Daily Reflections by Father Bert

April 15
Lectionary in second week of Easter: Act 5: 27-33. Psalm 34: John 3: 31-36:

The apostles are brought again before the Sanhedrin and threatened with punishment and being sent back to prison. They must stop testifying to the person named Jesus whom they believe has risen from the dead and is the Messiah. Peter takes the lead in responding to the strong words of the priests and leaders of religion who wish to get rid of him and the apostles because they are disrupting both the religion, laws, and the Romans who occupy the territory of Israel as one of its outposts. His strong reply is motivated by the guidance of the Holy Spirit who emboldens him to witness and speak about Jesus as his Lord, Messiah, and Savior who has fulfilled the prophets and the promises of God. All of these followers of Jesus will continue to witness his holy Name. Luke will continue to narrate scenes that capture their apostolic boldness and assurance of their testimonies about Jesus. “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5: 29).

Often during the Advent as well as Christmas and Easter certain psalms are featured several times in the Liturgy of the Word. That is the case with Psalm 34 which we commented on yesterday. Today we do the same with the new verses not covered yesterday while keeping the responsorial verse 7: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” This psalm is an acrostic psalm which means it has 22 verses that start with a letter of the alphabet. However, verse six lacks the letter called vav or waw, the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet which has the shape of a nail. At the end an extra letter is added called “peh”—There is certain spiritual beauty even in the literary style of those priests and Levites who took the time to compose these prayers and psalms. The Levites had no property like the other eleven tribes had in their homes and gardens. Levites and priests were the guardians of the Temple and lived there or near it. We appreciate their work for the worship that took place in the Temple.

Today we end chapter three of the spiritual gospel of St. John. We skip the texts contained in verses 22-30 which tells us that Jesus himself baptized near Aenon and Salim, places where there were deeper pockets of water for baptizing in the Jordan River. John the Baptist baptized there and his disciples are curious that Jesus too is said to be baptizing. This is the only place in the New Testament where Jesus is said to have also baptized people. If we put the names of the places mentioned, the meaning is "springs of peace". What we come to realize is that all of chapter three is about baptism thus it is quite appropriate to read this passage which has turned into a monologue of Jesus on baptism. Our readings will now shift from the sacrament of Baptism to that of the Eucharist tomorrow. The Easter Season centers on these two spiritual gifts given on the Holy Saturday Vigil and thus are perfect for Easter celebrations of the Word of God and the Eucharist. Amen.

April 14
Lectionary: Acts 5: 17-26. Psalm 34: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7. 8-9. John 3: 16-21:

In Luke’s Acts of the Apostles we frequently see that Luke keeps in mind the structure of his Gospel and shows Jesus acting through the community and the chief-witnesses who live in the light of Jesus resurrection. The emerging communities are conscious of their carrying on the mission of Jesus in the world. Today we have examples in the readings which are to be read in the light of our own belief in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

In Acts one of the similarities I reflected upon was how the empty tomb which is presented in Mark 16: 1-8 is paralleled by an empty jail that still has its doors locked and secure stuns those who had put the witnesses and proclaimers of Jesus and his name into this same jail. How did they get out? Luke does not tell us but usually in such scenes an angel of the Lord frees those in shackles and in jails. This may have been how they are now again testifying and proclaiming the name of Jesus in the precinct of the Temple in Jerusalem. Just as insistent in their teaching and preaching is the persistent persecution of their opponents with the people standing in the middle and often preventing the apostles from being stoned.

Psalm 34 is a great psalm of joy and is used in our Easter Liturgies. It is a positive praise song filled with hope, joy, and security for those singing it. It is one of the few psalms that is filled with the senses of sight, hearing, touching, and tasting the Lord through its spirit of joy and love of God’s power and care for the ones who sing it. We join in by chanting it during the Liturgy of the Word before the Gospel is proclaimed. In the context and purpose of the middle reading of a psalm in Church is that it helps us into living and participating through faith in the chosen texts of each day. One of the most surprising lines within this psalm applies to “tasting how good God is.” One of the saintly founders of an order made this expression the motto of her followers the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur…. Oh! How Good is the good God. I found four of the five senses mentioned in this psalm. See if you can find them by rereading it today in your spare time.

Now we are in the heart of the dialogue that Jesus began with Nicodemus. It has become now a monologue in which Jesus reveals to Nicodemus and to us the readers of the words of Jesus that purpose God had intended from the beginning for us: “Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in Him may not die but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)…one of the most repeated verses in the New Testament in Christian believers. The wonderful book on the Gospel of John by Gail O’Day and Susan Hylen summarizes our Gospel message in this manner:

“God gives Jesus in love to all the world and whoever believes in this gift will receive eternal life. Jesus gives his life to all the world.” (John, p. 46). Amen.

April 13
Lectionary for second week after Easter: Acts 4: 32-37. Psalm 93: 1, 1-2, 5. John 3: 7-15:

The dialogue of Jesus with Nicodemus continues through the night but slowly turns into a monologue of Jesus which will finish with a separate recalling of John the Baptist by the author of the Fourth Gospel. In our selection for today, Nicodemus remains with Jesus and is listening to what he says. He is being informed of a deeper meaning to life than he imagines; one coming from the Spirit and not the world. Jesus now becomes the rabbi or teacher for this searcher called Nicodemus. The reality of Jesus’ words seem to move Nicodemus for we will hear of him two more times in the Gospel of John. This is the only information we know of him except from the spurious and much later gospel of Nicodemus by a Christian writer some one or two hundred years later from the time of John’s Gospel. There are as many as twenty to forty of these apocryphal gospels written by Christians who departed from the four canonical gospels.

Nicodemus has learned of Baptism and also of the way to the kingdom of God. Jesus chides him a bit in saying “ you are a learned Pharisee and you do not know about these things”. Jesus however is now his master teacher so he is learning quickly and well about life beyond the present life in the world. He is being instructed by the Son of God who is also the Son of Man sharing in the same human nature as Nicodemus. As Son of Man, Jesus can communicate with him through his own Scriptures about Moses and does so by telling him how Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the desert to rouse the faith of the Israelites by looking at it and being cured of the poisonous bite of the fiery serpents. Jesus says he will be lifted up meaning he will be lifted up between heaven and earth on the Cross and those who look upon him and believe he is the Son of God will be saved from the poisonous bite of sin, death, and the devil. By being born of the Holy Spirit and water the newly baptized enjoy the status of sons and daughters of God made in God’s image and likeness.

Jesus has become the light of day in the life of Nicodemus as he returns home still with darkness behind him but it is very soon vanished. Nicodemus will protect Jesus by referring to the laws about condemning someone who may be innocent. He also will join with Joseph of Arimathea in preparing Jesus’s body for burial by purchasing the shroud and face covering for the dead body of Jesus as he is placed in the tomb. The women will soon be coming with the spices and aromatic nards for the body of Jesus. Soon the light of Resurrection Day will be upon them.

This passage for me is an excellent one for catechetical ministers and for those who have the ministry of burying the dead. It also is suited for religious educators who can be motivated in their ministry of instructing others about Jesus and Baptism. We owe much to these vocations of ministry in the Church today. It also is a good passage for spiritual directors to mull over how they can listen better to those coming for guidance. All these are works of the Holy Spirit in the Church as we minister to one another as members of the Body of Christ. Amen.

April 12
Lectionary for second week after Easter: Acts 4: 23-31. Psalm 2: 1-3, 4-6, 7-9. John 1: 1-8:

Peter and John continue to be focused upon in our readings from the Acts of the Apostles after their cure of the crippled beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. They have been imprisoned but released and their story now continues with praying that the name of Jesus be invoked so that their witness is authentic and confirmed by signs and miracles like the one that happened recently. The place where they are praying is similar but smaller than what happened at Pentecost in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, Mary, and the women and friends of Jesus. Believers will increase in numbers as we follow Luke in retelling stories about the emerging new communities and persons who believe in Jesus as Lord and Messiah. The newcomers will speak with confidence and assurance following the example of Peter and John.

Psalm 2 is cited which Luke is accustomed to do with the numerous speeches in the Acts. We also do this in our use of a psalm in our response to the first reading or its lead into the Gospel for the day. The Liturgical readings are often glued together by our psalm or our personal prayer. In this structure of the Liturgy of the Word of God we are moved by the Spirit in our reflections on the first reading and the psalm and its response. This psalm is messianic and often parallels that of Psalm 110 its counterpart that is also used in Sunday Vespers from time to time. For today’s response we use verse 12: “Happy are they who put their trust in the Lord.” Keywords for our own reflection are assurance, confidence, and trust in God.

We move from the Resurrection accounts of last week and this past Sunday to one of the dialogues of Jesus at the beginning of John’s Gospel. It starts with Jesus being visited by a Pharisee leader and member of the Sanhedrin who is named Nicodemus whose name means “leader” or victor of the people. His visiting Jesus at night shows that he is searching to know more about Jesus but wants to keep his identity and dialogue with Jesus secret just for now. Nicodemus is mentioned in John 7:50 and 19: 39, thus in the end, the beginning, and the middle of John’s Gospel respectively.

The discussion of Jesus and Nicodemus concerns the kingdom of God, baptism, being born from above or born again. His story is only told in the Fourth Gospel and his role endures today in the expression “Born Again Christian.” The real message of the dialogue is that Baptism or being born of the Holy Spirit and water are the central concern of this conversation. There is evidence of John’s irony and play on words like being born again or from above. Jesus refers explicitly to Baptism when he says to Nicodemus, “No one can enter God’s kingdom without being begotten of water and the Spirit.” Jesus was the Word who came down from above and became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and became human. (see John 1:14).

The Liturgy of the Word keeps us mindful of the newly baptized during the Easter Vigil thus showing new life in the Church or the Body of Christ. The virtues of faith, hope, and love are given to the one baptized so that the Resurrection of Christ may be affirmed by those who have committed themselves to the Church through their baptismal promises. Amen.

I found this an interesting note about the character of Nicodemus as seen by J. Bishop in the Gospel of John series of Sacra Pagina, p.91, cited by Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B. “Men like Nicodemus have identified themselves with definitions they know too exactly. They want someone new to confirm a notion already fixed inside the heads of those who know best. For them revelation has become, quite unconsciously, a kind of technology.”

April 11
Lectionary: Acts of the Apostles 4: 32-35. Psalm 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24. I John 5: 1-6. John 20: 19-31:

At the end of chapter 20 of John’s Gospel we have two resurrection stories involving ten of Jesus’ apostles on the first evening of the Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead. No one saw Jesus actually rising from the dead but did see him after he rose from the dead and appeared to them. These last two appearances in chapter ten of John show us those gathered in a room where Jesus appears to them and greets them with blessings of peace; the second is the fact that Thomas called Didymus or the twin who looked like Jesus according to one of the apocryphal gospels joins them in the room where he appears again. In this second appearance Jesus centers gently on helping Thomas to overcome his doubts by showing him his pierced hands and feet and the wound in his side. Whether Thomas actually probed the wounds is not mentioned in the text but the exchange results in one of the great revelations that is found in the fourth Gospel. It is Thomas’ response that identifies Jesus as real when he says, “My Lord and My God.” This is one of the clearest references to the fact that Jesus is one with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that is, Jesus is God and is a divine person as well as the human person whom he was as the Messiah and son of Mary and who Thomas knew.

Thomas had a sense of belonging to the original twelve apostles of Jesus and his late arrival to where the ten had already experienced an appearance leads our author to tell us of Thomas presence a week later at a similar appearance of the resurrected One. It is an important encounter because Jesus is bestowing a blessing and a greeting filled with peace (Shalom) upon them. The apostles also see the wounds of Jesus and the fading of Thomas’ doubt with his inspired words, “My Lord and My God!”

The other ten apostles accepted Thomas and told him that they had seen the Lord. His own fidelity to the community led him to come to believe by their being open to listen to his doubts. Thomas stated unless he actually could put his hand into Jesus’ side and his wounds he would not believe that Jesus is alive. Their patience rewarded him with eventually seeing the Lord a week later. Only Jesus could dispel his doubts in the last resurrection scene of chapter 20.

Many of us as youngsters were in the habit of saying Thomas’ strong exclamatory prayer when the priest elevated the host at the celebration of the Eucharist. I personally do that from time to time. It helps to solve my doubts about things I do not see in the realm of the Spirit.

The words of Jesus are a blessing. He tells us that those who have not seen him in history, nor in a resurrection appearance such as the holy women and apostles have had we do believe in the Resurrected Jesus and often are stronger than Thomas for we have the evidence of all four Gospels in our reading of them and believing they are inspired by the most important witnesses of the mystery of Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, namely the apostles, the holy women, and other who were fortunate to have seen the Risen Jesus while he was here for the forty days of such appearances.

Only John rescued Thomas from oblivion for he is only mentioned by name in the other Gospels and in Acts (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6: 15; and Acts 1:13). In John’s Gospel we have him mentioned in 11:16; 14:5; 20: 24-29; and 21:2).

Thomas became the subject of many Gnostic writings because of his role as a doubter and a wisdom figure. The apocryphal Gospel of Thomas which has Gnostic thought within its sayings is put under Thomas as its author.

Here is an example of attributing a Gospel from Thomas in his own secret sayings:

“These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymus (the twin) Judas Thomas wrote down… Jesus said, Let him who seeks continue seeking until his finds. When he finds it, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All.” (Prologue and Prologue and Saying 2 of the Gospel of Thomas).

I like the brilliant statement of Origen about the apocryphal Gospels and other such writings:“I know a certain Gospel which is called the Gospel according to Thomas, and a Gospel according to Matthias, and many others have we read---lest in any way we should be considered ignorant….Nevertheless, among all these, we have approved solely what the church has recognized, which is that only the four gospels should be accepted.”

April 10
Lectionary for the Saturday in Octave of Easter: Acts 4: 13-21. Psalm 118: 1. 14-15. 16-18. 19-21. Mark 16: 9-15:

Do you identify with the final verse in Mark’s Gospel which occurs in chapter 16: 8? And do you notice that today’s Gospel continues with verses 9-15 which may come almost a hundred years later as an addition to the original ending? Either the last pages of Mark were missing or more likely according to the manuscript evidence, Mark intended to end his Gospel with such a dramatic conclusion as this: “Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

The oldest and best Greek manuscripts conclude with that statement of Mark. If you look at today’s reading you see that someone has added a second ending which included the so-called longer ending of Mark in Mark 16: 9-20. There is also a shorter ending that makes the Resurrection of Jesus explicit just as the longer ending does. The Church keeps the first part of the longer ending for our Liturgy of the Word on this Saturday in the octave of Easter to make the Resurrection of Jesus more explicit in the text. Moreover, it also contains a mention of the Ascension if we read more verses from the second ending of Mark, namely, this text: “So the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached everywhere , while the Lord worked among them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen.”

We know of another text called the shorter ending that comes from another early Christian writer who gave us this text: “But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.”

Our longer ending follows immediately after verse eight in which the women saw only the empty tomb which they had visited. They like Magdalene probably were thinking that someone had taken Jesus’ body from the tomb. Mark mentions no shroud left behind. The Fourth Gospel (John) does the wrappings around Jesus’ body in his Gospel account of Peter and John running to discover what Mary Magdalene had told them.

What we have in the larger addition to Mark’s narrative is contained in Mark 16: 9-20. A gifted writer added this to give a more explicit resurrection account and a better conclusion for his believers ending it with an Amen. Within this larger ending the author uses eight or nine words that are not used elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel. The theme that seems to evolve is that even though Jesus has risen from the dead there is need for his apostles and friends to carry on the spirit of his Paschal Mystery to the world. The witness and preaching of the apostles carries on the complete mission of Jesus so clearly stated in this larger addition after verse eight.

Did Mark intend the more dramatic ending to force his audience to share their faith experience of the risen Lord to one another? The audience includes anyone who takes the time to read Mark’s Gospel account not only of chapter 16 but also the entire Gospel. We are called to keep the resurrection story alive by completing the work of Jesus through our witness and our actions of love, faith, hope, and service to others while doing this with love and commitment. We are beckoned to retell the story as we experience it from knowing not only Mark’s account but also that of the resurrection accounts found in the other resurrection appearances in Matthew, Luke, and John. The liturgy does this for us during the octave after Easter.

One last thought that came to me after further reflection is that Mark gave his audience his own way of making the Resurrection a bit more explicit is what he says in verses 5-7: And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them,, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him as he told you.”

I end with a suggestion given in the Little White Book which is meant to help its readers in their prayers during the fifty days after Easter. Here is the motivational thought I liked:

The main thing is to spend some time with the Lord using one of our oldest traditions of prayer called lectio divina—sacred reading. We take a short Scripture passage and simply let God speak to us through the words, guiding us to reflections that sometimes come from nowhere. But they are not “from nowhere.” They are from God. People are often surprised at how easy it is to pray this way and how deep such prayer can be. Amen.

April 9
Lectionary within Octave of Easter: Acts of the Apostles 4: 1-12. Psalm 118: 1-2, 4. 22-24, 25-27. John 21: 1-14:

My shared meditation is focused on the Gospel of John this morning, chapter 21 : 1-14. This seems to be an added chapter to the Fourth Gospel which is said to have been written by an authoritative writer and follower of the Beloved Disciple (John of Zebedee) in the Tradition. The question of the actual author for the twenty chapters of the Gospel is always answered to be John, but this is not absolute in the history of the living person who wrote it. As for the chapter 21 which we begin today with the miraculous catch of fish and an appearance of Jesus on the shore preparing a “breakfast” for the fishing crew of seven apostles of Jesus on the Lake of Tiberius ( Galilee) is definitely seen in the comparison of an ending in chapter 20: 30 and John 21: 24-25. Though not as important as the beginning of the Gospel with the Prologue, these two texts give us the purpose for which the Gospel of John was written. Another important fact in studying this comparison of chapters 20 and 21 is the fact that all known manuscripts in the ancient language of Koine Greek have chapter 21 as definitely a testament that it was there from the final writing of the Gospel by either John or an authorized leader in the Johannine community or simply an unknown author who knew John’s thought very well. Though these may be of more interest to a scholarly reader, anything that helps us understand the origin and composition of Scripture is very worthwhile for both for its scientific analysis as well as its stimulus for a deeper faith in the believer dedicated to the Scriptures.

This is a colorful third apparition of the Risen Jesus presented by John. It clearly has all the components also of a miracle story with the presence of Jesus and his successful command to cast the nets into the waters of the lake from the starboard or right side. The seven mentioned disciples are overwhelmed by the catch of 153 fish and even more surprised to see that it is Jesus who gave the command and was there on the shore waiting for them to return for a meal of bread and fish. Jesus had prepared the fire for that morning surprise of his presence and purpose. At any rate, the seven fishermen had a wonderful start to that day and rejoiced recalling it many times; so priceless was their experience. Fortunately, one of them put it into writing either himself or with a skilled Christian writer who believed in the Risen Lord.

Even within its composition we see that whoever wrote chapter 21 refers to chapter one with the mention of Nathaniel and chapter two with Cana included, then references of the names and the mulitiplying of the loaves and fish. We can also see the Beloved Disciple is not named in chapters in which that term “the Beloved Disciple”is used. In fact, this is the only passage that mentions the sons of Zebedee in this Gospel in our chapter 21. The information about the term sons of Zebedee is found in the Synoptics.

We are led as readers to identify with the Beloved Disciple through our Baptismal faith whereby we declare “It is the Lord” who does this also in chapter 20 before going into the tomb where the cloths alone are viewed by him and Peter, partners in the continuation of the new life they have found in Christ’s Paschal Mysteries.

The Fourth Gospel has two appearances of Jesus in Judea and more specifically in Jerusalem and then this Galilee appearance focused and developed the story in chapter 21. The Lord had promised they would see him in Galilee.

What about the greatest fish story ever told? This one surpasses the others because of the enormity of the catch, 153 fish. All kinds of interpretations have been given to it from Jerome’s fourth century saying this was the known number of the variety of fish by zoologists at that time. Augustine bases his comment on a complicated numbering that means the universalism of the Christian Churches. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary associates it with the universality of the mission to witness to Jesus and to Peter’s call to be with the other apostles as “fishers of men.”

It is fascinating to see that Mary Magdalene was the first woman apostle to experience the Risen Jesus and to talk with him in terms of her mission. She had already shown her love to him at the foot of the Cross. I like to see her as a complement to the Beloved Disciple seen in John who also showed his love at the hour of Jesus’ death. In their excellent commentary and book on John, O’Day and Hylen summarize our chapter 21 with this excellent thought: “John 21 turns the reader’s attention to the story of the church, much as Acts does for Luke. It illustrates what the life of faith looks like after Jesus’ hour.” ( John, p.199).