Tag Archives: Acts of the Apostles

Silent Clay

The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. The Acts of the Apostles is a fast-moving account of a developing church spreading rapidly through the world through people like Paul of Tarsus and his companions. Blazing new trails and visiting new places,  they’d be frequent flyers today, always on the go.

The supper-room discourse of Jesus from the Gospel of John, on the other hand,  seem to move slowly, repeating, lingering over the words of Jesus to his disciples. Listen, be quiet, sit still, they say. Don’t go anywhere at all.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was inspired by St. Paul, the Apostle, to preach and to teach. Many of his letters end telling readers he has to go, he’s off to preach somewhere. He was a “frequent flyer.”

But the Gospel of John also inspired him; it was the basis for his teaching on prayer. Keep in God’s presence, in pure faith, he often said. Enter that inner room and remain there. Don’t go anywhere.

“It’s not important for you to feel the Divine Presence, but very important to continue in pure faith, without comfort, loving God who satisfies our longings. Remain like a child resting on the bosom of God in faithful silence and holy love. Remain there in the higher part of your soul paying no attention to the noise of the enemy outside. Stay in that room with your Divine Spouse…Be what Saint John Chrysostom says to be: silent clay offered to the potter. Give yourself to your Maker. What a beautiful saying! What the clay gives to the potter, give to your Creator. The clay is silent; the potter does with it what he wills. If he breaks it or throws away, it is silent and content, because it knows it’s in the king’s royal gallery.”  (Letter 1515)


The End is Only a Beginning

We begin reading the Farewell Discourse from John’s gospel along with the Acts of the Apostles this 4th week of Easter. Facing their loss of Jesus the disciples seem helpless as he says farewell. “I have a lot to say to you, but you cannot bear it now,” he says. The Lord recognizes their paralysis.

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, on the other hand, Paul and his companions are not helpless at all. They’re boldly on their way to places that may not seem impressive to us now, but were impressive places then: Psidian Antioch, Philippi, Athens, Corinth. Three were important Roman colonies, strategic cities on the Roman grid, steps on the road to Rome itself. Athens, of course, was a key intellectual center of the empire, though maybe a little down-trodden when Paul got there.

Paul welcomed people into his growing ministry. Meeting Lydia, the trader in purple dyes at the river, he baptizes her and her household. How many did she bring to the gospel? Priscilla and Acquila, the two Jews that Claudius expelled from Rome during the Jewish riots of AD 42, became his trusted partners.

Maybe it’s good that we read these two scriptures together.

The Acts of the Apostles tell of a church confidently on its way to the ends of the earth to fulfill its mission.

The Farewell Discourse, on the other hand, says that sometimes a church can be paralyzed in its thinking and acting. But the Lord is the shepherd of both. What seems like the end can be only a beginning.

Heal the Sick


A great persecution broke out in Jerusalem after the stoning death of the deacon Stephen, today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles says. Followers of Jesus, mostly Greek-speaking Jews, were scattered through Judea and Samaria. The apostles– Galileans–seem unaffected by it and remain in Jerusalem.

Persecution leads to new growth, Luke’s account says. The mystery of the cross seems to lead to death, but it brings new life. Individuals experience that mystery, but the church, the world, creation itself, also experience this mystery.

Philip, one of the Hellenic deacons, brings the gospel to the city of Samaria, and “there was great joy in that city.” Philip, a new voice, joins Peter and the other apostles; he preaches the word and “proclaimed the Christ to them.” That’s another theme found in Luke’s writings: new voices proclaim the good news.

Like Jesus, Philip performs signs and wonders. Possessed people are freed; “many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.” Like Jesus, Philip healed people.

The healing ministry is  a ministry of the church we may forget or minimize today, but it’s not forgotten in the Acts of the Apostles or the gospels. They’re clear about its importance; it flows from the resurrection of Jesus, who came to raise up our mortal bodies and make them like his own.

In healing, the church reaches out to people in the body, a body that’s fragile from birth till death, a body that needs care and healing. Following Jesus, the church take on a mission to raise up the body, to say it’s valuable no matter how it appears.

Pope Francis  defined the church as “ a field hospital,” reaching out to humanity broken in mind and body.


Welcome to Ordinary Time

The Easter season ends with the Feast of Pentecost and we’re into ordinary time in the church year. Unlike other feasts, Pentecost has no octave; ordinary time is its octave. Most of the church year is ordinary time; most of life is ordinary too, but the Spirit is there just the same.

“Their message goes out to all the earth.” We read the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season as Jesus’ apostles, led by Peter and Paul, ventured on their way from Jerusalem to Asia Minor and to Rome, empowered by strong winds and tongues of fire, Yes, the Spirit can bring us to the ends of the earth, but the Spirit is also there in the few steps we take every day, though we’re hardly aware.

We tend to minimize ordinary life. Just ordinary, nothing’s happening, we say. Yet, day by day in ordinary time the Risen Lord offers his peace and shows us his wounds. Every day he breathes the Spirit on us. No day goes by without the Spirit’s quiet blessing.


The Ascension of Our Lord

audio homily here:
In a Barnes and Noble Bookstore awhile ago, in the religion section, I noticed a good number of books on heaven. Most of these, as far as I could judge, are accounts of people who say they’ve been there or just about, and are reporting on their experience. Looks like heaven is an item of some interest today.

The Feast of the Ascension is our basic book on heaven. Jesus promises us a home there. The Ascension is part of the Easter mystery. On Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead and for forty days, scripture say, he ate and drank and met with his disciples to build up their faith. Then, he ascended into heaven.

Rising from the dead was not the end of his story. He rose from the dead but did continue life on earth as before. He didn’t rise like those whom he raised from the dead, like Lazarus whom he called from the tomb, like the little girl and the dead son of a widow of Naim. They went back to ordinary life. Jesus did not.

No, after he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, our creed says. He entered another world beyond this one, a world greater than this one. There, from a place of great power, he extends his promise and power to us here on earth.

When I was a boy, I remember my father buying a record player. It was the mid 1940’s and times were hard; I’m sure he broke the family bank to pay for it. For a good while he only had a couple of those old vinyl records he would play over and over.

One of them was a haunting black spiritual sung by Marian Anderson called “Heaven.”
“I got shoes, and you got shoes, all God’s children got shoes.
When I getta heaven gonna put on my shoes
and gonna walk all over God’s heaven, heaven.
Everybody’s talking bout Heaven ain’t goin’ there.
heaven, heaven. Gonna walk all over God’s heaven.”

I still remember the hope in that great singer’s voice and in the song she sang. She was singing the song of barefooted slaves who were looking for something more. It wasn’t just a pair of shoes that would wear out after awhile. These were shoes God gave you in heaven, a place of completed dreams. Once you put on those shoes you could walk freely and walk everywhere.

The Feast of the Ascension points to heaven as our final home, where all our dreams are realized, where tears are wiped away, where sadness is no more, where wrongs are righted, where reunion with those we love takes place, where we enjoy the presence of God and all the saints.

For now, we only have hints of heaven. We only have assurances of faith. And it’s not enough, as the spiritual says, just to talk about it, we must walk in the steps of Jesus. Walking in his steps brings us, not to a grave, but to the place where he is. That’s heaven.

I wonder why our first reading stops where it does, because the next line says that the disciples walked back to Jerusalem, to the place where they were living. “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying.”

Before we walk in heaven, we have to keep walking on earth.

Fifth Week of the Easter Season

Monday Acts 14, 5-18
John 14, 21-26
Tuesday Acts 14, 19-28
John 14, 27-31
Wednesday Acts 15, 1-6
John 15, 1-8
Thursday Acts 15, 7-21
John 15, 9-11
Friday Acts 15, 22-31
John 15, 12-17
Saturday Acts 16,1-10
John 15, 18-21

Through the Easter season until the Feast of Pentecost our first reading at Mass on ordinary days is from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. The lesson we learn from Acts is that the Risen Jesus creates and guides his church through time through the ministry of his followers.

From chapter 13 onward Luke concentrates on the missionary activity of Paul the Apostle and those associated with him. A sharpened Jewish reaction to Paul’s preaching develops at this time, as well as a greater acceptance of his message by the gentiles.

Paul’s experience is that “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Tuesday) The church must take the same path its Lord took.

At the same time, church order– how the church functions– has to be looked after. “They appointed presbyters for them in each Church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.” (Tuesday)

“No little dissension and debate” goes on in the church of any age. (Wednesday) We need to go back to Jerusalem to get our bearings. The church is always bigger than some of its members may think. (Thursday and Friday) No matter what, the Spirit guides the church. (Saturday)

At the Last Supper–the gospel from John is read this week– Jesus promises his disciples peace. (Tuesday) He is the vine, we are the branches. (Wednesday) “Remain in my love,” he says. We are his friends (Friday) and if his friends then we have to follow the path he did. (Saturday)

Little Sisters of the Poor

For the last 7 days I have been with some of the Little Sisters of the Poor on retreat at their place in Flemington, NJ. We’ve been reflecting, for the most part, on the scripture readings from the lectionary for these days in the easter season, and I put some of my reflections down in previous blogs.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are currently engaged in a dispute on health care with the United States government and the case is before the Supreme Court. Here’s a website explaining their stand. They’re not an advocacy group; they take care of the elderly poor in residences in this country and throughout the world. Holy women, they’re doers, not talkers.

I didn’t mention the case in my talks these days; they were days of prayer and reflection. But the easter readings from the Acts of the Apostles do seem to offer them a template for this experience. As the teacher of the law Gamaliel said about the Jewish-Christians arranged before the Sanhedrin,, “If it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” Acts 5, 39

Another lesson we learn from the Acts of the Apostles is that the mystery of the passion and resurrection is always present in our lives and the journey we make together as a community. No matter how dark it seems, God brings us to life and light. That’s the way the Kingdom of God comes.

The Little Sisters know a lot about caring for the elderly, especially the elderly poor, something our government may not know much about, if truth be told. Instead of prosecuting them for breaking a law, wouldn’t it be better to get their advice how to treat the frail elderly? Care for an aging population is a growing challenge for our society.

The Little Sisters know something about it.

A Church that Heals?

peter healing


Peter and the other disciples confidently walk among the needy, bringing them life and healing in the name of the Risen Jesus. “Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.” (Acts 5, 15) Healing is a sign of the resurrection.

Our readings from The Acts of the Apostles for the next few days are about the cure of a crippled man in the temple. (Acts 3, 1-4, 37)  Peter and John meet the man begging at the temple gate. “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, get up and walk,” Peter says, and the man got up and “went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.”

Jesus began his ministry in Galilee with dramatic healings like that. Peter’s mother in law was among the first he healed on the momentous day he came to Capernaum. (Mark 1, 29-32) Wonder and excitement quickly spread, people flocked to him, but soon opponents began to question and finally try to stop the Nazorean.

His followers continue his healing mission after his resurrection.  “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean” Peter and the rest move others to believe and join them by signs of healing; they also face the reaction Jesus faced when he healed. They face opposition.

An important witness of God’s presence in the early church, is healing still important in our age which trusts so much in modern medicine and the latest drugs and treatments?  Pope Francis recently called the church a “field hospital.”A reminder that the church must never abandon it’s mission to be a healing church, witnessing to the resurrection of  Jesus, praying for and caring for and sustaining those in need.

The Acts of the Apostles is a template for looking at our church today as well as the church of the past.


The Easter Season


The Easter season is a seven week period that begins with the Easter vigil and concludes with the feast of Pentecost. Most Catholic parishes give attention to the First Communion of children, but this season has a larger purpose:. it’s time for the whole community to be renewed in its faith in the Risen Christ.

“Blessed are they who have not seen, but believe,” Jesus said to his Apostle Thomas, a key figure in the Easter season. John’s gospel recalling the Risen Christ meeting Thomas is read on all three cycles for the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Jesus’ words to Thomas summarize this season: he blesses those who have not seen him.

We have not seen him as his apostles and other eye-witnesses have, but we’re blessed with faith, which is a way of knowing Jesus through sacraments and signs and, most importantly, through loving one another. Relying on the witness of his disciples, we know the Risen Christ in the church and its sacraments, particularly in the Eucharist, and in life around us.

Our faith needs strengthening, however, because our world questions this way of knowing the mysteries of God and Jesus Christ. We also find it hard to give our minds to great mysteries like this; so much else holds our attention. The Easter season brings a renewing grace to us.

Weekday Readings: Octave of Easter

Monday: Acts 2:14,22-23; Matthew 28,8-15
Tuesday: Acts 2, 36-41; John 20,11-18
Wednesday: Acts 3,1-19; Luke 24, 13-35
Thursday: Acts 3,11-36 Luke 24, 35-48
Friday Acts 4,1-12 John 21,1-14
Saturday Acts 4, 13-21 Mark 16,9-15

The weekday readings at Mass for the next 7 weeks of the Easter season come mainly from the Acts of the Apostles and the gospel of John. This is a good time to read the introductions to these books in the NABRE.

The Acts of the Apostles, the second part of St. Luke’s work, describes how salvation promised to Israel and accomplished by Jesus now extends to the Gentile world under the guidance of the Holy Sprit. The same book by which we understand how the church developed in the beginning can help us see how it develops today.

Luke shows the growth of the church from its Jewish Christian origins in Jerusalem to a series of Christian communities that point to Rome, the capital of the civilized world. As our church today continues to become a global church, what can we learn from Acts to help us understand and contribute to its growth in the world today?

The gospels for the octave of Easter are resurrection accounts from all four gospels. Written about 70 AD and after, they are later descriptions of the resurrection of Jesus. Earlier short statements about the resurrection– from the letters of Paul, for example– report the utter amazement of the first witnesses as they met the Risen Jesus and the difficulty they had describing him. He is beyond any experience his first disciples had or knew of.

The evangelists adapt the story of the Risen Jesus to the situation of the churches they’re writing for, which explains the differences in their accounts. They can also teach us about our own church and times. The gospels reveal what we can know about the resurrection, what it calls us to do and what we can hope for.

The Testament of Mary

Mary sorrows copy

A new book called The Testament of Mary by the Irish writer Colm Toibin presents a very unorthodox picture of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. She’s an old woman  living in Ephesus telling two of Jesus’ disciples about the life and death of her son. One reviewer said of the book, “This is not the Mary your mother knew.”

That’s because Toibin pictures Mary as an embittered, vengeful woman who’s still grieving and angry over her son’s death. She can’t accept it and sees nothing good about it. Her son had been taken away from her.

Some reviewers in the secular press praise the book because they say it’s so human. That’s the way a mother would deal with a son’s unjust death, they say. But is it human to live angry and embittered? Are we human when we end our lives disappointed and with no hope? Is that what God means human to be? Was that really the way Mary was?

Not according to the gospels. The Mary they present certainly bears her cross. Christian devotion calls her the Mother of Sorrows and says that seven great sorrows pierced her heart. She stood by the cross of her Son. But she saw something beyond the sorrows and apparent failure. God was there in it all and a larger plan promised resurrection and life.  Mary was a believer and that made the difference.

It seems to me that Toibin’s gospel presents Mary as our secular culture sees all human beings, as if all life’s meaning comes from the here and now, and then there’s death. A cold dreary picture of being human.

But Mary represents humanity redeemed, as God means it to be. The mystery of her Immaculate Conception–which we celebrate December 8th– far from isolating her from the rest of us, prepared her to be the first fruits of a new humanity, as she followed  the path of her Son. She was human as God meant human to be.

It I were writing a book like Toibin’s I think I would begin it in Jerusalem where St. Luke describes the disciples waiting after Jesus ascended into heaven. Among them were“…certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus.” (Acts 1.14) They were wondering when the days of God’s restoration of the kingdom were coming, even though Jesus had told them “It’s not for you to know the days.”

Still, there and then in Jerusalem, the disciples were sure the kingdom was coming soon, even though Jesus tells them to witness to him further “in Jerusalem, Judea and all Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1, 6-9) Luke charts that journey of the church in the Acts of the Apostles.

Did Mary at that time temper the expectations of the disciples by sharing her own experience of patient waiting, of her closeness to her Son, of God’s mysterious ways. “How can this be?” she once said to the angel. She knew what it meant to wait for God’s will to be done after the angel left her. God’s will is beyond our will and expectations.

There with the disciples in Jerusalem, Mary would be a thoughtful woman, who found answers to the questions she kept pondering in her heart in the scriptures and the feasts they celebrated in the temple. We can hear Mary’s voice in Luke’s Gospel, not a voice of anger or bitterness, but a voice proclaiming God’s goodness for the good things done through her. She was truly “blessed among women.”

“Full of grace,” she was full of humanity too.