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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

5th SUNDAY OF EASTER (A) MAY 10, 2020

Acts 6: 1-7; Psalm 33; 1 Peter 2: 4-9; John 14: 1-12

By: Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

PRE-NOTE: We have posted a review of Donald Senior’s: "Jesus: A Gospel Portrait" on our webpage. Go to: https://preacherexchange.com/ and click on "Book Reviews." There you will also find past book reviews listed at the bottom of the page.

These Pandemic lockdown days are especially difficult for prisoners. You might consider dropping a card to one of the death row inmates listed below – we list three different names each week.


Our reading from Acts gives modern Christians a reality check. The Easter season is a strong reminder that we are a diverse community united by our faith in the risen Lord. But we don’t always feel so united, or express our unity. We are aware of controversies, small and large, in our local, national and international church. Indeed, our differences and struggles can be so strong they break out on the evening news. It is not just about church scandal; but other issues as well. In the diocese where I am currently preaching, for example, there is a bitter controversy between diocesan leaders and parishioners being played out in the media over which parochial schools are to be closed by September, and this is not in response to COVID-19.

The growth and enthusiasm of the early church tends to get emphasized in the Acts of the Apostles. When we compare our present church scene with the one described in Acts, we can feel like inferior Christians, a long way removed from our ancestors – the "true Christian" community. But today’s first reading dispels our fantasies about that "ideal" first generation of believers...they had their problems too!

It seems the Greek-speaking Jewish converts (Hellenists) in the community felt their needy were being neglected by the more dominant Hebrew speakers. The Hellenists challenged their leaders on this issue and, in effect, got the early church to face diversity and equality among its members. Early in Acts we discover that the community was already preaching about their risen Lord. But as a sign that Christ was truly alive and in their midst, his followers would also have to continue his works – by not showing favoritism and by reaching out to feed the hungry and neglected in their own community. That is the challenge the believers face in today’s passage.

What is remarkable about the early church is that the "whole community" was called upon to choose those for whom the apostles were to pray and lay hands. These chosen would be the ones to feed the hungry in the community’s name. We pray that current local and church struggles don’t divert us from our primary concern as the baptized – faithfully proclaiming the Word of God and serving those in need, especially our vulnerable sick and elderly cut off from their loved ones and vital supplies during this pandemic.

Today’s gospel takes us back to the Last Supper. This seems strange since we are in the Easter season and expect such a reading during Holy Week. But our own times are reflected in this reading. Jesus’ impending suffering and death will have unsettling effects on the disciples. He is preparing his followers, not only for "the hour" of his passion and death, but also for the subsequent days during which they will find themselves without his daily, visible presence for guidance and strength. These times will become very difficult for them as they are for us now. So he is reassuring that we will not be left to navigate through the storms on our own.

Jesus makes another "I Am" statement. Whenever he begins speaking to his disciples in this way, we know he is pronouncing another truth about himself that will form the foundation for faith in him. He says to those around the table, that he is "the way" to God. Instead of all the legalistic observances their religious leaders insisted upon in order for people to get right with God, believing in Jesus takes us into God’s grace-filled presence. Jesus’ "way" of loving is also the way for us to live.

He is "the truth" we can trust. He has taught us about God’s nature and we trust that what he said about God’s abundant mercy and forgiveness for us is true. If someone preachers another "truth" about a harsh, avenging and exacting God, we ought to reject that message. Instead, we trust that Jesus himself is the truth about God and by living Jesus’ truth will be how we live out God’s will for us.

We are not just obliged on our own to live according to Jesus’ life; not just asked to model our lives on his. Rather, he is "the life." When he tells his disciples, "I am going to the Father," he promises that he will come back to take them to himself. As we approach Pentecost we yearn again for the Spirit Jesus promised us that will take us to himself, unite us with him and empower us to live the life he lived. This Spirit is his life for us and quickens our own spirits, enlivening us so we can live Jesus’s life. Through the promised Spirit, his is "the life" that is now within us.

A class of Catholic high school graduates had a home-coming celebration. They chose today’s gospel as one of the readings for their worship celebration. The choice of scriptures seemed to be a natural, for Jesus speaks about going to prepare dwelling places for his followers and coming to take them to himself - isn’t that a true homecoming? The graduates had traveled a long distance since their high school days and they were excited about their "homecoming," for they wanted to celebrate the close ties and support they felt during their school days. They were lucky, because of the "stay-in-place" requirements, most students must forgo any homecoming celebrations and even graduation ceremonies!

Jesus’ statement about being – "the way and the truth and the life" – does promise us all a homecoming. In fact, those who knew him experienced the "dwelling places" he had provided for them. They learned that these dwelling places weren’t just reserved for the next life. His life was a work that provided a homecoming for all. When he sat at table with people there were no place cards indicating rank and favorites. There was no list of places reserved for the most accomplished of the world. Jesus promised rest for the weary, comfort for the comfortless. All found a place of honor in his presence – all were invited to feel at home with him and his Father.

People felt at home with Jesus: wherever he went he offered a dwelling place to those he met. For example, unlike other religious leaders, Jesus talked to women in public, counted them among his followers. He put people ahead of religious customs, if they were sinners and considered unclean and banned from ritual, they would find a home in his company, for he was God’s presence to them. When Jesus turned to the criminal on the cross he promised him a dwelling place with him in paradise. Even those caught in sin, like the woman caught in adultery, found in Jesus a place of forgiveness and acceptance. In many ways he was saying to those who came to him, "Welcome home."

Jesus provided a "homecoming" to all who heard his words and accepted him as "the way...the truth... and the life." His message: in God’s Word there is a home for all, "Let’s let bygones be bygones....make yourself at home....put aside your heavy burdens, ambitions and sins... be accepted for who you are, a child of God. I have prepared a place for you, and that place is secure in God and awaits you in all its fullness. Your acceptance of me gives you a secure dwelling place in God even now."

Meanwhile, keeping our eyes on the final homecoming and the dwelling place we will have with God, what shall we do now? We ought to look around: is there anyone we can make feel at home – those of lesser economic, social, or cultural status? Who are those who have achieved less in the world’s eyes, but need to know how important they are before God? How can we make them feel at home? If we have faith in Jesus’ name then we need, through our words and works, to make the places we live, work and socialize, dwelling places that reflect the presence of Christ.

Faith in Christ is a dwelling place that empowers us. We have security in him and, as we gather for Eucharist, our worship should feel like home to all those who come – the "regulars," and those we rarely see. But we know some in our gathering don’t feel entirely welcome and equal. They don’t feel our gatherings places are their homes too: some single parents, divorced, gays, women, immigrants, migrants, etc. We pray that, while we find a home in Christ, we be strengthened to work for a church and a world that will be home to all. We wait for the Pentecost Spirit with anticipation of a renewal we cannot accomplish on our own.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/051020.cfm

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

"The Lord loves justice and right"

Psalm 33:5

 


There is a lot of discussion in the news of when "getting back to normal" is going to occur. The phrase certainly gave me a lot to think about.

"Normal" in pre-COVID-19 days is a society that is willing to overlook the cries of the poor in its failure to effect systemic changes and provide unbreakable safety nets. It’s a society that believes healthcare is not a universal right. It’s a society that is okay with the lack of affordable housing. It’s a society that thinks public schools should also be the answer for hungry kids. It’s a society that thinks the military industrial complex should get whatever it wants from the federal government while there are no funds for infrastructure. It’s a society that is passive about environmental damage and climate change. It’s a society that has forgotten that one of the things that makes the US unique is its ability to welcome immigrants. It’s a society with no comprehensive mental health programs and uses incarceration as a solution. It’s a society that doesn’t work to change the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s a society where death is thought to be the best solution--death penalty, drone strikes, nuclear weapons. It’s a society that fails to recognize that the United States has the highest first-day infant death rate out of all the industrialized countries in the world.

I do not want to "get back to normal" if we are not going to learn something from this pandemic and resolve to work to make things better for everyone in whatever position we find ourselves. We are all interconnected and we live together on a living planet. 1Corinthians 12:26 tells us that "if one part (of the body) suffers, all the parts suffer with it." Cardinal Joseph Bernardin speaks of the "seamless garment" (John 19:23) as a "consistent ethic of life" where all life issues are intertwined. Pope Francis speaks of working for the common good when he states, "He [Jesus] calls everyone, so that no one is left to the mercy of the storms; to go into the boat of every family, for families are the sanctuaries of life; to make space for the common good above any selfish or personal interests; to carry the most fragile and promote their rights" (9/7/17).

A new normal of justice and right--Are you all in?

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

Thomas said to Jesus,

"Master, we do not know where you are going;

how can we know the way?"

Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life."

Reflection:

Jesus invites his disciples to come to him and put their lives into his hands. We do that by living in relationship with him, listening to his teaching and following his way. That’s how we will come to the life he promises. He is our path to God and if we follow Jesus, "the way," we will have "truth" – for he is God’s revelation to us. We will have "life" – for Jesus draws us from the death of sin to life through his Spirit.

So we ask ourselves:

  • In my daily life, in what ways am I choosing Jesus as my "way?"
  • What other "ways" am I tempted to choose?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings! I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Jimmie Lawrence #0597164 (On death row since 12/11/97)
  • John Williams #0599379 (3/5/98)
  • Danny Frogg #0137368 (3/27/98)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation:

https://www.preacherexchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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