This is the first image that came to my mind when I was watching the news last night of the tornado damage in Moore, Oklahoma. It is a picture I took when I visited the site of the Oklahoma City bombing several years ago with my friends Michael and Maria.
I weep. We weep. And knowing the Jesus weeps along with us brings some solace.
Today’s Gospel is a passage I love from the final chapter of John’s Gospel. After the resurrection, Jesus reveals himself to his disciples on the shore of Galilee. After eating breakfast with his friends, he asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. It is an exchange I have written and talked about before.
What always strikes me is the way Jesus’ question is phrased the first of the three times it appears in the Gospel: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
The question I have whenever I hear or read the line is what did Jesus mean by “these”? I don’t think Jesus is asking Peter is he (Peter) loves him (Jesus) more than the other disciples love Jesus. But what is he asking?
Do you love more me more than you love your friends?
Do you love me more than you love your wife? And the rest of your family?
Do you love me more than you love your life as a fisherman? Do you love me more than than you love your own ambitions?
I think he means all and everything. Do you love me more than anything?
As we sit with the passage, I think the invitation is to ask ourselves a similar set of questions: Do I love Jesus more than I love my husband? More than I love my duaughter? More than I love my ministry? More than I love [fill in the blank]? We are invited here to reflect on how deep is our love for Christ – and on what competes with our love for him.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, “Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven
will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Today’s first Mass reading from Acts records Jesus’ last words to his disciples and his ascension into heaven. The language above immediately follows Jesus’ ascension.
Jesus gave his disciples a charge before he left them: Go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel; make disciples of all nations. The angels words are a reminder of that charge. When I hear those words, what I hear is: What are you doing standing around here? You have work do to. Don’t be looking up there – he’s not going to be doing the heavy lifting from now on – he’ll come back in his own time. Right now it’s up to you.
We have been given of the same Spirit as the disciples. And we’ve been given the same charge. As John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici: “The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization. Through the winding passages of history the Church has made her way under the grace and the command of Jesus Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” …and lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age”….
Don’t just stand there looking up at the sky. Celebrate Christ’s Ascension as he instructed us to do.
At yesterday’s Mass at St. Benedict’s Monastery, the priest focused his homily on two lines in today’s Gospel from St. John: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
He contrasted the peace the world gives and the peace of Christ with two powerful examples. His first example of the peace the world gives was the family and friends of a murder victim having a tailgate party outside of the prison at which the convicted murderer was being executed. “Now we will finally have some peace,” they say among themselves with joy. What kind of peace is that, he wondered? His second example was politicians claiming after 9/11 that they would hunt down everyone responsible for the act, for then we would have peace. One candidate for office claimed we would hunt Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell in the name of peace. What kind of peace is that?
The peace Jesus offers is not the peace offered by the world. Not a peace based on returning hatred for hate, violence for violence. The peace Jesus offers is a peace based on love. If I respond to a wrong committed against me with love, said the priest, I already have peace. If am steadfast in the love of Christ, nothing can ever take that peace away.
Peace of the world or peace of Christ. Which would you rather have?
Some clubs have T-shirts to identify them. Some groups have hats or pins or some other visible sign anyone can see to identify them.
Some Christians (myself included) wear a crucifix. It is a sign by which others might identify us a Christian.
But in today’s Gospel from John, Jesus makes it quite simple. It is not about the crucifix. There are no special clothes. No pins, badges. Nothing we wear, no tangible object at all.
Instead, having given his followers the “new commandment” – the commandment that they love one another as he has loved them, he says: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It is hard to make it much plainer than that. As we used to sing, they will know we are Christians by our love. That is less a declarative statement than a challenge.
We ought ask ourselves every day, multiple times a day even: Do they know I am a Christian by my love? When people look at me do they see the love of which Christ spoke? And if the answer is no, what am I going to do about it?
I’ve heard many variations of a joke about a man who arrives at the gates of Heaven (each one with a different religion as the punch line).
St. Peter asks his religion and the man replies that he is a Methodist. St. Peter looked down his list and said,” Go to Room 24, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” Another man arrived at the gates of Heaven. When asked his religion, he replies Catholic. St. Peter says, “Go to Room 18, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” A third man arrived at the gates and when asked his religion, replied Jewish. St. Peter tells him, “Go to Room 11 but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” The man tells St. Peter he understands putting people of different religions in different rooms, but asks why he should be quiet when passing Room 8. St. Peter told him, “Well, the Baptists are in Room 8, and they think they’re the only ones here.”
In today’s Gospel from St. John, Jesus tells his disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
Jesus’ statement that there are many dwellings in His Father’s house promises room for everyone; and not just room for everyone, but room for everyone. For me, the statement is a reminder not just that there is plenty of space, but that those welcomed will not all look the same. Not everyone for whom there is room necessarily fits someone else’s picture of who deserves to be in heaven.
There are some (perhaps) many people who think only they and their kind will be in heaven. I decided a long time ago that the question of who is in heaven is one that is way above my pay grade. But I do take seriously – and take solace in – what Jesus told his disciples: there are many dwellings in his Father’s house, and there is room for many different sorts of people.
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. In today’s short Gospel from John, Jesus tells says,
My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.
In Revelation we hear that “the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
You might want to reflect on those words today. Or sit with one of the many visual representations of the Good Shepherd. Here is one of my favorites:
Today’s Gospel is one of my two favorite of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances: the scene in John 21 where Jesus appears to the disciples on the shore of Galilee.
Jesus is sitting on the beach cooking some fish as the disciples return from their fishing. As he is feeding them breakfast, he asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time, Peter answers yes, the third time with some hurt in his voice.
There are two very important (albeit related) conclusions we can draw about Jesus in that colloquy, both of which have implications for both our relationship to God and our relationship to each other. First, that Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter easily. Second, Jesus accepts what Peter is capable of offering.
In a talk I gave at one of the sessions of a four-week program Bill Nolan and I gave last spring on Jesus’ post-Resurrection, I focused on this dialogue between Jesus and Peter, discussing those two conclusions and their implications for us.
I thought I’d share that podcast again this morning, since it might offer some fruitful reflection on today’s Gospel. You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 27:03. There is a break at about 5:45, where I paused the recorder while we read the Gospel passage aloud and asked participants to share a word or phrase that struck them.)
Yesterday was the final Mid-Day Reflection of the 2012-13 academic year and the theme was Jesus’ post resurrection appearances.
AsI’ve written before, we don’t tend to put as much energy into celebrating the Easter season as we do getting ready for Easter. I often say Catholics are great at Lent and the Triduum liturgies, but then we go to Easter Mass, have a big family dinner and act like we’re done. I suspect the same if true for many other Christians.
For that reason, I thought I would be worth having a mid-day reflection on the subject of Jesus’ Post-Resurrection appearances as an encouragement to participants to spend some time reflecting on those appearances during these remaining weeks of Easter. During my talk, I reflected on two of these post-resurrection encounters: the disciples on the road to Emmaus, recorded in Luke’s Gospel, and the appearance on the shore of Galilee, recorded in John’s Gospel. I then invited participants to share some of their own experience of celebrating this Easter season.
You can access a recording of the talk I gave here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 21:41. You can find the handout I distributed (which I refer to at the end of the podcase here.
Note: Last year, Bill Nolan and I presented a four-week series on the Post-Resurrection appearances at St. Thomas Apostle. If you are interested in spending more time reflecting on the appearances, go to the “podcast” page and scroll down to “Reflections on the Post-Resurrection Appearances.”
Yesterday morning I attended the 53rd Minnesota Prayer Breakfast, a gathering patterned after the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Seventeen hundred people gathered in person at the Minneapolis Hilton, joined via internet by thousands more around the state for communal fellowship and prayer around the theme Unity Through Love.
There were many moving aspects of the breakfast, not the least of which was the keynote address by Heather Flies, who began by suggesting the term love be reserved to signify our emotional commitment to the betterment of another, rather than using it to refer to our love of the Vikings, our favorite food, etc. More significantly, she spoke about the interrelationship between loving God and loving one another, making the point that the more we invest in deepening our relationship with God, the more natural will be the outflow of that love relationship into our love for one another.
Flies also spoke about Jesus as a model for our love for one another. Jesus, who noticed those unnoticed by others – the marginalized, the outcasts. Jesus, who stopped to interact with those he noticed, making them feel like they were the only person in the world. Jesus, who called people by name, letting them know they were worthy of being remembered. That is our model – noticing, interacting, calling by name.
Several speakers, including Flies, reflected on how the world would be changed if we truly actualized the command to love one another. And, as more than one observed, if Jesus could change the world with 12 apostles, imagine what he could do with a ballroom of 1700 people!
Growing in Love and Wisdom: Tibetan Buddhist Sources for Christian Meditation can be purchased from Amazon here. Or you can order it directly from the Oxford University Press here. For information on upcoming book talks and signings of Growing in Love and Wisdom, see my Facebook page here.
My Upcoming Offerings
Sacraments of Initiation - St. Thomas Apostle (Minneapolis) Adult Faith Formation (with Bill Nolan). April 10, 17 and 24, 6:45-8:00p.m.
Growing in Love and Wisdom - Augsburg College, April 18, 7:30p.m..[to be rescheduled due to snow
Intentional Discipleship and the New Evangelization - Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Minneapolis, April 28, 10:00a.m..
For information on upcoming book talks and signings ofGrowing in Love and Wisdom, see my Facebook page here. For more information about any of the events above, contact me by e-mail.