Monday, April 25, 2016

Preacher’s Study – Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C (2016)

The Preacher’s Study
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C

Victoria M. Tufano

Acts of the Apostles 16.9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21.10, 22 – 22.5
John 14.23-29 or John 5.1-9

The Sundays of Easter in Year C, unlike Easter Sundays in Years A and B, feature passages from the Book of Revelation.

Today’s passage ties into the imagery of the other readings prescribed for today, drawing them together poetically and visually into a vision of the life of the baptized. The passage begins with an image of John transported to a high place overlooking the heavenly Jerusalem. Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch to see in this an echo of Jesus having been transported to high places to be tempted with worldly riches and godly powers, which we read this year on the First Sunday of Lent (Luke 4:1–13). Led by an angel, John sees and knows what Jesus knew when the devil tempted him: Jerusalem belongs to the Lord God Almighty and to the one with whom the Almighty shares it. The renunciation of the devil that Jesus made on the pinnacle prepared us to make that same renunciation when we made our baptismal commitment, by which our names and those of the baptized from among the nations have been written in the Lamb’s book of life.

The names in the book of life are there because the followers of the Lamb preached the good news to them. Paul’s vision in the passage from Acts (16:9–15) reveals not only the willingness of Paul and his companions to endure great pains to preach the Word, but also the eagerness of people to hear it. We who have been baptized accept our place in the heavenly city not just for ourselves but also to bring all the world to Christ so that “the nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their glory to it” (Revelation 21:24). Psalm 67:1–2 prays that “God be gracious to us and bless us . . . that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.” Essentially, we are baptized to continue Christ’s work of reconciling the world to the God, to bring them into right relationship with God, which is worship.

Those who are in the city are once again in the presence of the tree of life, from which humankind was barred after the Fall (Genesis 3:24); it is surrounded by the water that flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. It can only be reached by going through the waters, and it offers nourishment for those who can reach it and healing for the nations, which presumably is to be taken to the world by those who have been fed.

Along with the imagery of water, the Revelation passage is notable for the imagery of light, the Glory of God, which illumines it for the nations to see, and the Lamb, the lamp that carries God’s light. In the light of the Easter season, we must recall the Easter Vigil, when the darkness of the church was illuminated first by the Paschal Candle, the light of Christ, then more brightly by being shared with smaller but numerous lights.

That celebration may have been five weeks ago, but we are still standing in the glow of that candle to remind us that we are to carry that light to the nations, that they may live eternally in the light of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Victoria M. Tufano is senior editor and liturgical consultant at Liturgy Training Publications, and agency of the Archdiocese of Chicago. A former team member for the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, she often writes and speaks about liturgy and Christian initiation, and she is a member of the Christian Initiation Seminar of the North American Academy of Liturgy.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Preacher’s Study – Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C (2016)

The Preacher’s Study
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C

Anne Koester

Acts of the Apostles 11.1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21.1-6
John 13.31-35

It gets me every time!  It startles me.  Momentarily embarrassed, I quickly look around to see whether anyone saw me jump as the drops of water flying through the air slap me in the face.  It’s not as though I am surprised to have water tossed in my direction.  After all, it is Easter and the sprinkling ritual is intended to make present for us our identity as the Body of Christ.  As the water drops are absorbed into our skin, so too is our baptismal vocation.  We are to wake up to the reality and the demands of sharing in the very life of Christ.  The cold drops of blessed water alert us to the work we are called to do.  As sharers in Christ’s life, we share also in Christ’s work.   

What is this work?  Today’s gospel passage makes it plain – we are to love one another.  The mandate is clearly stated – and repeated:  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (Jn 13:34)  Earlier in this same chapter, Jesus describes the work his disciples are to do:  “Wash feet.”  This radical command to be servant to one another is another way of saying “love one another.” 

Significantly, acting upon this mandate to love is made possible only because Jesus loved first.  In the stories of the New Testament, we see Jesus love others in ways that bring them to life time and time again.  It’s not a superficial or passing kind of love.  Jesus expends himself.  He acts with freedom and takes risks in loving others.  There would be costs.  He is totally available to others, because all lifelong he died to the human tendencies to act out of concern for self or to be present to others only when convenient.  This gave him the capacity to love others into life. 

Jesus loves us into life.  It is a love that summons us to leave the grave of self-concern and self-sufficiency.  It is a love that holds out the radical promise of freedom – freedom from our own foolishness in pursuing what is of our own design and thus, fleeting.  It is a love that assures us that by setting aside our own needs and expending ourselves for others, we will discover new life.  Do we want to respond to this life-giving love?  Do we want our lives to be transformed?  Are our hearts open to Christ, whose Spirit animates our ordinary yet extraordinary lives?

When we’re open, our capacity to love is expanded.  By being loved into life, we can love others into life.  Who needs for us to love them into life?  Do we want them to come to life?

Or do we sometimes block life for others – like those times when we treat others as invisible, fail to help them realize their gifts, hold fast to narrow attitudes, levy harsh criticism, or seek to defeat or belittle another.  These actions – or sometimes inactions – can be symptomatic of what holds us back, whether fear, self-absorption, pettiness or our own emptiness and discontent.  We can get in the way of others coming to life.  We can be forgetful and neglectful.  We sin – and what is sin but blocking out the life the Risen Lord offers?  But Jesus Christ never ceases to call us out of our inward turned selves and surrender to love.  We can then be ever more available to others…our hearts expand and we are ever more freed to expend ourselves and risk loving another into life. 

What stories would you tell?  When has Jesus loved you into life through others loving you?  When have you been the face of Christ for others and loved them into life?   Was it today?  Did you look someone in the eyes to let them know that you saw them?  Did you offer an affirming word or touch?  Become aware of a need and act?  Did you do something to lessen just a little bit of the suffering in the world?  Did you help someone discover meaning in their life?  What stories might you tell tomorrow?

Anne Y. Koester, JD, MA, teaches Christian Initiation, and Catholic Ritual, Spirituality, and Justice at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. She is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy, participating in the Christian Initiation Seminar and serving as Seminar Delegate and Member of the Academy Committee. She is author of Sunday Mass: Our Role and Why It Matters (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007), editor of Liturgy and Justice: To Worship God in Spirit and Truth (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002) and, with Barbara Searle, co-editor of Called to Participate: Theological, Ritual and Social Perspectives. (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2006), and Vision: The Scholarly Contributions of Mark Searle to Liturgical Renewal (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2004).

Monday, April 11, 2016

Preacher’s Study – Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2016

The Preacher’s Study
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C

Dennis Chriszt      

Acts of the Apostles 9.36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7.9-17
John 10.22-30

While most of us have never seen a shepherd and even fewer have ever been a shepherd, all of us have at times been shepherded.  We’ve been herded for our own safety or for the safety of others, or even just for the convenience of others.  As school children, we probably were shepherded into lines in and out of the classroom.  As adults, we’ve been shepherded into lines when shopping or visiting amusement parks.  Airports are one of the places where we are shepherded through security and onto the plane.  Some of us may have been shepherded in emergencies, evacuating us to safety.  One way or another, we been part of the crowd, herded around.  We probably have all experienced shepherds who were kind and concerned, as well as those who’ve treated us like sheep rather than like a human person.

Today’s gospel is one of the shortest gospels ever proclaimed at Mass.  Jesus simply describes his relationship with his followers as the relationship between a shepherd who really cares for his sheep and the sheep.  When we believe in the one who leads us, we follow willingly, even with delight because we know that the Good Shepherd will never lead us astray, but will only lead us to places of great delight.

The neophytes[1] in our community have been shepherded over a long period of time to the waters of baptism.  Like sheep guided on the way to a spring of living water, they have walked a long distance.  But the waters they approached and the food and drink they received were much more than simply water and some grass to chew on.  They were led to waters that made them part of that crowd John describes in our second reading today.  They and we are all part of that “great Multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue.”  They and we are those “who have survived the time of great distress; [we] have washed our robes and made them while in the blood of the Lamb.”

Being shepherded is not always a bad thing for us.  Though we may not always like being treated as part of the herd, when we are guided by the Good Shepherd, great things can happen.  The Good Shepherd knows his sheep, calls them each by name, and brings them to waters of eternal life.

Sometimes, after being shepherded for a long time, we can begin to believe we know the way all by ourselves.  We’ve been this way before.  We can be tempted to set out on our own.  Even then, we are told in another gospel passage (see Luke 15:1-7), that the Good Shepherd will search for us until he finds us and brings us back when we are lost.

The Good Shepherd laid down his life for his sheep, knows us each by name, guides us to life giving waters, searches for us when we are lost, and rejoices when we are found.

We may not have experienced such good shepherds in security lines at airports or elsewhere, but here, in this community of faith, the Good Shepherd will always guide us with care and compassion.

Dennis Chriszt, a Roman Catholic priest since 1982, is the founding pastor of the Church of the Resurrection - a Catholic community in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the founding director of Precious Blood Parish Missions, a preacher of missions and retreats, a teacher of liturgy and catechetical methods, and an author of two books: 
Creating an Effective Mystagogy: A Handbook for Catechumenate Leaders ( San Jose, CA: Resources Publications, Inc., 2001) and The Fifty Days of Joy: Easter Season Reflections for New Catholics (Schiller Park, IL: World Library Publications, 2007).
 He is a member of the Christian Initiation Seminar of the North American Academy of Liturgy.

[1] Neophyte means “newly planted.” It is a term sometimes used to refer to the newly baptized who have been through the stages of the catechumenate leading up to their baptism.