In the late 1980s, a fire destroyed a building on the lower East side of Manhattan. An alarm was sounded and the trucks and personnel arrived in plenty of time to fight the fire. The exit doors worked properly. The steps were clear. The people got out of the building quickly and in order. However, the fire burned out of control and the building had to be demolished. When the firemen arrived, the hoses on the wall were installed properly. There were hoses hundreds of feet in length--clearly sufficient to put the fire out. It was discovered too late, however, that the city water line had never been connected to this part of the system. It was a deadly oversight. To live a human life disconnected from the living God is tragic as well. Jesus did more than coming to live among us. He is the life-giving vine and we are the branches.
The vine and branches are part of Jesus’ farewell discourse during the last supper. Through the parable of vine and branches, Jesus assures them of his presence with them through the life-giving Spirit whom he will send. In the Old Testament, we can see several passages of Israel as vine and vineyard. We read Psalm 80:9 “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out nations and planted it.” We see in the book of Isaiah 5:1-7, the song of the vineyard. 27:2, “On that day—The pleasant vineyard, sing about it!” Jeremiah chapter 2 talks about the identity of Israel and words 21, we read, “I had planted you as a choice vine, all pedigreed stock; How could you turn out so obnoxious to me, a spurious vine?”
In the Last Supper discourse, Jesus talks about his union with the disciples and their total dependency on him for their life and growth. The vine was grown all over Palestine. This plant needs a great deal of attention if the best fruit is to be gotten out of it. Jesus says, the Father, the vinedresser seeks an abundant harvest. Father must trim away our selfishness to increase our growth in love. Jesus told them, “You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” The fruitless vine branches were cut off so the other branches will be invigorated. The fruit of the righteousness is strengthened in us by the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
The vine is part of Jewish imagery and the very symbol of Israel. In the Gospel, Jesus clothed himself the same imagery. Jesus is the vine and apostles were the branches. Jesus, in the Last Supper discourse, stresses that Israelites find their new life in the new covenant established by Jesus. In the Last Supper discourse, Jesus invited them to “abide” in Christ (15:4-5) which connects to the Bread of Life discourse from chapter 6 (56). The other Gospels make an explicit link between the “fruit of the vine” and the Eucharistic meal (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; and Luke 22:18).
This Gospel passage follows the new commandment of Love. "I am the vine…you are the branches." For the vine, there is not much of a trunk. Jesus has identified himself with us. It is about a relationship with Jesus. Suppose a branch comes off from a tree during a storm, it dies. It is because that branch is no longer a part of the tree or vine. It lost its life. This weekend the first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, testifies to the abundance of spiritual fruits yielded by the apostles because of their close bond with the risen Lord. John, in his first letter to the Church, explains that only if we remain united to Christ by putting our faith in him and drawing our spiritual strength from him, will we be able to obey God’s commandments, especially the commandment of love.
What matters is the Love of Christ that we have been empowered to make real in the world. During Easter time we celebrate the gift of the Lord’s life we received at Baptism. We continually fed and nourished at the Alar. We need to be determined to strengthen this life within us. That is how we stay closer to him and bring God’s love to others. We need to be connected to Christ-like a vine and branches to receive life abundantly, so we can share with many.
The most beautiful and meaningful comment on the life and the legacy of our late Holy Father, Blessed John Paul II, was made by the famous televangelist, Billy Graham. In a TV interview he said: “He lived like his Master, the Good Shepherd and he died like his Master, the Good Shepherd.” In today’s gospel, Jesus claims that he is the Good Shepherd and explains what he does for his sheep.
The fourth Sunday of Easter is called Good Shepherd Sunday. On this day we pray for vocations: priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated life, and the Church reminds us of our call to become good shepherds and good sheep of His Church and the world. Both the Old and New Testaments use the image of a shepherd and his flock to describe the unique relationship of Israel to God and of the Christians to Christ.
The Good Shepherd cares for each one of His Sheep. He lays down His life for His sheep. Jesus did not just die for mankind in general. He died for each one of us. He knows us individually. Jesus leads his flock away from dangers and into the safe pastures. He is so committed; he offered his life for his sheep.
We see in the Old Testament, the theme of the good shepherd. We read Psalm 25:1, “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.” Isaiah 40:11, “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with care.” In the Book of Numbers 27:15-17, we read Moses’s request to the LORD, “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all humanity, set over the community someone who will be their leader in battle and who will lead them out and bring them in, that the LORD’s community may not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
In the Gospel, Jesus affirms that he is the good shepherd who lays down his life. When Jesus said this, people could picture this seen in their mind because they were very familiar with the shepherd and sheep. Jesus is our shepherd, who lays down his life for us. At the same time he talks about the hired shepherd and the wicked shepherd. In the Old Testament Ezekiel 34, we see Ezekiel’s prophesy of the wicked shepherd. Ezekiel is talking about the chosen people. He is comparing them to a fold of sheep and led them by shepherds. Jesus is the true shepherd who lays down his life and gives us new life and He is with us. At the Last Supper, Jesus broke the bread and said to his disciples, this is My Body, take and eat it. Today, Jesus tells us the same, “This is My Body.” Like Apostles, we are also fed at this table and sent out to break ourselves and give to others.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, Bishop James Powers, our shepherd, joins us for Confirmation. Let us welcome him and let us congratulate our Confirmation Candidates. Our young men and women were preparing for this day, for the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Apostles received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It was life-changing for them. They received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What are they? There are seven of them: 1. The wisdom which helps us to understand things from God’s point of view; 2. Understanding which helps us to understand the deeper meaning of supernatural truth; 3. Knowledge helps us to appreciate the life God has given: we begin to see God’s presence in people, things, and nature and treat them with proper dignity; 4. Right Judgement or Counsel which helps to make the right decision God would want me to make; 5. Reverence or Piety which helps us to trust God more and the relationship becomes stronger; 6. Courage or Fortitude helps to stand up for what I believe; 7. Fear of the Lord or Awe and Wonder which helps to stay on the right path to heaven. Fear of the Lord is because I love God and I want to please Him.
Let us join in pray for our young people those who are receiving Sacrament of Confirmation, may God pour the gift of the Holy Spirit, and so they may come out of the Upper Room and reach out in mission to others. Let us pray that with our Confirmands, their sponsors, families, and our entire cluster will be renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Once, a gentleman was visiting his son. On Sunday when he went to church he took his little granddaughter with him. While they were in the church, the little girl was observing everything,. Finally they went to receive communion. Grandpa received communion and she got a blessing. On the way back to the pew she asked, “Grandpa when am I going to get one of those?” Grandpa told her, “I will make sure in a couple of years you will receive First Communion.” She kept watching the priest, and grandpa knelt down and prayed. When the priest went to the tabernacle to keep the Blessed Sacrament, she asked grandpa, “What is he doing? Is he putting it in the microwave?”
First of all, I would like to congratulate all of our First Communicants! I am sure all of you are excited to receive the Eucharist, the Body of Christ. Look at the Cross, and it tells you how much God loves you. Look at the Easter Candle, and it tells you He loves you and wants to be the light of your life. Look at the Altar. Just as your parents feed you so that you can be strong physically, God feeds you from the Altar so that you can be strong spiritually. At your Holy Communion, Jesus comes to you. He wants your communion/relationship with him to be holy. He wants your communion/relationship with everybody to be Holy.
In today’s Gospel of Luke, Luke is presenting two different accounts. Two disciples were explaining how they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Among the Jews, this was a ceremonial gesture that began the celebration of an ordinary meal. But among the Christians, it was used as a description of the Eucharist celebration. We read in the Acts of the Apostles 2:42, “They held steadfastly to the apostles’’ teaching and fellowship to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”
While the two were explaining the Emmaus experience Jesus appeared to them again and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He showed them His hands and feet to remove their doubts. We read the Gospel of John 20:27, where Jesus was appearing to the apostles and asking doubting Thomas to come to faith. Jesus showed them His risen body and assures us of the physical nature of our own resurrection on the Last Day. The resurrected body is a spiritual body.
Then he reminded them that His suffering, death, and resurrection from the dead are the fulfillment of Moses, prophets, and psalms. There is an emphasis on the term third day, and we can see a couple of references in the Old Testament. In the Book of Genesis 22:13, Isaac was for three days under a death sentence until God intervened to give him back alive to Abraham on the third day. In Jonah 1:17, the experience of Jonah coming forth from a whale after three days in its stomach, foreshadowed Christ’s resurrection from the grave after three days. In Hosea 6:2, Hosea depicted Israel’s restoration from exile as a third-day resurrection.
Saint Teresa looked at her with love and said, “My dear sister, have you forgotten that Jesus is still on earth and that He lives near you-yes, in the house with you, and often in your very soul. Have you also forgotten that you can see Him and can speak to Him as often as you like? Is not Jesus with us in the Most Holy Sacrament? Why then do you wish to have lived long ago, since that same Jesus who lived with Mary and Joseph lives also with you?” Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. And we who are united to Him through our baptism have risen with Him. Jesus lives with us and He gives Himself in the Eucharist as nourishment for our journey, so we can grow in Holiness.
Divine Mercy Sunday God is love and merciful. He continues to pour out his mercy in the world through new Israel, the Church. In a dream, St. Theresa of Lisieux asked St. Faustina, an apostle of Divine Mercy, to trust in Jesus and she will be-come a saint. Later St. Faustina wrote in her diary, “God said to me, in the old covenant I sent prophets willingly thunderbolts of my people. Today I am sending you with my mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching humankind, I desire to heal it...”
Pope St. John Paul II declared that the second Sunday, the octave day of Easter, should be Divine Mercy Sun-day. St. John Paul II has a great role in spreading the message of Divine Mercy. On the 30th of April, 2000, the Second Sunday of Easter, St. Pope John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist in Saint Peter’s Square and proceeded to the canonization of Blessed Sister Faustina. St. Faustina invites us by the witness of her life to keep our faith and hope fixed on God, the Father, rich in mercy, who has saved us by the precious blood of His Son.
Pope Francis continues to spread the message of Mercy. During the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said in one of his homilies, “Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion.”
There are two parts to the message of Divine Mercy: devotion and being merciful. Marion Fathers came up with the acronym for the Divine Mercy celebration: FINCH and ABC. FINCH: F-Feast of Divine Mercy, I-Image of Divine Mercy, N-Novena of Divine Mercy, C-Chaplet of Divine Mercy, H-Hour of Divine Mercy. What is ABC? A -Ask for God’s Mercy. B -Be merciful. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us. C -Completely trust in Jesus
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles talks about the corporal works of Mercy. Early Christian com-munities were united as a family in every aspect of life. They shared everything, supported each other, and worshiped together. The second reading from the first letter of St. John talks about keeping love for God and keeping the commandment.
In the Gospel of John, we see doubting Thomas. In the first part, Jesus said to his disciples, "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." We read in the Book of Genesis 2:7, God breathed on the first man and gave him life. We see other passages in the Old Testament about the breath of God. In Ezekiel 37:9, where God raises an army of corpses to new life by the breath of the Spirit. In the first book of Kings (17:21), we see Elijah revives the dead son of the widow of Zarephath. After the resurrection Jesus breathed on the disciples and gave them new life: spiritual life.
Jesus asked them to receive the Holy Spirit, and then he commissioned them to forgive the sins. Jesus' minis-try of mercy and reconciliation will continue through the apostles. A week later Jesus appeared to them and Thomas proclaims the faith, “My Lord and My God.” Apostles experience God’s mercy and proclaim it in a loud voice. Jesus empowered his disciples to become the vehicle of his mercy.
God sends people to remind us of his mercy. St. Faustina wrote in her diary, “God said to me, in the old covenant I sent prophets willingly, thunderbolts of my people. Today I am sending you with my mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching humankind, I desire to heal it...
”On Sunday, April 11 at 2:30 p.m. our cluster will have Divine Mercy Sunday service. It includes Adoration, Divine Mercy Chaplet, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available. Please come and join. Thank you.
He is Risen! Alleluia!!
A couple of years ago I had the privilege to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We had the privilege to make the Way of the Cross to Calvary and celebrated Mass at the Church of Holy Sepulcher. It was a faith filed moment. Calvary is not a huge hill, considering where Jesus went to pray or where He transfigured, Calvary is a small one. Why? I don’t think Romans want to climb the huge hill to kill somebody. They chose Calvary for their own convenience. For Jesus, it is not just walking up the hill. He was scourged, crowned with thorns, and carrying the cross. He was carrying our burdens. Jesus’ crucifixion site and Jesus’ tomb are in the Church of Holy Sepulcher.
The Old Testament readings of Easter Vigil recites the covenant history of salvation, beginning with creation and extending to the prophetic promises of a New Covenant. The first reading is from the Book of Genesis, we read the creation story (1:11-2:2). In the second reading from the book of Genesis, Abraham is asked to sacrifices his only son (22:1-18). It is the high point of Abraham’s covenant relationship with God and blessing on his descendent. On Good Friday, Our Heavenly Father allows his only begotten Son crucified on Calvary. In the third reading from the book of Exodus, Israelites marched on dry land through the midst of the sea (14:15-15:1). At Easter Vigil, there is baptism and Christian initiation take place. The parting of the sea is a critical Old Testament type of baptism.
The next two readings are from the book of Isaiah. In the fourth reading, the Lord will with his enduring love, resume his covenant love for Zion and rebuild with precious stones and grant it righteousness and prosperity (54:5-14). This reading shapes the mind of the believer, especially those who are receiving the Sacraments, about the dual reality of the church as both Bride and Temple. The fifth reading is also from the book of Isaiah, which is an invitation for a meal. The Lord’s thoughts and ways are higher and His Words will not return empty (55:1-11). This passage is associated with the Gospel of Matthew (14:13-21) the account of the feeding of the five thousand. Ultimately it leads to Eucharist. This reading prepares us to reaffirm our faith and particularly those who prepared to receive the Sacrament for the first time. The sixth reading is from the book of Prophet Baruch which talks about wisdom and law (3:9-15, 32-4:4). It is an invitation to walk towards the splendor of the Lord, live the faith to the full. The seventh reading is from the book of Ezekiel tells about the restoration of Israel (Ezekiel 36:16-17, 18-28). The Lord will gather the Israelites from exile, cleans them by sprinkling the clean water, and give them a new heart and a new spirit, so they can grow in the law of love. The Sacrament of the Baptism is the new cleansing and Holy Spirit renewing the heart to grow in the law of love.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read an Easter Vigil, “After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning; Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” An ancient homily on Holy Saturday notes that “God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear. He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and son of Eve.” Jesus on Easter Sunday morning does a new creation, brought new life. Easter morning marks the day of Christ’s victory over death and sin.
This Easter experience is a past event, a present reality, and future hope. Easter is a celebration of present reality: Jesus lives! Jesus died and rose again in the past, but that Jesus lives among us and within us right here, and right now. This is our Easter proclamation. We experience his presence in our lives in many beautiful ways.
Easter is the celebration of future hope. When we are baptized we are given a share of the Resurrection of the Lord, we become a new creation. Our hope is that we will share in the fullness of the New Life Jesus won for us through His suffering and death. It is our hope in Christ that helps us endure challenges like the coronavirus. The coronavirus has brought the pain of sickness, uncertainties, and confusion, but our faith gives us hope, beyond this pain and struggles, Easter Sunday tells us there is hope. The fullness of hope and happiness is Eternal Life.
Happy Easter to everyone!