The Bible and the Bread: 3rd S. of Easter

Bread and BibleToday’s reflection is for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2020, and the readings for today can be found by clicking here.

Last week we learned that Sacred Scripture does not have everything we want to know, but what is written is so that we may come to believe in Jesus and have life in His name. Today, we look at the power that is contained in the Word of God, and in the breaking of the bread, the Eucharist, that together give us the courage and the strength to live this Christian life. The Word and the Eucharist are amazing gifts of God to the Church, that help us know God and find peace in whatever circumstance.

The Alleluia today is, “Lord Jesus, open the Scriptures to us; make our hearts burn while you speak to us.” Today Jesus walks with his downcast and disappointed disciples, miraculously unrecognizable to them, as they journeyed toward Emmaus. In their sadness they poured out their hearts to him about all the things which brought them confusion, sadness, and disappointment. The biblical term for this type of holy complaining is “Lament.” There’s a whole book of it in the Old Testament, Lamentations. Praise to God is a Holy, “Yeah!” and lament to God is a Holy, “Ouch!” 

Both praise and lament are beautiful expressions of faith. In praise we acknowledge God the gift-giver, and in lament we acknowledge God the consoler. In praise we give thanks, and in lament we lean upon God for answers; we don’t like how things are going and we go to God to make it right, to comfort us, and to bring us peace. Today the disciples discover with great joy, that the answers they sought to bring peace to their hurting hearts were found in the Scriptures and in the Eucharistic celebration—the breaking of bread.

In one of my favorite documents of the Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, the council teaches, “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, and the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life.” (DV21) I love it. It reminds me so much of what I try to do as a dad. I love my boys so much, and I speak with them, guide them, encourage them, empower them, and my hope is that all of our time spent together might, by word and example, support them and be a source of strength that guides them throughout their lives. And so it is with God.

The disciples hand him their hurt, and he opens the Scriptures for them. Beginning with Moses, he helps them to find meaning in life’s circumstances…and they don’t want to leave him. They ask him to stay for a meal…a supper. While he was with them, he took bread and broke it, and their eyes were opened. They recognized him in the breaking of bread, and it was in the breaking of bread that they realized their hearts burned within them as he opened the Scriptures to them. They go together. The Table of the Word and the Table of the Eucharist; the two parts of the Mass. It’s a beautiful cycle of Word and Eucharist, and in both we discover the Risen Lord, and it is he who comforts our broken hearts and turns our pain into dancing; and dance someday we will.

This Sunday, we bring our sadness and our anxiety, we bring our sick-and-tired of shelter-in-place, and rubber gloves, and masks. In faith we lament this present experience and we want answers, but mostly we want peace—in our life, in our family, in our country, and in the world. And then, in the Mass, in the Scriptures and in the Breaking of bread, we recognize Him, the Prince of Peace. And we remember. We remember in this moment that God raised Jesus from the dead; of this we stand witness, and we remember that if God is with us then nothing and no one can be against us, and we remember what Paul of the Cross knew, “What has a person to fear who lives in the arms and bosom of God?” Lament, hear, and see God…and find peace.

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Stephen Valgos

That You Might Believe: 2nd S. of Easter

Bible

Today’s reflection is for the Second Sunday in Easter, April 19, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

A friend once told me, “If it’s not in the Bible, I don’t believe it! Show me it in the Bible if you want me to believe it.” Have you ever thought about how much is NOT in the Bible? Jesus never sleeps, never wakes up, never wipes his eyes and stretches. In three years of public ministry, Jesus never goes behind a bush, digs a hole, and does his business. “Whoa! Wait a second,” you might say, “That’s T.M.I.,” or too much information. And you would be absolutely right! In that case it’s way more information than we want, but in many other cases, the details would be far more information than we need.

The Gospels were not written to teach us everything about Jesus and the world, and the Church, and salvation. In fact, on more than one occasion Jesus says that his disciples couldn’t handle it (JN 16:12), or that it wasn’t the right time (MK 13:32), or that it just wasn’t their business (Acts 1:7). John’s Gospel today is very clear, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.”

Jesus did not need to tell them everything, because his plan was to send out his Holy Spirit, and it’s the role of the Holy Spirit to guide the church in every generation. As we journey through Easter toward Pentecost, our first reading comes not from the Old Testament, but rather the Acts of the Apostles. Acts gives us a glimpse of the ministry of the Apostles, the miracles done by the power of the Spirit, and the growth of the Church. Each week we hear how people came to believe, and were baptized, sometimes by the thousands!

Today we heard that, “Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved,” and the Spirit calls still today. I have had the pleasure this past year of speaking with the catechumens destined to be brought into the Church at the Easter Vigil. Sadly their entrance was delayed, but the call of the Holy Spirit still remains. Each day babies are born and the Spirit calls their parents to bring them into the Church, to clothe them with Christian dignity, and save their soul. Every year young people respond to the Spirit’s call to complete their baptism at Confirmation, husbands, like me, are called by the Spirit to serve the people of God through the Diaconate, men and women are called to religious orders by the same Spirit, and men are called to Holy Orders, whereby the Spirit calls them to forego marriage that they, with an undivided heart, might take the community of faith as their bride.

From Baptism to Holy Orders, we who do not have it all figured out, and are not quite sure how it will all pan out. We stand up and profess the faith of the Church nonetheless. With limited knowledge, and a heart filled with faith, we courageously follow the prompting of the voice of God within us. It reminds me a lot, actually, of when I joined the Marine Corps. We didn’t know the future, we just courageously stepped up to serve. And the Spirit calls each of us in the same way.

My friends, though we do not know it all, we do know what God has revealed by the Holy Spirit in due time, and we do know what we should do while we’re here. Acts teaches us that the early Church devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to living in community, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. They shared their wealth with others when various needs arose. They devoted themselves to meeting for religious activities and got together in each others’ homes. They were joyful and sincere, praised God, got along well with others, and were good neighbors. And so should we.

The Gospels do not have EVERYTHING we want to know, but what is written is so that we “may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief [we] may have life in his name.” And that’s all we need to know. Amen?

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Stephen Valgos

Believe: Easter 2020

The tombToday’s reflection is for Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord, April 12, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

A friend of mine once asked me, “Are you a believer?” It’s rare that we use that language in the Catholic Church, but in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, that’s exactly who St. Peter says we must be: BELIEVERS. In almost one breath Peter shares the entire Gospel.

He said Jesus went about doing good, healing people, God was with him, and Peter and the apostles were witnesses. He said Jesus was put to death but God raised him on the third day, and again, Peter and the Apostles were witnesses, and they ate and drank with Jesus after he rose from the dead. Finally, anyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins. That’s it. That’s the Good News! Everything else is provided for instruction, admonition, and/or encouragement. What matters is that we believe and rise with Christ. That’s awesome…not easy, but awesome. Do you believe it?

When did you believe and rise? This Easter Sunday, I have a confession to make, although I was baptized as an infant and confirmed in junior high the truth is that even now I struggle to believe. I’m sometimes like the dad whose son was possessed by a demon who cried out, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!” (MK 9:24) I’m sort of “already” but “not yet.” I already believe; I’m a believer, but I also admit that I have a long way to go.

St. Paul tells the Collosians that if we were raised with Christ, we must seek what is above, where Christ is seated, and think about what is above instead of what’s down here below. This is why many of us are “already” but “not yet.” We have journeyed through Lent, sacrificed, prayed, and have grown in holiness. I hope your Lent went well! Mine did. With my son, Mark, we layed out a plan to read all four Gospels during these forty days of lent, and this morning I finished the last chapter. We have thought a lot about what is above, but I don’t want to go back to the way it used to be, I want to continue to grow in my faith–and so should you! We’re already there, Christ is Risen! and we rise with him, but we’re not there yet. We must continue to rise.

In the Gospel today, I love that Mary of Magdala saw the empty tomb first and told Peter and John. But apparently, Peter is slow because John made it to the tomb first…but he didn’t go in! He waited and Peter went in first then John went in, saw the burial clothes and believed. No one really understood, but all believed. They believed what they could, with what they had heard, and with what they had seen. The Gospel ends with them still didn’t quite understanding. And so it is with us.

As we begin the Easter season, we need to appreciate that although we believe, we still do not focus enough on Heavenly things. Too often we are distracted by earthly things. I know we cannot always have our head in the clouds, but shouldn’t it be sometimes? Couldn’t we carve our more of our day to thinking about God and learning about Him and his Church? Couldn’t we who believe help our unbelief in various ways?

Like Peter, some of us are a little slower than others, and like John, maybe others a bit faster; Mary of Magdala got there first, but in the end all of them entered the tomb and believed. And that’s what I want to encourage you with today. Do not be afraid to enter the tomb; to die with Christ. Continue to pray, learn, and love, and spend more time thinking about what is above instead of what is on earth below. Die with him. And rise with him. Rejoice! The Lord is Risen! Amen?

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Stephen Valgos

Remember: Palm Sunday 2020

My God my GodToday’s reflection is for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, April 5, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

As COVID-19 news continues to pour in, and as the death toll continues to rise, as essential personnel go without essential protective gear, as shelves continue to go bare, and as politicians point fingers instead of supporting the people they are sworn to serve, the words on Jesus’ lips today seem more relevant than ever, namely, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” quoting Psalm 22. Jesus knows the love his father has for him, knows that all his actions bring glory to his father’s name He prays often and teaches others how to pray, and knows for sure his father would never forsake him. Then why the question at all?

Our second reading from St. Paul to the Philippians is helpful here, namely, Jesus wasn’t just fully God, he was also fully man. And as a man, he felt abandoned. As the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes, clearly teaches, “The Son of God…worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved.” (qtd. in the C.C.C. 470). Jesus was human, and was suffering, and found himself alone on the cross—and he cries out for his Father and God. Philippians reads, “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death.” (2:6-8)

As we journey through this extraordinary Lenten Season, amidst world-wide suffering and death, uncertainty, scarcity, and fear, we are more mindful than ever that some of those who received ashes almost 40 days ago will never receive them again. And, sadly, there are many here today who will not be here for ashes next year either. We received ashes and were told to remember, but I think many have already forgotten. We were told, “Remember, from dust you have come and to dust you shall return.” So what should we remember? And why remember it?

Of course, the answer seems obvious: Remember that we are mortal and that we are not going to live forever. Roger. Solid copy. Got it. But that’s not all. We should also remember what Jesus remembered while he was in such agony in the garden, as he made his way to the cross, and while he was lifted up.

First off, yes, he was human and his life on this earth would come to an end. We should never forget that. But more than that, being found human, he humbled himself and became obedient even to the point of death. If we don’t remember anything else but that we are human, and being human demands humility and obedience to God, we would be doing well!

But there’s more to remember. What if we could always remember what Jesus absolutely knew? What would our life, and even our death, look like if we could remember God’s love for us? What if we could remember that everything we do or fail to do brings glory to the Father’s name. What if we could remember to pray often, and both teach and encourage others to pray during difficult times? What if we could remember that despite all of life’s pain, and suffering, and sadness, and loss, that God will NEVER forsake us? That would be amazing, and it would change the way we experience everything that happens to us in this life.

As COVID-19 continues to claim lives, and maybe those whom we love, and as the world reels into madness, let us always remember these basic truths of our faith: 1. We will physically die. 2. Remain humble and obedient. 3. God loves us. 4. Give glory to God always. 5. Pray and teach others. 6. God will NEVER forsake nor abandon us no matter how we feel. 7. God will raise us up.

We are an Easter people. That’s the “why” of remembering. He rose, and we will rise. As Teresa of Avila said, “Remember that everything soon comes to an end…and take courage. Think of how our gain is eternal.”

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Stephen Valgos