Prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were virtually living in hiding in the Upper Room. Like many of us today, they were in lockdown due to the fear of being recognised as one of Jesus’ followers. A great task had been entrusted to them – namely to spread the Good News all over the world – yet they still did not have either the strength or the will to begin this special mission. But once they received the Holy Spirit they were changed people. They left their hiding place, and set out courageously to preach the Gospel. In the promising the apostles the Holy Spirit Jesus said to them: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but…to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The key word here is “power”. Before Pentecost they were completely powerless. They were crippled with fear and a sense of inadequacy. They felt totally incapable of carrying out the task of preaching the Gospel and witnessing to Jesus. After all, they had witnessed what happened to Jesus. They needed courage. They needed someone or something to empower them.
Empowerment is a word that is often used these days. We have seen individuals or groups of people who initially felt powerless to change their situation, suddenly become able to do so when someone empowered them. Empowerment means to give or delegate power or authority to someone, or to authorize them. It also means to give someone the ability to carry out a certain task. When people are empowered, they become able and willing to take charge of their situation. They no longer wait for someone else to do it for them. They accept that they, and they alone, have to do something about it.
The Holy Spirit empowered the apostles. He came upon them in the form of wind and fire, both symbols of power. The Spirit filled them with the power of God. We too, especially ion these difficult times, need someone to empower us so that we may know the power of God in our lives and live our faith to the full. We need empowerment to witness to our Christian faith. The power that changed the apostles is available to us today. As we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost this weekend, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will renew us, energise us, and strengthen our spirits in these difficult times so that we may continue on our journey of faith.
7th Sunday of Easter 2020
When Jesus died the disciples were like sheep without a shepherd. Worse still, during the Lord’s Passion, they learnt some disturbing things about themselves. Before then they thought they were brave, strong, and generous. During Jesus’ suffering they came to realise that they were cowardly, weak, and selfish. But Jesus had foreseen all this. He knew very well that they would need strength. This is why he told them to do nothing until they received “power from on high”, that is, the Holy Spirit. Only with the help of the Spirit would they be able to go out and preach the Gospel. The experience of their own weakness during the Passion made them more open and more willing to accept the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
We all have experiences which make us painfully aware of our own weakness. These days that we are living through now make many, if not all of us, feel vulnerable, anxious and afraid. Some days – which can be good or bad – remind us of our powerlessness and vulnerability. This is why it is important that we either become or continue to be people of prayer. At the end of all this, whenever the end comes, the Church might well be very different. Our Mass going and attendance at Church might be very different. The way we celebrate the sacraments might be very different. But if we are people of prayer, with Jesus at the centre, we cannot and will not go far wrong. All the saints knew such experiences in their lives in one way or another. What made them holy, and therefore saints, was their ability and willingness to turn back to God at such difficult and dark moments in their lives.
During the nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost the apostles, with Mary by their side, assembled for prayer in the Upper Room and prepared themselves for the coming of the Holy Spirit. They stayed behind locked doors too. Their preparation for receiving the Holy Spirit was prayer. These nine days are the oldest and perhaps most important novena in the Church. In these difficult days let us makes these days, days of prayer. Jesus prayed for those he left behind to carry on his work. He prays for us too. As we approach the wonderful feast of Pentecost, let us pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit that he may indeed renew the face of the earth.
5th Sunday of Easter 2020
There are times in the lives of all believers when everything feels very dark. We believe in something that we cannot prove and accept a faith in God that we cannot completely understand or make sense of. It’s at times like now, living through this awful pandemic, that we need strong faith, but it's sometimes precisely at such times that our faith can seem to let us down. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we have a strong faith when everything is going well. Yet when a crisis arrives – such as these days that we are going through – we discover what kind of faith we really have. There are many people who wonder where God is in all this. If he really loved us, if he was really there, then why would he let bad times happen to us? Life would indeed be plain sailing if this were the case. Yet it is precisely because we go through the bad times that we have faith. We wouldn’t need it otherwise. Besides which, God is present in the goodness that we do see in our world at the moment.
John’s Gospel tells us that “God is love”. So if there is love in our hearts during these days then that is where God is. During the Last Supper the apostles were thrown into crisis when Jesus started to talk about his Passion and death. On hearing this their hearts were troubled and filled with fear. Knowing that their faith would be severely tested, Jesus tried to prepare them for the ordeal. He said to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. Believe in God and believe also in me.” As we continue through these troubled times let us pray that our faith in the Risen Jesus will be our comfort and our consolation and hope. As Gandhi once said, “A person with a grain of faith in God never loses hope, because they believe in the ultimate triumph of truth.” So when times are bad, may we hear the gentle words of Jesus: “Believe in God and believe also in me.”
4th Sunday of Easter 2020
In the Gospel this weekend Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. He lived a life of love, compassion, forgiveness and tenderness, yet he was someone who could confront those who kept others down or made life so very difficult for them. There was a wonderful program on TV about the Lake District last week. During the program it showed a number of shepherds from different farms trying to guide the sheep down from the moors so that they could have their wool shaved off in time for the hot summer. It was great seeing the shepherds, along with their sheepdogs, working together. It would have been so difficult if they had tried to do the job individually. Of course, there is always one or two sheep who get stuck on the cliff faces and can’t escape on their own. The program showed the shepherds climbing the rocks, tying the sheep safely, and lowering them down. What came across very strongly in this part of the program was the great love the shepherds had for their sheep. What a wonderful picture of the way God loves us. If we go astray, if we get lost, if we feel that life is hard, then it is Jesus the Good Shepherd who calls us to follow him to the safety of his loving heart. He is our way, our truth and our life. Although we sometimes turn away from him, the call is always there for us to turn back to him and follow in his footsteps and live the life he calls us to live.
These difficult times that we are living in certainly remind us that life is a fragile gift. We are learning perhaps more and more that every moment is utterly unique. We should live every moment as though it is a gift from God, which it most certainly is. But every moment is also fleeting. How quickly life’s stream runs down to the sea. Living for each moment certainly gives life its true meaning and should make each moment all the more precious. The Aztec Indians had a special saying: “For we do not enjoy this world everlastingly, only briefly; our life is like the warming of oneself in the sun.”
The Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, wants us to have life. Therefore, let us not be so timid and fearful, but trust in him as our Good Shepherd. Let us live whatever presents itself to us, the good and the bad, for life itself is a gift from God. Mere existence, as we seem to be living at the moment, is not enough. We perhaps cannot find he meaning of life by ourselves, but we are experiencing being alive, and, even better, being alive in God’s love. Jesus began his ministry with the following words, “Believe in the Good News” What is the Good News? R=The Good News is, “I came that you may have life and have it to the full.”
3rd Sunday of Easter 2020
Usually we would all be getting back to normal now after the Easter break – whatever “normal” means! Easter affords us the opportunity to spend a holy time in our churches, to reflect on the meaning of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection, and spend some good quality time with our loved ones. Apart from those who have been self-isolating together, many of us have not been in church – unless you’re a priest – and lots of us have not been able to be with our loved ones at all. We continue to live in these strange and somewhat scary times, wondering when it will all end and when we can get “back to normal”. Usually all our schools and colleges are reopening now too but, once again, as we continue in “lock down”, this cannot be the case. Not yet at least. Hopefully the story of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection will have brought us some comfort and hope. Please God, when we can be together again soon – hopefully very soon – we can celebrate Easter at a later date.
After Jesus’ Resurrection, he appeared to some of his followers on the road to Emmaus. They did NOT recognise him. They did not know about the Resurrection, even though they had heard some rumours, and were on their journey still feeling dismayed at the events of his death. In the Gospel Reading this weekend Jesus reveals himself to them in the Breaking of Bread, giving them strength, courage and hope.
Sometimes things happen in the world or in our lives that puts a stumbling block on our journey. But God is always there, even if we sometimes struggle to recognise him. To all of us we must remember that God’s purpose for each of us is much greatly than any immediate ambitions we may have. What we are going through is a bump in our journey in life that will form a much bigger picture in the future. We may not be able to see that at the moment but everything will work out in time if we remain in God’s loving hands. So, even in isolation, let us continue to love and support each other in whatever way we can in these difficult times ahead. Let us cherish the times we have already shared with each other and look forward to a day when God calls us together again, hopefully very soon. Like Christ Jesus himself we walk with each other on our road to Emmaus.
2nd Sunday of Easter 2020
It seems that after Good Friday Thomas, one of the Twelve, had cut himself off from the other group of disciples and walked alone. He was in very deep grief. People who are grieving can have a tendency to isolate themselves. But in cutting himself from the other disciples, Thomas made life much more difficult for himself. However, when he did meet them, he would have noticed a difference. Their fear was largely gone. They had been blessed with joy and peace. It was clear that someone had breathed new life into them. From the Gospels we know that Thomas wasn’t present when the disciples first saw the Risen Jesus and they claimed that they had seen him. Thomas refused to take their word for it. He wanted to see for himself. He had to be sure. We can surely sympathise with Thomas. He was merely echoing the human cry for certainty. However in our spiritual lives there is no such thing as certainty. If there was faith would not be necessary. Thomas’ needed to see the wounds of Jesus for himself, otherwise he would not believe. Also, by not being there, he felt left out of the community of the disciples and all the other followers at that time.
In these difficult times we can obviously feel very isolated, even those who are currently living with their loved ones. We are living a type of isolation that none of us thought we would ever have to do. Today’s world can be a lonely place. We need support. This is why we need community, a family to share our beliefs and encourage us to keep going, especially when we feel very low, as Thomas did at the beginning of the Gospel this weekend. This is why it is good that we keep in touch with each other as much as possible. Thomas’ mistake – if indeed he made one – was to cut himself off from the rest of the disciples, especially at that time, just after Jesus’ death on the Cross, when he would have needed them most. He only came to believe in the Risen Jesus when he touched his hands and his side. We are all certainly missing human touch at the moment – a handshake with a stranger, perhaps, or a hug or a kiss from a loved one. Thomas’ opportunity to touch Jesus changed his whole life and he went on to become one of the greatest apostles of Jesus, not the “doubting” Thomas we think of in the Gospel this weekend.
As we continue our journey through these very difficult times, let us continue to pray, hope and believe that we are in God’s hands. Perhaps these days will remind us of how important it is to belong to a Parish Community or any family or group for that matter. We are called to live as members of a community of believers whose common faith strengthens the faith of each individual. Our faith is certainly being tested at the moment. That’s why we have to support each other and love each other in whatever way we can. The Gospels, and especially the readings from the Acts of the Apostles, remind us of the kind of community the first Christians had. It wasn’t always easy for them, especially when they had to face persecution. Our ministry to one another doesn’t just consist of just doing things for others, it means travelling on the same journey of faith, it means listening to each other and learning from one another. Let us learn from Thomas’ story this weekend and open up our hearts to the Risen Jesus. May his love for us keep us strong in faith and loving towards each other.
Easter Sunday Gospel Reflection.
As we face such difficult times, the Gospel reminds us that we can face anything, endure anything, but only if we have hope. Easter reminds us that there is hope of new life. We can face the difficulties of a long and miserable winter because we know that spring will come again. Hope is as necessary for the spirit as food is for the body. It is amazing what the human spirit can endure and overcome provided it is nourished by the bread of hope. Easter can inject us with an enormous amount of hope. And how much it is needed in these uncertain days. There is a lot of tragedy in life. Good things are destroyed at times. Great people are lost to hatred – Thomas More, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero…and of course, Jesus. He too was cut down. But he rose again.
The world didn’t take too much notice of the Resurrection of Jesus. The reason for this lies in the fact that it was a humble, hidden event. After his Resurrection, Jesus did not appear in triumph at the Temple in Jerusalem, humiliating those who humiliated him. Only those whom he called by name, with whom he broke bread and to whom he spoke words of peace, were aware of what happened. And even they had difficulty believing. Like us, they were slow to believe. Yet, it was this hidden event that freed humanity from the chains of death.
Jesus rose from the dead as a sign to those who loved him and followed him that God’s love is stronger than death. The Resurrection of Jesus must not be separated from the resurrection of humanity saved by him. By entering fully into human life, and by experiencing the bitterness of death, Jesus became a brother and a Saviour to all people. The death of Jesus was part of God’s plan. Jesus is the pioneer and leader of our salvation: pointing the way and leading the way along the road of obedience and suffering.
At Easter we still feel the pain of the world, especially in these difficult, strange times. But the Resurrection must surely bring with it the hope that we are in the hands of God. It doesn’t remove the pain and suffering and anxiety that we are going through, but it can give them new meaning. It lights us up with hope. All is different because Jesus is alive and speaks his words of peace to us as he did so with the disciples 2000 years ago. So as we celebrate this Easter in such a very hidden way – much like the disciples on the first Easter Sunday – let us pray that the meaning of Easter will have even greater significance for us this year as we celebrate the fact that God loves us so much that he gave us his only Son Jesus to be our Saviour and our friend.