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DIVINE

MERCY

SUNDAY

(A)

“FIRST IMPRESSIONS”
2nd SUNDAY OF EASTER (A)
April 7, 2024
(OR: SUNDAY OF DIVINE MERCY)
Acts 2: 42-47; Psalm 118;
1 Peter 1: 3-9; John 20: 19-31

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:


PRE-NOTE: Welcome to the latest email recipients of “First Impressions,” the parishioners of St. Ann Parish in Ashland, Va.


I have just returned from preaching at St. Ann Parish. Once again I was inspired by the people I meet in our parishes. After this past season of Lenten parish retreat preaching I can bear witness to the faith commitment and hard work of parish staff, volunteers and parishioners I have met in parishes in different parts of the country.

Still, I don’t get to see any parish reflect the ideals of the first generation of Christians glowingly described today in our reading from Acts. If I did, I would quit the road and settle in that parish – it would be a taste of heaven! Imagine a faith community fully dedicated to (1) the teaching of the apostles; (2) community life; (3) Eucharistic celebration; (4) prayer; (5) the sharing of possessions, with a concern for those members in need. Imagine how many people would join the membership of such a parish!

Biblical scholars agree Luke has idealized the community of first believers – after all, there were the dishonest Ananias and Sapphira who were struck dead for withholding their property from the community (Acts 5:1-11). So, the early church we idealize wasn’t such a perfect community after all, and neither are we.

Still, there must have been something remarkable about the witness to Christ’s Resurrection by those new Christians, because Acts does narrate the rapid growth of the early church. “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (2:47). Their lives were an attraction to those around them.

Which gives us cause to reflect on the witness we give to our faith. Acts says observers were in “awe” of the infant church. But those first believers were not icons or holy cards, they lived in the real world – just as we do. How much do our lives reflect the gospel of Jesus? Do we show in concrete ways the mercy and compassion for those in need which it seems characterized the earliest Christian community?

How about our local parish life? Granted we have our personal preferences for the kinds of worship we like and which parish activities we join, but even with those differences, do we still radiate our core beliefs and live together as people of “one mind and heart” united by the Spirit of Christ? The Acts reading expresses the fulfillment we Christians hope for, but have to admit, is not yet true in our local or international church. Our prayer today is that the same Spirit which gave life to the closed-in, frightened disciples gathered in the room, continues to animate us and help us fulfill the dream Christ has for us – that our lives together will witness to the presence and ongoing ministry of the Risen Lord in our midst.

Thomas gets the role of the fall guy among the apostles. He’s the doubter (“Doubting Thomas), the one we love to critique for being weak in faith. But let’s face it, aren’t we glad Thomas was there and voiced the kinds of doubt anyone of us rational people would have raised? After all, there’s no precedent that a person whose death was witnessed by so many would then rise from the dead. “Dead is dead,” we would say, “that’s the end of that!”

I wonder what he was doing that caused Thomas to be absent when Jesus appeared to the locked-away and fearful disciples? Was he packing up his possessions, saying goodbye to friends or grieving by himself after seeing his life and dreams collapse along with Jesus nailed to the cross? But the other disciples were also disconsolate over Jesus’ death. At least they stayed together. It’s like what we Catholics are doing these days, having been shaken by the clergy scandals; we struggle to stay together and hope against hope for Jesus to make a new appearance in our midst and speak reconciling words again to those of us who have fallen short of the mark, “Peace be with you.”

Just staying together in fear wouldn’t be a very good witness to the outside world. Who would want to join a group of trembling sad sacks? What made the difference though, is that Jesus came into their midst, not with words of reproof for their past failures, but with a word of reconciliation, “Peace be with you.” The past was over.

But what about the future? It was obvious from past performance on their own that these disciples didn’t have what it would take to leave the locked room and go out into the dangerous world. But Jesus doesn’t send them out on their own; he gives them the Holy Spirit. With that Spirit they set about the task of reconciliation which Jesus gave them. The first person they reach out to is their separated brother Thomas. They share their experience with him, but he requires more concrete evidence – to touch Jesus’ wounds.

We are not told if Thomas actually touched the wounds. What we are told is that Jesus invited him to believe. Perhaps touching the wounds isn’t the important thing. What is important is the leap faith requires; even when that leap flies in the face of logic and “reasonable action.”

Well, thank God for Thomas! We’re happy he was there to voice our rational doubts. We are also happy that the church was there, those new, Spirit-animated disciples who didn’t give up on their recalcitrant member. Let’s hope we modern Christians stay true to our call to be a forgiving community and also a healing one for those hurting in spirit and body.

As we gather for prayer today we can think of ourselves as the modern equivalent of those upper-room disciples. For a short time today, like them, we are together in a room. We bring here our past sins and shortcomings and receive Jesus’ words of reconciliation, “Peace be with you.” We give thanks for those first witnesses to the resurrection. Because of their testimony and the testimony and witness of those we have known and encouraged faith in us – preachers, teachers, parents, friends, etc. – we are the ones Jesus now calls “blessed.” We are the blessed, “who have not seen and have believed.” So, we could offer prayers of thanks today for those who have helped us come to faith – who have helped us believe without seeing.

As we listen to the Word we not only hear good news for ourselves, but we get our marching orders, which are spelled out in Acts today. When we leave here we shall go out and, with our words and how we live in community, we will spread the news of the new Kingdom Jesus has inaugurated. But before we leave this “dining room” we will be nourished for the tasks that await us. We will feast with one another and our risen Lord.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/040724.cfm


QUOTABLE

(On “breaking bread in their homes””– from today’s first reading)
Archaeologists have found Eucharistic vessels that people used to bring home pieces of the consecrated bread. The custom of celebrating Mass during the week (between Sundays) did not emerge until the fourth century or so. When people left mass on Sunday, they brought Eucharistic bread home to receive the Lord during the week, to stay linked to the Church’s praise of God, and to be strengthened physically and spiritually until the gathering again on the following Sunday.

----WORKBOOK FOR LECTORS AND GOSPEL READERS. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2005, page 146.

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed
John 20: 29

This week’s readings are all about the attributes of a community of believers--from the Psalms, where the believers recognize the Lord as their savior and rejoice, to Acts, where they are of one heart and mind. What the community of believers of scripture has found is the fullness of life in God. The expression “fullness of life in God” goes beyond what the material world can offer, especially with the individualism so admired and promoted in the United States. For how many Catholics is the vestige of community only lived out in the coming together at a Sunday Mass? Is the gospel communal life a thing of the past? Or, are we depriving ourselves of a rich and more meaningful life because we fail to be a more active presence in our parish life?

I have experienced my faith both ways, as a Sunday-only Catholic and as one committed to participation in my parish. Some of my richest life experiences have been the times when I have joined with other Christians in lifting others up to a better life (in the material sense). But I have also found community to be a rich experience in coming together for small group faith sharing. Still, there are whispers in my mind that there is still more to the communal experience to which I am called as a layperson.

Community life is a humbling experience. It thrives on consensus and finding joy in not always doing things your way. But it is something else also; it is beginning to see as God sees--how God takes our wounded-ness and our brokenness and the wounds of those around us and deepens our understanding of who we are meant to be as a people and, in doing so, hastens healing.

Embracing Father,
You grace each of us with equal measure in your love.
Let us learn to love our neighbors more deeply,
so that we can create
peaceful and just communities.
Inspire us to use our creative energies
to build the structures we need
to overcome the obstacles of intolerance and indifference.
May Jesus provide us the example needed
and send the Spirit to warm our hearts for the journey.
Amen

Prayer for Community: From Being Neighbor: The Catechism and Social Justice, USCCB, April, 1998

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and 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:
Jesus said to his disciples,
“Receive the Holy Spirit:
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Reflection:

Our ability to forgive is from Jesus himself, who offered forgiveness even from the cross to his executioners. When he breathed on the disciples he gave us his very Spirit, which is now the reason we can offer forgiveness, even to our enemies – just as he did.

So we ask ourselves:

  • What person or institution do I need to forgive?

  • Jesus is giving his Spirit today so we can do just that: shall I attempt reconciliation?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"The death penalty is one of the great moral issues facing our country, yet most people rarely think about it and very few of us take the time to delve deeply enough into this issue to be able to make an informed decision about it."
– Sister Helen Prejean

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I am posting in this space several inmates’ names and locations. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know that: we have not forgotten them; are praying for them and their families; or, whatever personal encouragement you might like to give them. If the inmate responds, you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Russell Tucker #0413011 (On death row since 2/21/1996)

  • Terrence Taylor #0539901 (2/18/1997)

  • Jeremy D. Murrell #0940436 (2/17/2006)

----Central Prison P.O. 247 Phoenix, MD 21131

Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
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

RESOURCES

ORDERING OUR CDs:

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:  https://www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the “First Impressions” CD link on the left.

OTHER PUBLICATIONS BY EMAIL:

1. "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 J. Boll, O.P." <preacherexchange@att.net>

2. "VOLUME 2" is an opportunity for you to hear from the readers of First Impressions. To subscribe or Send your own reflections: Send them to "Fr. John J. Boll, O.P." <preacherexchange@att.net > Your contributions to Volume 2 are welcome.

OUR WEBSITE: https://www.preacherexchange.com - Where you will find Preachers Exchange, which includes "First Impressions," "Homilías Dominicales," and "Volume 2" as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching and Scripture reflection.

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