of comfort for millions people in the world today. It also offers us a great challenge. The comforting message is that the risen Lord is our Shepherd who cares for us. As long as we listen to his voice, no one can snatch us out his hands. The challenge for both pastors and lay faithful alike is to recognize the voice of the shepherd in the midst of countless voices in the world around us, the TV channels, the radio, the Internet, Facebook and Tweets. We face these challenges by remaining focused on the vision and mission of the Shepherd through the Church. At every liturgical celebration we listen to the voice of the Shepherd and renew our commitment to follow him. The message we take home this Sunday is threefold. 1) We are challenged to listen and follow the Risen Lord who shepherds us through the Church. 2) Just as the risen Lord is the lamb who dies for us and suffers with us, you and I are challenged to reach out with compassion to those who suffer. 3) As an Easter people touched by the risen Lord, we are challenged to purposely reach out to those who are weak in their faith; those tested by the many conflicting voices in the world; those led away from the flock, away from the Shepherd and bring them back home to the fold. Christ is risen!

 ©2016 John S. Mbinda

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Third Sunday of Easter Year C

Readings: Acts 5:27-32, 40-41; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-19

Come have breakfast, mission and persecution are the key words that sum up the central message of this Sunday. The readings focus on the stewardship of hospitality which is much part of evangelization. Extending hospitality establishes trust and prepares the ground for proclamation. In Jesus’ compassion and care for his disciples who have struggled all night to find fish is a prelude for what he is about to do on the shore. “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”

In the Gospel, the risen Lord appears once more to his disciples by the sea of Tiberias. They had been fishing all night but had caught nothing. It was now in the morning. Suddenly someone on the shore tells them to throw the nets to the right of the boat in order to catch something. Having done that, they had such a great catch of fish, that John the beloved disciple realized that it was the Lord. There are three scenes in this passage. In the first scene the risen Lord as a steward of hospitality gives a second chance to the disciples to catch fish, prepares a meal and invites them to eat saying: “Come have breakfast.” That meal becomes like a second chance and a renewal of the disciples’ resurrection faith in Jesus Christ. In fact that renewal starts already at the miraculous catch of fish as John tells Peter, “It is the Lord.” At this meal, all the memories of shared meals come back and above all the sacrifice on Calvary is still very fresh. They even remember how they denied him and ran away. Here was a second chance to renew their commitment to Jesus. Every Sacrifice of the Holy Mass is a second chance to renew our commitment and faith in Jesus Christ as we share his Sacrificial Meal that He prepares for us. The second scene is the mission of Peter. Jesus asks Peter a threefold question, “Do you love me?” in order to give Peter a second chance to reverse his threefold denial. A wonderful forgiveness takes place here as Peter responds each time “I do Lord” and Jesus telling him each time “Feed my sheep.” In other words, Peter has to show that love in action by feeding and caring for Christ’s flock. The third scene is about Peter’s death. Jesus foretells his martyrdom, which from the Greek means witness. Peter and all the disciples would indeed die as martyrs because of their witness to Christ. The take away message this Sunday is threefold. 1) The Sacrifice of the Holy Mass, like the meal at the lake shore is a second chance for our renewal and recommitment to Christ. 2) Through our baptism Christ challenges us like Peter to show our love for Christ by feeding and nurturing Christ’s flock by our action and deeds. 3) As stewards of hospitality, we too are challenged to be witnesses to the point of dying for our faith.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Second Sunday of Easter Year C

Readings: Acts 5:12-16; Rev 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19; Jn 20:19-31

Peace, forgiveness and reconciliation are some of the key words underlying the message of this Sunday. The Second Sunday of Easter is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. The Gospel reading leads us to discover the meaning of God’s mercy. After Jesus rose from the dead, he appears to his disciples once again. On that occasion Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them." (Jn 20:22) In other words, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit who would accompany them in their mission of bringing about peace, God’s mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.

The readings on this Sunday set the tone for the entire Easter season. Their purpose is to continue helping the newly baptized towards growth in the mystery of Christ who is now risen and in our midst. The readings therefore provide a meditation on the mystery of the resurrection and our own incorporation into that mystery through our initiation. In the Gospel, the risen Lord appears again to the gathered apostles. On this occasion Jesus gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit the principle of peace, God’s mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. The focus of that event may be interpreted in terms Christ revealing God’s Divine Mercy. What is Divine Mercy? From the diary of St. Faustina, a special devotion began spreading throughout the world in the 1930s. The message was nothing new, but a reminder of what the Church had always taught through scripture and tradition: that God is merciful and forgiving and that we, too, must show God’s mercy and forgiveness. In the Divine Mercy devotion however, the message takes on a powerful new focus namely, calling people to a deeper understanding that God’s love and mercy is unlimited and available to everyone — especially those struggling with great sinfulness. The message of mercy is simple: God loves us — all of us —no matter how great our sins when we repent. God wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. The message of Divine Mercy is threefold: 1) Ask for God’s Mercy. God wants us to approach him in prayer constantly, humbly repenting of our sins and asking for the outpouring his mercy upon us and upon the whole world. 2) Be merciful to others. God wants us to receive his mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend merciful forgiveness to others just as he does to us. 3) Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that the more we trust in Jesus Christ, the more we will receive his mercy. In brief, God’s name is Mercy!  The message of this Sunday may therefore be summed up in three points: 1) We affirm our faith in the Risen Lord who channels the greatest gift: the grace of God's Divine Mercy, won for us by the blood of Christ on the Cross and the resurrection. 2) Since receiving God’s Mercy is not cheap, we are called to a painful conversion experience, so that God’s mercy and compassion may touch us and transform us. 3) Just as the Father sends the risen Lord Jesus to share the grace of Divine Mercy with us, we too are sent as instruments of peace, God’s mercy and forgiveness to those who have been hurt and wounded, and so lead them to healing and reconciliation.

©2016 John S. Mbinda