God so loved the world that he gave his only Son

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 3:16-18

It is not uncommon to see posters and signs at sporting events or in other public places with “John 3:16” written in big letters. In this verse, St. John proclaims the essence of the “Good News,”: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

The world that God created was good. There was order, harmony, peace. It bursted with life and emanated beauty. Why? Because it was the expression and “work” of God. God handed over to man a perfect creation, and gave him stewardship of it. But man turned from God, and rebelled against Him. This rebellion is called sin. Because God had entrusted the entire created order to man, when man “fell,” so did all of creation. Separated from God, who is life, mankind and all of creation became destined for death.

In this reading St. John witnesses to the mystifying mercy of God. The Father Creator sends forth His Son, who becomes man to redeem mankind and all of creation. Through Jesus, all who believe are liberated from the unavoidability of death. There is no life apart from God. By uniting Himself to humanity, and by sacrificing Himself to repair the damage of men’s sins, Jesus restores the gift of eternal life to mankind. By sending forth the Holy Spirit to form the Church and mystically unite each believer to the Church, God offers all men and women of all times, the salvation accomplished through Jesus Christ.

Reflection

This world is passing away. We are surrounded by sickness, sin, death and destruction, yet we have hope. For those who believe in Jesus, who are baptized in the Spirit and strengthened and healed in the sacraments, there is eternal life, and nothing and no one can take that away from us.

Activity

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord…

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor. But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord who is Spirit.

2 Cor 2:12-18

Note: This is not the normal reflection on the readings of the week, targeted to young people, but rather on the return to public liturgy, and the writing is geared toward adults.

The Book of Exodus tells of Moses interceding on behalf of the Israelites. In response to Moses’ prayer, God renews His covenant with the Israelites. God promises all He will do to protect Israel and give them the Promised Land, and He instructs Moses on how the people must live and worship. After being in the presence of the glory of God, Moses physically reflects that glory and his face shines so brightly that the Israelites cannot bear to look upon him. To shield them from the blinding brightness, Moses wears a veil upon his face, that he removes only when he goes to speak to the Almighty. (Ex 33-34)

In the quoted passage, St Paul writes to the church at Corinth and teaches them, “only through Christ is [the veil] taken away.” The glory of God that the Israelites could not bear to look upon is revealed in Jesus Christ. St. John writes, “and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten Son…”(Jn 1:14) Each of the three synoptic Gospels retell of the Transfiguration when Peter, James and John witness Jesus in His glory. It was a special grace that the Apostles would see Christ in His glory. For most who observed Jesus when He walked the earth, the majesty of the Godhead was veiled in human flesh. The Divine Son took on a human nature and was a man like us in all things but sin.

In this passage, St. Paul writes, “when a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” According to the theology of the Apostle, when the Spirit is given one is reborn. He becomes a new creation. By the power of God, the Christian, this “new creation,” is capable of not only looking upon God with an “unveiled face,” but of “being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another.”

Beholding God in His glory, worshiping God, and seeing Him “as is He is” is the eternal destiny of the Christian. In Baptism, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the person is reborn in the life, death and resurrection of Christ so that he might live in eternal union with God, just as the Father and the Son are One. This communion will suffer no barriers, obstructions or veils. When Catholics attend mass and participate as the Mystical Body of Christ in divine worship, Heaven opens into space and time. Upon the altar, the priest re-presents Jesus’ eternal offering of Himself to the Father for the redemption of the world. In Holy Communion the faithful receive the fulness of God. The wearing of masks is incompatible with the intimacy and perfection of the mass.

Reflection

As Catholics, we see no conflict in faith and reason or faith and science. In fact, the Church respects the natural sciences and upholds the dignity of the human intellect.

The CDC recommends, “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” Furthermore, droplets that may carry infection “usually travel around 6 feet” (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/about-face-coverings.html Accessed 5/31/2020. In a church seated to 50% capacity, we ought to be clever enough that we can ensure that there is no scientific or medical reason to wear a mask when worshipping God, and that once seated in the pews we can worship Him “with faces unveiled.”

Receive the Holy Spirit. Who sins you forgive are forgiven them…

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked …for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.

The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Jn 20:19 -23

Recall the setting for this Gospel account. The first day of the week, is the Sunday after Jesus’ crucifixion. It is the evening and the Apostles are hiding in the Upper Room, where the Last Supper took place. Having seen their Leader, in whom they trusted, and from whom they expected victory and freedom, falsely accused, beaten, and publicly executed by crucifixion, they are afraid.

The Risen Jesus passes through the locked door and stands in their midst. He encourages them, “Peace be with you.” But He is not just coming to calm their fears. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This is John’s version of the “Great Commission.” Jesus shares His mission with the Apostles. So that they might carry on Jesus’ work, He breathes on them and sends forth His Holy Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

And what is Jesus’ work or mission, which they now must continue? “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and who sins you retain are retained.” Jesus was sent by the Father to liberate mankind from bondage to sin. Because sin is an offense against God, only God can forgive sin. So Jesus empowers the Apostles with the Holy Spirit. Commanded by Jesus Christ, and filled with the Spirit, the Apostles will carry on this mission of freeing the world from the horrors of sin.

Reflection

The Church, established by Christ, and built on the Apostles, continues this mission until the end of the world. Before returning to the Father, Jesus promised that He would remain with His followers forever. (Matt 28:20, Jn 14:18) He does this in and through the Church by the mystery and power of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, we celebrate the birthday of the Church.

Activity

Go and make disciples of all nations

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matt 28:16-20

This is Matthew’s account of the Ascension of Jesus from earth back to heaven. In his gospel, it immediately follows the Resurrection account and serves to “finish off” that story.

“And when they saw him, they worshiped him;” Worship is due to God alone. With Jesus’ resurrection from death, the eleven understood finally that Jesus is God. No one other than God has the power over life and death that Jesus had demonstrated. After having been beaten, nailed to a cross, left to die on that cross after three agonizing hours, and after having been wrapped in burial cloths, and laid in a tomb where the body remained for three days, Jesus appears, gloriously.

“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” He has been trying to tell them that He and the Father are one, and that He was sent by the Father. Now, with the evidence of the resurrection, they can grasp that Jesus has come from the Father, with all the power and authority of the Almighty.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” This is called, “the Great Commission.” The mission that the Father gives Jesus, is, in essence: “Go to sinful man. Go to the fallen earth. Redeem it. Restore it to Me for it is mine and it is to be holy and perfect.” At His Ascension, Jesus shares this mission with the eleven. They are the foundation of His Church, and to them He imparts His authority. With His authority, He commands them, “Make disciples of all nations, baptize them, teach them to observe my commandments!”

Reflection

Sometimes people think of the Church as a bunch men, in powerful positions, making a lot of rules for the rest of us to live by. Understand this, the Church is nothing, it has nothing, without Jesus Christ. All power and authority are Christ’s. The apostles, and their successors only have power and authority because Jesus Christ, who is God, gives it to them so that they can share His mission.

Activity

There are a lot of fun crafts to depict the Ascension, but I liked this easy video on how to draw Jesus:https://youtu.be/A5QgWH5GY1U.

The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.

John 14:15-18

This gospel passage is taken again from the Last Supper discourse. Jesus is speaking with the 12 before His arrest and crucifixion. Jesus uses this discourse to encourage His Apostles. He promises them, that although He is leaving, the Spirit, who is sent by the Father, will never leave them. Not only will the Holy Spirit be with them, the Spirit will dwell within them. Jesus does not explain how this will occur, but He does make one thing clear. This Spirit, whom He calls “the Spirit of truth,” is rejected by the world.

Throughout John’s gospel the evangelist makes a contrast between “the world” and Jesus Christ. In the opening prologue John writes, “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not…and his own people received him not.”(Jn 1:9-11). Later in the Last Supper discourse, John recounts Jesus saying,”If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”(Jn 15:18)

John is not speaking here of the world that God originally made and declared “good”(see Genesis 1). Rather, the evangelist is acknowledging that with the first sin, creation “fell” from grace, and ever since, humanity has been in rebellion against God. Jesus came to quash the rebellion and redeem humanity and all of creation. The forces of sin are strong and it was not easy mission, in fact, Jesus suffered terrible betrayal, torture and death to vanquish the enemy. The Resurrection is the sign of His victory. “The world” will come to an end, but He lives forever.

Reflection

“The world” which rejects Jesus and rejects the Spirit also rejects the followers of Jesus who are inspired by the Spirit. Though this might sound unsettling, Jesus exhorts us, “In the world you will have trouble, but have courage, I have over come the world” (John 16:33).

Activity

It is important to realize that being a Christian requires fortitude, which is strength, perseverance, and courage. This is a virtue that we can practice, and that God will help us to grow in. This week, read about a courageous Christian. There are many, but two you might enjoy reading about are Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Irena Sendler.

I am the way, the truth and the life…

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”

Thomas said to Him, “Lord we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

Jesus said to Him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”

John 14:1-7

Jesus came to restore all of creation into a rightly ordered relationship with God the Father. After God created, He pronounced all of creation to be good, and of course it was, for God can do no evil. All that He does is good, beautiful, true, life-giving. But then man sinned. When man, who was steward of creation, and God’s highest creature, sinned, all of creation fell, with man, into disorder. Jesus came to redeem creation, and restore order and goodness.

In this gospel passage, Jesus is speaking to the 12 at the Last Supper. Throughout John’s gospel, John demonstrates the divinity of Jesus, he does so here is well. Jesus uses the very specific construction “I am.” For the 12, and for all Jews, “I am” recalls the one, true God revealing Himself to Moses in order to liberate the Israelites from slavery. God revealed Himself as “I am, who am.” One way to think of this is I am “being:” everything that exists, all life, all that is.

Jesus, the God-man says, “I am the way, the truth, the life.” He is signaling His divinity. As Second Person of the Holy Trinity, He is the way to the Father, He is the truth of the Father, He is Life of the Father. There is no other way or path, no other truth or ideology, no other lifestyle or life-choice that will redeem the world or repair the destruction and disorder of sin.

Reflection

It’s very common for people to say- “Speak your truth,” or “You have your truth, I have mine.” Such ideas are opposed to Jesus. Any path, any belief, any lifestyle that does not align with Jesus, the complete revelation of God, will not heal the world nor will it bring us back to the goodness of the Father.

Activity

This week, listen to the ideas that are spread around you through conversations, music, tv shows, books etc. Do they acknowledge that God alone, revealed in Jesus Christ, is the source and fullness of truth and life?

I am the door

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:7-10

This gospel is from John chapter 10, which is sometimes called the “Good Shepherd Discourse.” In the lines that come after this excerpt, Jesus explicitly says “I am the Good Shepherd.” This self-proclamation would have been important to the Jews of Jesus’ time. For one thing, the people were very familiar with sheep and shepherds. Jesus was speaking to them with imagery that was relevant and made sense to them. More importantly, for the Israelites, there was connection between shepherding and leading God’s People. King David, the great Israelite king, was first a shepherd. The prophets had strong condemnations for shepherds who lead the people of God astray. The Old Testament foretold a a “good” shepherd who would lead the people back to God- protecting them, guiding them, providing for them.

But this in these lines from John’s gospel, Jesus does not call Himself “the Good Shepherd,” that comes later. Here, He calls himself the “door” or in other translations, the “gate.” How is Jesus a gate?

I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

There is one mediator between God and man. That is Jesus Christ. There is one, and only one savior. That is Jesus Christ.

Take notice, He is not the “gate keeper” or “door opener.” To live fully and abundantly, it is not enough that He open the door. For He tells us, that we must enter into and through Him.

Reflection

The Church is the “Mystical Body of Christ.” To enjoy salvation, and the fruits of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, to have life and have it abundantly, we must enter into His Body- the Church, and then we may draw our life from Him.

Activity

Watch this video to learn more about shepherding

As the Father has sent me, so I send you

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

John 20:19-23

In this gospel story of John’s we learn something important about the nature of God. God sends, or commissions, others. Some people have an idea of a God who is so complete and perfect and powerful in Himself that He has no need to be involved with others. Some think of Him as this creator who made the world and everything in it, and then sat back and removed Himself from the activities or natural processes of creation. But Jesus reveals that God is a Father, a personal God, who reaches out to creation.

St Paul tells us, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son…to redeem those who were under the law,” (Gal 4:4-6) Early in John’s gospel, we read that God sent his Son that all who believe in Him might have eternal life.(John 3:16)

At the Last Supper we learn that not only was Jesus sent by the Father, but now, He in turn is sending His Apostles. The word “apostle,” comes from the Greek words for “sending forth” and “messenger.” Jesus prays to the Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”(Jn 17:18) And He knows that just as He was rejected by the world, so will they be. But still He sends them with the mission that He, Himself had received: That God might be known and believed in.

This gospel passage takes place the first evening of the resurrection day. Jesus appears to His apostles and He says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” But first two times He says, “Peace be with you.” This is at the same time, an offer of peace, and a command. They must not fear or worry. And to strengthen them, and to give them the power that they need, “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Father not only sent His only Son that all might have life in Him. The Son, Jesus Christ, established a Church, founded on the Apostles to carry on that mission.

Reflect

At the very moment when Jesus commissions the apostles to carry on His work and to bring others to knowledge of God, He gives them the special power to forgive sins. Being able to forgive sins is something that only God can do, yet here, Jesus clearly shares this power with His apostles. As the first priests of the Church they will guard this power and hand it on through the Church in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Activity

This is a cool Sacrament of Reconciliation crossword puzzle:

https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/36885504/reconciliation-crossword-puzzle-catholic-mom

He saw and believed

Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. so she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved and said to them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Peter then came bout with the other disciple, …they both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came…and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. The the other disciple who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the Scripture that he must rise from the dead.

John 20:1-10

“He saw and believed.” In this Gospel account, John sees the empty tomb and the discarded burial cloths, and believes.

Even before this takes place, John loved Jesus. He respected Him. He left his father and their family business of fishing to follow Him. And unlike the other disciples, he did not abandon Jesus as Jesus suffered on the cross. But in this story, John tells his readers that it is the empty tomb, the evidence that Jesus had arisen from the dead, that caused John to believe. Furthermore, John admits that neither he, nor the older Peter, even understood the Scripture until the Resurrection.

What does this mean? It means that these two disciples, so close to Our Lord, did not believe Jesus or understand all that the Scripture had foretold about Him.

Jesus had revealed to them who He was and that the Jewish Scripture were fulfilled in Him. Presumably Peter and John accepted this, because they continued to follow Him. Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, “the Son of the living God.”(Matt 16:16) So when John says that it was only on seeing the empty tomb that they came to understand and believe, what is he talking about?

What they had not believed and understood was that Jesus came to overturn the reign of sin and death. God is Lord of life and He never intended suffering or death. When Adam and Eve committed the first sin, they brought pain, suffering, and death into creation. The Son of God became man liberate man and all of creation from the power of sin and death and God’s Kingdom of life and love might flourish. The empty tomb was the evidence that He was victorious.

For Reflection

Do you believe that Jesus has power over sin and death? If so, ask for his help with any sin that you struggle with.

Activity

For a beautiful printable coloring page go to http://www.supercoloring.com/pages/empty-tomb

For a fun paper mache tomb activity go to https://birmingham.citymomsblog.com/holidays-and-seasons/easter-lessons-mom/

Hosanna to the Son of David

And when they drew near to Jerusalem…Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If any one says anything to you, you shall say, The Lord has need of them,’ and he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble , and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed the…And most of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him, and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who come in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!

Matt 21:1-11

All that Jesus has said and done on his path to Jerusalem has been designed to alert the Israelites that He is the Messiah, the new king sent by God to deliver God’s People.

Remember that the Israelites are God’s chosen people. A people whom God had formed, saved from slavery, spoken to, given the law to and provided for. They had once been a mighty kingdom. But for almost 1000 years, they were divided, overcome by more powerful kingdoms, driven into exile and ruled by foreigners. Still, many held on to the hope that God would never abandon them. They believed that He would send a Messiah who would deliver them.

Jerusalem had been the epicenter of the Israelite kingdom. The place of true worship and the city of its kings. Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is an emphatic signal for the Jewish people that Jesus is the long awaited Hope of Israel. Just before this story in Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew tells of a woman who anoints Jesus’ head with costly oil. In the Jewish tradition, the king’s head was anointed with oil as a sign that this was the man chosen by God to rule the people. In this story, Matthew points out that by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus is the king that had been promised by the prophets Isaiah and Zechariah. Even the crowd’s response reveals Jesus as the new king. They call Him Son of David, linking Him to the mighty King David. They greet Him with psalms of praise that had been prayed by the Israelites for a thousand years. They welcome Him in the same way that they had welcomed their kings of old, throwing their cloaks on the ground before Him and waving palms.

Let us watch throughout this Holy Week and see how He assumes His throne.