Today’s First Reading begins with “a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem,” which forces the believers to move out of the area. They land in Samaria and bring “great joy in that city.” In the Gospel Jesus says to the crowd that no one will be rejected; all who believe will have eternal life. Both readings overflow with hope.
Christina Rosetti writes of hope: “While Hope, who never yet hath eyed the goal,/ With arms flung forth, and backward-floating hair,/ Touches, embraces, hugs the invisible.” When we face difficult times and despair rises faster than hope, try personifying hope. Picture hope (perhaps yourself) running with arms outstretched and hair flying backwards, as hope is just ahead. Let hope embrace you. No air hugs, please.
The crowd wanted proof to believe in Jesus. He responded, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger.” As followers of Jesus Christ, as extensions of him, and persons made in the image of God, we too can say that we are the bread of life. How can this be?
First, we must partake of the Bread of Life. “Lord/ when you arrive/ we’ll be light/ bread and water/ the table is set and the door ajar/ come and be seated among us” (Said). Then we must feed others in the way Jesus fed them—with real food. Is my almsgiving of Lent continuing in this Easter Season? And then there is the food that doesn’t perish—my compassion, my kind words, and acts that stem from a heart that has always kept the door ajar to let God come in to sit with me.
His persecutors in fury, the deacon and first martyr Stephen intently looked to heaven and saw the glory of God. The Holy Spirit filled Stephen with courageous conviction. The incredible outpouring of the Holy Spirit floods the stories of the Easter Season beginning with the resurrection of Jesus on that Sunday morning. Thomas Keating writes: “The fire of the Holy Spirit, bursting with the fullness of divine energy, rushed upon his sacred remains. The perfumed oil of immense weight and value, symbolizing the Spirit, suggests the immense power that the Spirit exerted when the soul of Christ re-entered his body. In this reunion, the Father poured into the risen Jesus the whole of the divine essence—the utter riches, glory, and prerogatives of the divine nature—in a way that is utterly inconceivable to us.”
The gift of the resurrection is the Holy Spirit. Don’t let a day go by without praying, “Come, Holy Spirit.”
Today’s gospel relates how Jesus was made known to the disciples on the road to Emmaus “in the breaking of the bread.” Even as they are telling the story, Jesus has “a piece of baked fish” to eat with them. So many ways to discover Jesus Christ during the Easter Season! We go from empty tomb and folded burial cloths to Scripture lessons on the road to Emmaus and now a meal to prove Jesus was not a ghost. From these and other appearances, Jesus claims, “You are witnesses of these things.”
Jesus reveals himself to us, too, in multiple ways. Do you share these manifestations with others? Sharing your moments with Jesus makes you a witness. Your stories may be powerful means to open people’s minds to understand the Scriptures better and grow in their love for the Risen Lord.
The poem “My Silence Is the Lord” by Brother Paul Quenon begins “My silence is the Lord, / I listen, his silence speaks at all times. / When I listen not, my hearing is filled with words/ and my tongue takes to rambling.” We have all experienced the truth of this poem, I’m sure. Take some time today—outdoors if possible—to listen. May we meet the Lord.
Abigail Carroll’s poem “Creed” begins “I believe in the life of the word, / the diplomacy of food.” The power and life in Jesus’ words as he gratefully blessed the five loaves multiplied the bread until thousands had their fill. Did Jesus use the diplomacy of food in the multiplication of the loaves? Jesus was always a genius when dealing with people in effective and sensitive ways. Jesus made the boy who offered the loaves feel important. Jesus told the apostles to take charge of organizing the crowd and distributing the food—no small task. When the people discovered the miracle, they said, “This is truly the Prophet” and wanted to “carry him off to make him king.” Rather than cause a scene or disappoint, Jesus diplomatically slipped away, leaving the fragments behind. Apparently, diplomacy was the seasoning Jesus folded into the bread miracle.
Julian of Norwich wrote, “The fulness of joy is to behold God in everything.” The smell of plowed earth, the absoluteness of grace, deer tracks in snowmelt, futures free of the past, twirls of incense, children’s babble, wonder of breathing, contented hugs, contrite sobs. Behold God in everything. As today’s First Reading states, “He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.”
The poem “Rosing from the Dead” by Paul J. Willis tells of Hanna commenting, “Sunday Jesus will be rosing from the dead.” The narrator of the poem agrees that resurrection may have been like a red blossom “pulsing from the floor of the tomb.” The soldiers are “overcome with the fragrance, and Mary at sunrise mistakening the dawn-dewed Rose of Sharon for the untameable Gardner.” There are several “mistakes” in the Resurrection narratives: women who worry about rolling back the stone, two disciples who have no idea to whom they’re conversing on the road to Emmaus, disciples who think Jesus is a ghost. They just can’t seem to name Jesus Christ correctly. A poem written centuries later names Jesus “Rose.” A beautiful name, don’t you think?
The origin of communities of religious men and women lies in today’s First Reading. We read that the community of believers was of “one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” Not claiming anything as one’s own provides the factual basis of the vow of poverty. Whatever a religious sister or brother earns belongs to the whole community. Paychecks, for example, are direct deposit. (Of course, there are deeply spiritual aspects of the vow of poverty, but that would be another blog.) Holding everything in common is one path, among many, to be of one heart and mind.
Becoming one national province instead of four geographical provinces took several years in the making. Material things like buildings and technology were in the mix, but the emphasis was on the immaterial. How could we be one in heart, mind, mission, charism, prayer, service, and community bonds? Ask any Sister of Notre Dame, and I think we’ll all agree that we’re all in this together, one heart and mind.
In his conversation with Nicodemus Jesus said, “Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” Billions of years ago the Spirit gave life to creation, giving an unimaginable variety of creatures. And creation hasn’t stopped! The universe’s birth depicted in Genesis’ “Let there be light” and the scientists’ Big Bang are still evolving. Creation is born again and again and again. The universe is expanding with incredible distance and speed. All creation is being birthed and enlivened by the Spirit. Plants and animals have their own way of giving thanks: chirps, barks, mews, croaks, flowering, growing, exuding scents and tastes. What about us? Are we filled with thanks for our coming to birth? Do we display the gifts of the Spirit? God has given us everything. What will I give back today? I suggest giving God yourself—this tiny bit of creation. This is the best way to enter the Kingdom of God.