Sister Rea McDonnell, SSND, offers daily reflections on the Liturgical Readings for each day. If you wish to share your own reflections or have comments or questions, please feel free to email Sister Rea. For information about Sister Rea's publications, visit our online gift shop.
Last Sunday we heard that "without seeing him, you love him." Todayís reading from Peter proclaims that "Through him, you have come to trust God ... so that your faith and hope are set on God." Three major gifts taking flesh in us in baptism are faith, hope and love – of God, of family, friends and even strangers. Disciples on the way to Emmaus encountered a stranger whom they came to recognize. Discupulus/a means a learner in Latin. They learned Christ, both through his explaining scripture and his breaking of bread.
Ask the Spirit to call to your mind a time when you recognized Christ in a stranger, or perhaps even an enemy. Look deeply into the face and eyes of that stranger, and let Christ look at you through that personís eyes, humbly and tenderly.
We pray todayís Alleluia verse: "Lord Jesus, make your word plain to us; make our hearts burn when you speak. Alleluia!"
Jesus is asked, "'What must we do to perform the works of God?' Jesus answered them, 'This is the work of God: that you believe in him whom God has sent.'" Gradually we have been weaned away, in our spiritual development, from trying to please God with many and heroic works. We are a people of faith, not putting trust in our works, but in Godís faithfulness to us. We believe in Jesus. In Hebrew that has nothing to do with correct doctrine and everything to do with clinging to Christ, attachment to him, commitment to his person, his desires, his will, his work.
Ask the Spirit to call to mind the stepping stones of your spiritual development. What events/persons led you to a deeper conversion to the person of Christ? Led you to take your eyes off your self and your spiritual progress to keep them fixed on Jesus?
Lord, we believe in you. We trust you, love you. Help our unbelief! Deepen our attachment to you.
Our psalm response today is, "Into your hands, I entrust my spirit," which Jesus prayed on the cross and Stephen prays in todayís reading as he is stoned to death. Like Jesus on the cross, Stephen also pleads in perhaps the most radical statement in the New Testament: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Jesus cried, "Father, forgive them." Perhaps nothing makes us more in God's image than the gift of forgiveness. Not something we can will. Jesus prayed for the gift to his Father; Stephen was given the gift. Jesus promised that we would do greater things than he. Stephen addresses his prayer to the "Lord." Jesus, raised from terrible torture, has become the source of all forgiveness.
Ask the Spirit to call to mind any one whom you need to forgive. Can you ask the risen Lord to give you the gift of forgiving the person? Don't fake it. It may take years to receive the gift. It is wise not to approach someone and announce, I forgive you. A bit patronizing, unless you are asked for forgiveness. Then you will be ready.
"Our hearts are ready, Lord" (Psalm 57). Make our hearts ready to forgive, to reconcile, to love again even those who have hurt us in large ways and small.
Jesus says, "Everything the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.... This is the will of the one who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that God has given me...." Our first reading demonstrates that, having come to Jesus, the disciples are spreading good news, driving out demons, healing in his name. How deeply do we believe that Jesus cannot lose us? Will never let go of that addicted daughter, that godless son, that unchurched grandchild? No one, nothing will be lost. The early church portrayed Jesus as good shepherd. He gathers; he does not drive away no matter how blatant the crime, the evil, the sin. "I will never drive away." God has given every mite and mote of creation to the cosmic Christ, who guards the whole of creation – and each of us.
Consider those whom you consider "lost" to sickness, sin, your values. Perhaps a loved one, or a whole race, religion or nation. See Christ approach them with his wounded hands streaming healing, grace and glory. He touches your "lost" one. Tell him how you feel.
Thank you, good shepherd, for holding us close to you. Gather the wounded of our world, especially those wounded by sin, to your heart.
In the gospel, after Jesus had fed the crowd dared to pursue Jesus around the lake to ask him for a sign. Multiplying loaves and fish for 5,000 is not a good enough sign for them? How frustrated Jesus so often is! Still he responds with this sign: "No one can come to me unless the Father draw that person." Jesus himself is the sign, the attractive sign to all who will keep their eyes fixed on him. God's mercy and faithfulness is embodied in his body, in his work, in his service. Jesus continues, quoting scripture, "'They shall all be taught by God.'"
How does God teach you? How do you learn from God? What signs do you need? Can you understand why Jesus is called the Sacrament of God, a bodily sign who confers grace, the life of God, on all who receive him? Talk these things over with him. Then listen.
Jesus, source of Godís life deep within each heart, within the community, within every bit of creation, help us to keep coming to you, fascinated by your never-ending kindness and compassion.
God chooses the weak, and even those who do evil, to be instruments. Acts tells of Rabbi Saul's change of heart. He learns that in persecuting the Christians of Damascus he is persecuting Jesus himself. Perhaps Paul's overarching belief in the Body of Christ was born at that moment of debility. Not only is Saul's blindness healed, but he is filled with the Spirit and was immediately baptized. His mission, as the psalm proclaims, is bring good news to all the nations.
When have you experienced that when you are weak, God is strong? That where sin abounds, grace more abounds? That the Body of Christ includes all peoples? Talk with Paul about these and other teachings of his. He too is the Body of Christ in glory and is with us, continuing to teach. Listen.
Sharpen, Risen Lord, our zeal for the good news. Even if we are weak, sinful, or limited by age or sickness, give us the missionary heart of Paul and St. Therese, patroness of missions, who never left her Carmel. May every creature hear your good news!
John's gospel in some ways portrays Jesus as most human and most divine. Here we see his humanity, his identifying with us who so often are afraid to speak our hearts, our values for fear of rejection. Jesus' great desire is to be so closely united with us that he gives us his flesh and blood to absorb into our flesh and blood. This nauseates some disciples: "many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him." Then Jesus, who is not play-acting, turns to the Twelve with that most poignant question in every human heart: "Will you also go away?"
Hear Jesus ask that question directly to you. How will you respond?
Lord Jesus, you have the words, you are the Word of life. Help us to search for your word not only in scripture and sacrament but any words we let into our hearts. Give us discerning hearts that we may recognize your voice. Cast out words of judgment, gossip, violence and fill us with you.
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