Being the Church...
The First Reading, reflects the areas of difference and conflict that are bound to arise when Christians come face to face with new problems and new questions for the articulation of their faith. Such conflicts, when properly handled, are necessary, even desirable, if we are to have a deeper understanding of the real meaning of our faith in a changing world.
And God speaks to us through the changing situations in which the world finds itself. Both calm and conflict have something in common. They remind us of the different ways in which God speaks to us. Through his Spirit, which Jesus promises to send after he has left his disciples in the flesh, he will continue to be present, to be with his community, the Church.
Love, as has been said, is not a feeling – it is a verb. There can be no love (feeling) without loving (doing). And anyone can start the process.
For Jesus, love, by which he means loving, is achieved by “keeping his word”. The “word” of Jesus embraces everything we know about him through the Scripture – his words, his actions, his relationships with people of all kinds, the guiding principles of his life, his values and attitudes. The “word” of Jesus also comes to us from all our interactions and experiences within the Christian community where Jesus still speaks to us. It comes to us through the whole of creation of which Jesus is the Head and with which he identifies through his Creator Father.
The Church is much more than an organization founded 2,000 years ago by Jesus Christ. It is, as the Second Vatican Council emphasized, a people. It is a community – at times a rather fractious, disjointed, flawed community – whose members in varying degrees share their faith and hope, their love and caring. A community which, with and in Jesus, is called to work for the transformation of our world of sin and weakness, to make it, in the words of Revelation today, “a city where the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple,” the focal point of worship.
It is through this community, that the Spirit continues to speak as it did in the days of the first disciples. That Spirit of the Father and Jesus speaks not only through pope, bishops and priests but can and does speak through each and every one of the members of Christ’s Body – old or young, educated or illiterate, men or woman, friends or enemies.
We see the same tendency in the Church today. People who want to turn the clock back and resurrect old customs and impose them on others. These people tend to make the Church an end in itself. The Church is primarily a vehicle, a means by which the experience of God’s love is extended to the whole world. And, if the Church is to be true to the Spirit, it must remain open to the world for it is the world which, in the words of one theologian, “writes the agenda for the Church”.
It was precisely because they listened to the situation of the new non-Jewish converts, that the Church realized where the Spirit was leading it. When the Church becomes an enclosed, elitist society sitting in unbending judgement on the rest of the world it is no longer the Church that Jesus founded.
Collectively and individually, we need to become aware of the wonderful ways that the Lord can come into our lives. If we give a little time to God each day, if we can remain completely still for even a short while, we can experience an overpowering desire to share in the loving that is reaching out to us from God. And then start reaching out ourselves. God wants to share with us more and more of what he has and is. The problem is that most of us hardly give him a chance. Loving is not only a verb; it is a two-way street.
Through missionaries we become missionaries
World Day of Prayer for Vocations
Good Shepherd Sunday
Throughout the letters of Paul, he speaks strongly of the unity of faith and love that binds all Christians together. Of that unity, he teaches that we are not all the same. Each has his gifts, each has her role within the mission, each is a unique member of the Body of Christ the Church. When all the members, in their uniqueness and unity, are faithful to the graces of God they will be filled with joy and the Holy Spirit and fulfill their mission to bring others to the heart of Christ making them delighted and glorifying the Word with them.
But sheep, as we are called in the Gospel today, are not perfect; sometimes we wander. But Jesus, like a good shepherd will be keeping watch over us and when one of the sheep starts to wander away, just as a shepherd whistles to his sheep dog, and the dog sprints off in pursuit of the wanderer, chasing it back into the safety of the flock; he calls out to the angels, the saints and some of us to find the lost sheep of his flock.
Every Christian is a missionary. He gives us the living word, grace, and sacraments, and sends us into the world, to gather all the wandering and lost sheep. Our mission is to bring them back to the flock. It's not always easy. It takes all the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit given to us, and the use of the theological and cardinal virtues. It takes an ongoing effort on our part to know the faith well enough to be able to answer objections. But above all, it takes sharing Christ's own love for his people, for every person.
Each one of us has an entirely unique circle of acquaintances, an entirely unique network of relationships.
If out of fear or laziness we fail to share the good news of our saving relationship with God, those lives may never receive the light.
It won't be easy - Our own self-centeredness will resist - The devil will throw up obstacles.
But when we care about the people God puts in our path, we will do whatever we can to bring them closer to Christ, because we know that if they go off on their own, they will easily get lost, and they will be vulnerable to attacks, to the deadly lies that say happiness can be found in money, pleasure, prestige, or the glamour of a false religion.
If we stay attentive to opportunities that God sends us to speak clearly and encouragingly to others about the gospel, to invite them to follow Christ, we will spread the light. If we follow in the footsteps of Christ and of the many generations of faithful Christians who have gone before us, if we strive every day to live as Christ would have us live, giving a constant example of kindness, courage, concern for others, forgiveness, responsibility, and hard work, we will spread the light.
We owe our faith and hope to the perseverance of missionaries from the past who, like Paul and Barnabas, carried the torch of truth and grace courageously, never backing down in the face of difficulties, just as Christ himself backed down.
Interpreting the Living Word of God
In the readings during the 50 days of the Easter Season, we continue to read about and reflect upon the growth of the early Church through the experiences which the apostles and disciples were having of the Risen Jesus and the activity of the Holy Spirit.
Other Christian denominations often criticize the Catholic Church for not reading or preaching about The Book of Revelation to John. If you’ve followed the readings recently, you will know the criticism of us ignoring the last book of the bible is unfounded, although it is somewhat true that we don’t often focus our preaching on its content. Part of the reason for that, in our Church, is that this book is one of the most difficult to understand because it abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism, which at best appears unusual to the modern reader. And, because this book is an outstanding example of apocalyptic literature, full of symbolic language, it is exceedingly difficult to preach from, without relying on a great deal of speculation as to the meanings. If anyone, who has not had a direct experience from God, who revealed the meanings, tells you that they know what it all means… that person has overstepped the bounds of the purely human ability to understand.
From the introduction to the Book of Revelations we learn that the author of the book calls himself John (Rev 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8), who because of his faith has been exiled to the rocky Island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony. Traditionally we understand that this John is the disciple whom Jesus loved, the one at the foot of the Cross with Mary. The date of the book in its present form is probably near the end of the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81–96), a fierce persecutor of the Christians. What we can reasonably ascertain about the content is that to be able to comprehensibly share his mystical experience with the community of his time, John made use of the symbolic and allegorical language which was very likely extensively borrowed from the Old Testament, especially Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Daniel.
The symbolic descriptions are not necessarily nor always to be taken as literal descriptions. The author used these images to suggest Christ’s universal (seven) power (horns) and knowledge (eyes). A significant feature of apocalyptic writing is the use of symbolic colors, metals, garments (Rev 1:13–16; 3:18; 4:4; 6:1–8; 17:4; 19:8), and numbers (four signifies the world, six imperfection, seven totality or perfection, twelve Israel’s tribes or the apostles, one thousand immensity). Finally the vindictive language in the book (Rev 6:9–10; 18:1–19:4) is also to be understood symbolically and not literally. The cries for vengeance on the lips of Christian martyrs that sound so harsh are in fact literary devices the author employed to evoke in the reader and hearer a feeling of horror for apostasy and rebellion that will be severely punished by God.
The Book of Revelation cannot be adequately understood except against the historical background that occasioned its writing. It was composed in response to God, first and foremost to meet a crisis in the Church at the time. The book itself suggests that the crisis was persecution of the early church by the Roman authorities; the harlot Babylon symbolizes pagan Rome, the city on seven hills (Rev 17:9). The book is, then, an exhortation and admonition to Christians of the first century to stand firm in the faith and to avoid compromise with paganism, despite the threat of adversity and martyrdom; they are to patiently wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Though the perspective is eschatological—ultimate salvation and victory are said to take place at the end of the present age when Christ will come in glory at the parousia—the book presents the decisive struggle of Christ and his followers against Satan and his cohorts as already over. Christ’s overwhelming defeat of the kingdom of Satan ushered in the everlasting reign of God (Rev 11:15; 12:10). Even the forces of evil unwittingly carry out the divine plan (Rev 17:17), for God is the sovereign Lord of history.
The Book of Revelation had its origin in a time of crisis, but it remains valid and meaningful for Christians of all time. In the face of apparently insuperable evil, either from within or from without, all Christians are called to trust in Jesus’ promise, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Those who remain steadfast in their faith and confidence in the risen Lord need have no fear. Suffering, persecution, even death by martyrdom, though remaining impenetrable mysteries of evil, do not comprise an absurd dead end. No matter what adversity or sacrifice Christians may endure, they will in the end triumph over Satan and his forces because of their fidelity to Christ the victor. This is the enduring message of the book; it is a message of hope and consolation and challenge for all who dare to believe.
The Gospel reading today also comes from John who, recognizes the presence and work of the Father and the Son and so is impelled to cry out: “It is the Lord!”
Although, as noted above, the “disciple whom Jesus loves” is identified with John we can in the context of this Easter Season, understand it to also apply to all the children of God universally. In the symbolism of the gospels, the boat and those in it represent the church, and the fish ‘caught’ as the members of the Church.
It is good to recall that when John is writing this account, there is much to be concerned about among the disciples of Christ. At this time, Peter is already dead. In fact, all the Apostles except for John have been martyred. As well, John has been subject to three Popes and is about to have his fourth! In fact, most of the early Church members have died or like John are nearing the end of their lives. This was no small issue, since Jesus had yet to return and the Church seemed to be struggling against many enemies and false understandings about Jesus, the Church and the practice of the faith. Many of those struggles are detailed for us in the letters of Paul.
The Gospel of John was most likely written in Ephesus, and the final editing of the gospel and arrangement in its present form dates from between A.D. 90 and 100, although it is very likely that it was completed prior to his imprisonment at Patmos. One of John's themes in all his New Testament writings, is the power of the Church to grow and to endure even through difficult times, and violent persecutions.
This account of the third resurrection experience of the Apostles and disciples, is full of symbolism and imagery. John is very much giving a lesson about the Messiah, the Church, faith, challenges, and expectations. Consider the number of fish, 153 – thought to be the complete number of types of fish, which we take to symbolize the universal call to the heart of Christ through receiving the Good News of Salvation. Interestingly, it’s also the number of Hail Mary’s in a full Rosary!
After a whole night’s fishing, they had caught absolutely nothing. They had forgotten the words of Jesus: “Without me, you can do nothing.” Just as he had 3 years before, Jesus, engineers a miraculous catch of fish. When they come ashore, Jesus has fish already, a fire burning, bread – this also recalls the feeding of the five thousand and turns our hearts to recognize the Eucharistic overtones.
The image of a fishing net full of fish - an analogy for the Church that appears more than once in the Gospels. John, rather than using the imagery of the boat for the Church he uses the net in which the fish were caught and does not break. It is filled with believers whom Christ gathers out of the ocean of time and history through the ministry of Peter and his successors, the popes. Peter is the one who hauls this supernatural community onto the shores of eternity at the end of time, where they will all feast with the Lord. Peter brought the overstuffed net onto the shore safely, in obedience to Christ who makes this possible.
Jesus then hands over to Peter and to his companions the mission he himself had been given by the Father. “Feed my sheep.” This is the responsibility of the Church and, as members of that Church, a responsibility that rests in varying degrees on every one of us. It is not just bishops, priests, religious who have this responsibility. It is also that of parents, teachers and simply as brothers and sisters to each other.
Despite sufferings, scandals and sins, as well as obstacles, challenges and persecutions, Christ's Church will continue to grow and expand under the ministry of Peter, and it will stay intact until it is brought safely home to heaven - Peter's net will not tear.
A Prayer to Live By
The words of a prayer of Cardinal John Henry Newman
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me, and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus will be all from You; none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.