Daily Reflections by Father Bert

May 11
Lectionary: Acts 16: 22-34. Psalm 38: 1-2, 2-3, 7-8. John 16: 5-11:

In our first reading we are well into the second part of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15: 36-28:31) where Paul is central in the history and stories Luke has been sharing with us. This will be framed by much journeying on the part of Paul and his companions. We have learned about the “We sections” and know that Silas (Silvanus), Timothy, and earlier Barnabas and John Mark were companions to Paul. Scholars locate the places where Luke will take us and also tell us that we are probably in the last five years of the fifties in the first century. I Thessalonians will be the first of the New Testament writings in 51 A.D. and this will continue in his writings done in Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome.

In our selection for today we learn of an earthquake that enables Paul and his companions who are in prison to do the first “Prison Ministry” and convert the jailer after leaving the prison his whole family who are baptized because they have heard the Good News about Jesus and have accepted being baptized.

Psalm 138 is a thanksgiving and praise psalm offered in the Temple maybe as early as the time of Solomon or the tenth century B.C. Verses 1-3 are totally God centered in rendering thanksgiving and praise while experiencing the Hesed or extravagant loving kindness and mercy of God. This psalm has three key words within it: God is named seven times within eight lines; Todah or thanksgiving is offered in the Temple, and Hesed or God’s extravagant love for God’s people.

In John we have some parallels to chapter 14 from what is found in the text of John 16: 5-11. We must also know that often the thought of John seems to be repetitive but often ascends and goes higher in meaning looking at a former theme. It is a contemplative spiraling or an ascending staircase giving us a different view or look at a specific point at which it had started elsewhere in his discourses. Here the coming of the Holy Spirit is the theme where Jesus will send the Spirit as a comforter, a guide, and a Paraclete or defender Advocate in what seems similar to a court of law situation. The Spirit will be the one who takes Jesus’ place after his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. The Spirit will judge and convict the sinners; will bring about righteousness or justice for God’s gift of the Son, and will condemn the Evil One or the prince of this world also known as the Devil.

Father Raymond E. Brown gives us a clear explanation of the word of the Holy Spirit in what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel:

“His (the Holy Spirit) affects the three participants in the trial: (a)men; they have sinned by refusing to belief; (b) Jesus; although condemned by men to death, he is to be posthumously vindicated and the justice of his cause shown; Satan; he who has seemingly triumphed will be shown only to have been bringing on a downfall pre-judged by God from all eternity.

There is a Trinitarian section in c. 16 as in c.14; verses 13-15 refer to the Spirit; verses 16-22 to the Spirit; verses 16-22 to Jesus; verses 23-27 to the Father.” New Testament Reading Guide: Gospel of John and Johannine Epistles, p76.

May 10
Lectionary for the sixth week in Easter: Acts 16: 11-15. Psalm 149: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 9. John 15: 26- 16:4.

Our personal names are very treasured and protected. Unfortunately, the Bible has many good persons who are not given a name. I do treasure and explore the names who are mentioned especially when they are found in the Liturgy of the Word which includes most of the books of the Bible in our worship during the scriptural reading cycle of three years. Today I especially was interested in finding all I could about a woman whom Paul converts on the banks of a river where she was gathered with other women who were praying. Paul addresses them and Lydia is the name of the woman who opens her heart to his testimony and speech speaking about the person the resurrection of Jesus. Lydia believes and is baptized then offers her home to Paul and his companions for resting there for an unspecified time.

Lydia was from the city of Thyatira renowned for its making of purple dye that is used for clothes and also ink for writing. She was a business woman who was devoted to God and was open to Paul who was speaking about Jesus, the Son of God. She learned about God as a Jewish proselyte. Presently she lived in Philippi and was the first person baptized there by Paul. In an apocryphal work named Coptic History of Joseph, she is mentioned with Lysia her sister who were said to be daughters of Joseph. (2:3). Lydia probably built her own business and was a leader among those who gathered with her in Asia Minor where a woman had more freedom.

Psalm 149 is one of the final Hallel Psalms in the Bible that end the book of Psalms. I am always inspired to read that Psalms are often designated by the author as a “new song” as is our psalm for today. The Levite sometimes lets us know that he is pleased with what he has created for the worship of God in the Temple where one prays, sings, and dances. Our response verse is taken from verse four and gives you and me the confidence we have when praying in common with others: “The Lord takes delight in his people.” In turn, the people honor God as their king thus telling us they are a theocracy minded people. This psalm is the second last psalm in the psalter and has a similar spirit as the messianic psalm at the beginning of the book of psalms. In Psalm two the messiah is anointed king as representing God among his people. “The Lord said to my Lord.” There are almost ten ways of making music while singing this “new song.” These instruments are listed and prepare us for the grand finale of Psalm 150 with a litany of alleluias while dancing: trumpet, psaltery, and harp; timbrel and dance, stringed instruments, and flutes, loud cymbals and high sounding cymbals, and all voices that have breath. Praise the Lord. Alleluia. Amen.

We come to the end of chapter fifteen in the Book of Glory of John’s Gospel. Jesus now gives us the promise that the Holy Spirit will remain with us for the keeping of the new commandment of love and for our believing in him as the Son of God. Now the Father and he will send the Holy Spirit as an Advocate and Paraclete for us when we face trials of the court or life’ trials. We will be accompanied, befriended, and guided by the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus the Word as the primary Apostle of this Gospel with Jesus and the Holy Spirit we will be creative agents of the Good News, thus accomplishing the will of God. Amen. will be assured.

Almost all of the apostles and close friends of Jesus will sacrifice their lives for him in continuing to testify on his behalf through the power of the Spirit. To testify is also the same Greek word that is used for a martyr. Jesus sends us forth with the Spirit of Truth. Jesus' word is truth because he is one with the Father as the Word made flesh among us. Jesus has been sent and thus he is the Proto-Apostle who does the will and plan of God. He is the pioneer who has prepared the way for us to be missionary disciples who follow him all the way to the eternal kingdom. We are Easter people and we sing our songs of joy, peace, and love. Amen.

May 9
Lectionary for sixth Sunday after Easter, Mother’s Day: Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35. 44-48. Psalm 98: 1. 2-3, 3-4. I John 4: 7-10, John 15: 9-17:

Love is the theme for Mother’s Day and happily our Scriptures this Sunday concentrate on the commandment of love and writings that are done in love and support of those who are life-givers—our mothers. Love permeates the readings today whether under the New Testament word for this special love called Agape and the new commandment of Jesus or Hesed the Hebrew word that is similar to Agape in meaning in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures or Bible, the Tanakh).

The story of Cornelius’ desire to love as Jesus loved and to be one with him comes through an inward revelation in Peter’s heart to allow the Gentiles also into the newly founded Church that started with the action of the Holy Spirit falling upon the apostles, Mary, and the friends of Jesus on the Jewish feast of Shavuoth or Pentecost. Peter cooperates with the Holy Spirit and the Gentiles who are with Cornelius and all are baptized in the event. The Holy Spirit is the love between Jesus and his Father, God. Baptism is a gift of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and symbolizes for Peter what Abraham’s covenant of circumcision meant for him as a Jew and humble fisherman. How could he now after his own conversion as a follower of Jesus refuse the gifts of the Holy Spirit to Cornelius. Cornelius’ name means “Sunbeam.” He was a devout Roman who was searching for the truth and found it in Peter’s testimony. He was the first convert as a Gentile to Christianity. This is the only scene that carries his name and calling. We can sense his openness throughout our passage from the Acts of the Apostles, a passage to the Holy Spirit working through Peter. The speaking in tongues alerts Peter that God is definitely at work among the Gentiles gathered in Cornelius’ home. Thus all who are there are baptized in the Spirit in the Name of Jesus. In Christ Jesus we all become one (Ephesians 2:18). Spiritual receptivity, prayerfulness and obedience are the virtues of this Roman centurion who lives in Caesarea. The medium of a “vision” given by God is what brings Peter who is housed at Joppa to Cornelius who is at Caesarea. Peter’s vision shows him that in the Church both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are one through baptism in the Holy Spirit, Father, and Son.

The word love appears only once in our Psalm 98 but twelve times in the passages John’s writings for this day. The expression for love found in the most in the Hebrew Scriptures is HESED which means a merciful, loving-kindness to God's People. It is the closest word to Agape which is a wholesome and holy form of love included in the Lord’s commandment of love spoken so clearly by Jesus in chapter fifteen of John’s Gospel. Psalm 98 is also called a new song of loving-kindness and joy.

All of John’s writings are informed and revealed through love of God and faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Faith leads to Love in the Fourth Gospel. We are told in a tradition story about John who, as he aged, kept saying Live in Love. Abide in Love. God is love. He kept repeating this to all who listened to him that they became saturated with it and asked him why he did this. This is all we need to know and live out. This is the revelation from the one who wrote the most revelatory Gospel of the four. In our passage we see that the word for love is found twelve times and it is related to the meaning of the commandment of love that Jesus revealed is a new revealed kind of love. God is love is the best description we have of love that is found in the divine revelatory words of John. I personally like one of the new translations of the psalms expressing the word of love by saying God’s love is extravagant and forever faithful. No wonder! It is based on the love of God for Jesus, God’s Son, through the Holy Spirit as the bond between the Son and his Father. Amen.

May 8
Lectionary for Saturday of 5th week in Easter: Acts 16:1-10. Psalm 100: 1-2, 3.5. John 15: 18-21:

Luke introduces Timothy in today’s reading from Acts. Timothy will be one of Paul’s faithful companions and friends as we learn from Luke and from Paul’s letters. Timothy’s father was a Gentile and his mother a Jewess. Paul does not conform with what was decided at the Jerusalem council either because of his reluctance to offend the Jewish Christians who were insisting on circumcision or, perhaps, because of the marriage situation of a Gentile husband and a Jewish wife offering us from the time in which a Jewish mother carried the right of being a follower of the Mosaic Law and passed this on. Circumcision was among these prescribed by the Mosaic covenant. This holds today for determining whether a person is Jewish. If the mother is, then the child is a Jew and the sign of this is circumcision just as baptism is the sign of belonging to the Church. Paul the Great Apostle of the Gentiles may have had some scruples over this particular situation regarding Timothy whom he circumcised and thereby avoided an obstacle with the Jewish converts in that area in western Asia. Paul seems to follow the council on all of the other circumstances and laws concerning Gentiles. The Gentiles are not required to be circumcised; baptism was the visible sigh of their commitment to Christ.

Luke mentions that the church continues to be strengthened in numbers. Paul is then guided and directed by the Holy Spirit to go to Greece and specifically to Macedonia. The readers of this selection of Paul realize that a new signature form of writing in Acts begins with what is called the We sections of Acts. One Thing that may have caught your listening or reading of the Acts today is the first mention of what is called the “We Sections of the Acts of the Apostles.” In researching this, I found that there are one hundred verses that are part of the We Section and they are broken into the following chapters in Acts (16:10-17-20; 20:5-15; 21: 1-18; 27: 1-28: 16). There are different opinions on who are meant by this “We or Us.” It could be Luke, the author as a travelling companion of Paul; Timothy who is his favored friend and companion,l, or Silvanus (Silus) who assists Paul in his writings. We notice that Mark and Barnabas are not mentioned because of their separation from Paul. However, Mark seems to be helping Paul in providing some of the tools he needs for composing his letters or possibly bringing some scrolls Paul needed while he was in prison.

In Psalm 100 we have one of the most positive psalms in the psalter. This psalm has appeared a number of times in our Easter Season readings. It is a clear praise and thanksgiving hymn that is short and has a joyful message filled with love and peace. If you need a good night prayer, this is one that fills the need. It is totally centered on God who is always faithful, merciful, and kind. The Hebrew word Hesed is the spirit behind all of its verses. Hesed means loving-kindness and is similar in meaning to the commandment of love emphasized in his Gospel and Epistles. In a modern translation of the psalms the word “extravagant love” comes to mind as a way of understanding Hesed in the Hebrew religious realm.

Chapter fifteen of John continues with Jesus sharing with us his priestly and intimate prayers to his disciples. Jesus tells us that the world will hate them because they follow his new commandment and do the will of God. Today we are the ones chosen and called to witness Jesus and his commandment of love—Agape love which is also captured by the word “extravagant.” We share in this love and witness to it as cooperative agents of God’s plan of bringing salvation to all through love for one another. John tells us “God is Love.” Amen.

May 7
Lectionary: Acts 16: 1-10. Psalm 57: 8-9. 10-12. John 15: 12-17:

The first Christian Council ends with a special letter being sent to Antioch for the Gentile converts. They needed to be helped in order to have an identity and a sense of belonging to the Church that Paul and Barnabas were developing and forming in the life of Christ Jesus. Baptism of course was the foundation but other Christians who were formerly within Judaism thought they may also be required to adhere to the covenant, circumcision and the Mosaic Law, the Torah. The Council was led by Peter and James who was the overseer of Jerusalem and the missionaries Barnabas and Paul presented their need for having some formative instructions on what it meant to be a convert into Christianity. The final steps were positive and the letter contained four stipulations they were to follow and above all they did not need to be circumcised. Jude and Silas accompanied Barnabas and Paul and the letter would be opened and read. These were the new things they were obligated to observe, here is what the leaders read: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood and from what has been strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell” (Acts 15: 28-29).

Barnabas and Paul retraced their steps on this first missionary journey except for not visiting Cyprus. They had covered eight different locations where they spread the Good News.

Psalm 57 includes the Gentiles in God’s plan at work in salvation history. Verse ten reads: “I will praise you among the Gentiles, O Lord.” These words are our responsorial after the first reading and before the Gospel. The psalms are usually attributed to David who may have composed a good number of them. It is said that at night David would hang his harp close to his bed and when the north wind touched its strings it produced sweet music which awakened David who then continued to pray and study the Scriptures. (found in the Talmud).

In the beautiful fifteenth chapter of John’s Gospel the commandment of love is explained and emphasized. Jesus calls his apostles by name and also as beloved ones or friends (Agape is the best word to explain the highest form of love). Jesus takes the initiative in loving them and choosing them as friends. It is always Agape love that is extravagant, universal, and intimate. It comforts and energizes them to practice and share with others this special love. It is through this love and through the power of the Resurrected Jesus that they will take on the labor of love by becoming missionary learners and apostles of love for all other peoples. They become active agents of God’s redeeming love in the lives of others who have heard the Good News and those who have not. Amen.

May 6
Lectionary: Acts 15: 7-21. Psalm 96: 1-2, 2-3, 10. John 15: 9-11:

We are reading or listening to the Acts of the Apostles as the first reading for this day and have come to the midpoint from the story point of view. The Church is progressing and there is a need for clearing some of the questions and problems faced by both the Jewish-Christians and the newly converted Gentile Christians whom Paul and Barnabas have brought into the communities of faith that they have founded. It has been a rather successful first missionary journey for Paul and Barnabas.

Our book of Acts is held together by several themes; the overarching theme, however, is the testimony or witness that the apostles give to the Gospel and the resurrection of Jesus. We see this in the twenty plus speeches that Luke hands on to us. The question now perplexing the church is whether the Gentiles have to follow the Law (Torah and especially its ritual and ethical rules) and the covenant sealed by the ritual of circumcision that was handed down by Abraham to the Israelites.

Paul and Barnabas report to Jerusalem where they gather with the leader of the Church in Jerusalem and the other believers with James the Lesser and an apostle. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit among them and through their deciding to write a letter to the converts who are Gentiles a solution is found that the newly converted are not required to be circumcised nor to follow all of the precepts and rules about what foods and how they are prepared. The letter gives them four things to perform. They receive them with joy and the meeting of this “council” is successful as the letter is read with joy and embraced by them under the four stipulations. The belief in Jesus and the sacrament of Baptism are the principal and central requirements for those who are received into the Church and to abstain from idol worship, illicit sexual union, and the drinking of blood from these animals.

During the two thousand years that have elapsed this Jerusalem meeting gave a model to be followed in the twenty ecumenical or world councils that have been held since Vatican II (1962-1965).

Psalm 96 is a call to worship, to adore and to reverence God in the sacred Temple of Jerusalem. It contains the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and resembles the joy that was felt by the Gentiles in the selection from the Acts. I liked this verse, “Say among the nations (the Gentiles) the Lord is King. He governs the peoples with equity.” (verse 10). And another verse used as the responsorial fits the occasion of the meeting in Jerusalem : “Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the peoples.” (verse 3).

In the very short passage we have for our Gospel proclamation today (John 15: 9-11) we have Jesus giving us a beautiful lesson on his love for God his Father and how his new commandment of love involves us in that very love that he and the Father share. We are called to remain and live in that love and to carry it out by our love for our sisters and brothers and all other people that we live and meet. Jesus supports us in how to do this and prays that we will live in Agape love and that from this love our joy may be complete.

Jesus says to all of us: “You will live in my love if you keep my commandments, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and live in his love. All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete.”

May 5
Lectionary: Fifth week after Easter: Acts 15: 1-6. Psalm 122: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5. John 15:1-8

Recently, during the past weeks in the Liturgy of the Word we repeated both the figure of speech of the Good Shepherd and the Vine and Branches. We learned these were not parables but a genre of speech that fit under a genre composed of figures or images, riddles, wisdom sayings and stories that have a moral lesson behind them. All these fit under the umbrella of what is called a Mashal in Hebrew literature. It is as ancient as far back as one thousand before the common era (B.C. or C.E.). This happens today in the repetition of the vine and the branches. The concentration in this reflection is on the Acts of the Apostles and one of the pilgrimage psalms, Psalm 122.

In a sense, we are in a transition phase in the Acts of the Apostles where there is a need for leaders in the newly emerging Christian communities and some structure to handle problems that arise. We saw this with the choosing seven “deacons” to take care of both the Hebrew speaking widows and the Hellenists who spoke the common (Koine) Greek of the first century. Now the leaders, Peter and James, Paul and Barnabas will meet in Jerusalem on the question of whether the Gentile converts must follow the Mosaic Law (Torah) in the commitment sacred action of circumcision. This will result in what could be called the first Church Council that will take place in the sacred location of Jerusalem, the most sacred city with its beautiful Temple, one of the seven wonders of the world.

Luke will describe this ecumenical gathering of the four leaders tomorrow in Acts and name others who are in Jerusalem with James, the apostle as their overseer. It is a most exciting scene that will result in effectively separating Gentiles and Jews. I reflected on the fact that the Torah within the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) was the only Scripture existing at that time. It was the Bible. The New Testament was slowly emerging from oral tradition similar to what the speeches found in Acts prompted and propelled into the creation of the epistles of Paul and the four Gospels.

Our Psalm today is Psalm 122 which belongs to a set of psalms ranging from Psalm 120-134 called the Ascent Songs or Pilgrim songs sung and prayed on the way up to Jerusalem by the pilgrims on the three great festivals of Passover (Pesach), Sukkot or Tabernacles and Pentecost or Shavuoth (7 weeks after Easter or Passover). These verses are dear to me because of a friend who loved them so much and applied them to our friendship in Jewish-Christian dialogue:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; May they prosper that love thee. …For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will say: ‘Peace be within thee.’ Psalm 122: 6, 8). Amen.