Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday word, 17 May 15

God Saves a People
Seventh Sunday of Easter B (17 May 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

A privileged, prominent image for the church is the body of Christ.1 Individual people, like individual parts of bodies, are important; they are more important as they function together. Christian function praises our triune God: we do that by worship and by loving service.

Christian designates a group, a people. Christian individuals form the group, the people, that are Christ’s body in the world. God saves a people. It has been so from the first. When Moses first met God in a burning bush, God told him, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry…I know well what they are suffering. …I have come down to rescue them.”2

In the biblical world the group was key. The opening of last Friday’s liturgy impressed that on me again. Its entrance antiphon sang: You have redeemed us, Lord, by your Blood from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us into a kingdom, priests for our God.3 God’s salvation in Jesus by their Spirit transforms groups measured by clan, language, blood and boundaries into a royal priesthood, who worships God in loving service.

This began as Jesus gathered a group of apostles. They not only followed Jesus; they ate and drank with him.4 The phrase expresses an intimate sharing of life: the apostles shared life with Jesus for the purpose of witness. Jesus gathered the apostles as twelve in number to restore the people Israel. By their witness as twelve the Spirit of risen Jesus would anoint them with his promised power and authority5 to restore and enlarge God’s people. Empowered by Jesus’ Spirit the restored Twelve would extend his mission.

The betrayal of Jesus by Judas threatened that. His betrayal fractured the number of apostles: their group began anew God saving a people in Jesus by their Spirit; their group ensured its growth. We can appreciate Peter’s urgency to restore their number to twelve. We can feel with him, who denied Jesus out of fear, Jesus’ promise enlivening him: I have prayed [for you Peter] that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.6 Peter began to do that when he restored the apostolic number—his first ministry after the ascension of Jesus.

Restoring the apostolic number also was an act of love. Christian love is more than kindness. Christian love abides in our triune God. The fruit of placing and keeping ourselves in God is amazing: by placing and keeping ourselves in God God’s love is brought to perfection in us. Peter restored the apostolic number to prepare the Twelve to receive Jesus’ Spirit so they could fashion others into the body of Christ. When we place and keep ourselves in God we allow Jesus’ Spirit to restore us as vital members of his body, who witness to him with our lives and increase the growth of his body

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause to rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Peter to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank him for empowering you with his Spirit to make him known to the world.
  • Ask him for grace to play your role in his body with greater freedom and love.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Even personal recitation of Jesus’ prayer reminds us each of us forms Jesus’ body, the people he saves by his Spirit to extend his mission today.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. 1Corinthians 6.15; 12.12, 27; Colossians 1.24; Ephesians 4.12.
  2. Exodus 3.7-8.
  3. The Roman Missal indicates it based on Revelation 5.9-10.
  4. Acts 10.41.
  5. Promise = Holy Spirit: Acts 1.4-5; in Luke 22.30 eating and drink-ing with Jesus are joined to authority.
  6. Luke 22.32.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday word, 10 May 15

Another New Thing
Sixth Sunday of Easter B (10 May 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
God’s love is an action, an ongoing one. The community that received the Letters of John were reminded that God acted in love: God loved us…God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. God’s love is this saving, life-giving action. God continues to save in each present moment through Jesus, God’s only son. Jesus has made God’s saving, life-giving action ever present in the sacrament of his body and blood until Jesus’ return in glory.1

From the earliest days of the church Peter received an insight that God’s saving, life-giving action included everyone: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to God.” Peter came to that with divine help. While he was hungry he had a vision of all sorts of foods—even foods Jews did not eat. A voice commanded him to eat. He protested that he never ate anything but kosher foods. That command to eat happened three times.

In the ancient Mediterranean world eating was a religious event. People ate with those who shared their values, their beliefs, their gods. Peter seriously considered his vision. As he did men from Cornelius’ house came to bring Peter there. He went prompted by God more than by his choosing. He greeted Cornelius and said,“You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean. And that is why I came without objection when sent for. May I ask, then, why you summoned me?”

God had been prompting Cornelius, too. He was, in bible language, a God fearer. The Jews he knew lived up to their vocation to attract others to God. Some of them had become disciples of risen Jesus. Jesus’ Spirit was wooing Cornelius. It was revealed to him Peter would help him.2

Those graced events brought us to the exchange we heard between Peter and Cornelius in the first reading. In a remarkable way those events redefined  Peter’s religion! The vocation of God’s People always included attracting other peoples to God. In prophetic language they were to be a light to the nations.3 The Psalmist would praise God with the fruit of that image, as we did today: The Lord has made his salvation known: in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice! God desires to save all who believe in God’s only son and live their belief in him.

Peter gained felt-knowledge of God’s inclusive vision of living faith in God. It was no less than Jesus’ faith. Jesus did not stay away from people the religious professionals put on the margins of life. Jesus sought them and spent time with them—he even ate with them! For associating with sinners and eating with them the religious professionals judged Jesus to be unclean and a sinner.4

In Jesus God did new things, especially including all in God’s saving, life-giving action. Pope Francis expressed it this way:
God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways. He renews us: he constantly makes us “new”. A Christian who lives the Gospel is “God’s newness” in the Church and in the world. How much God loves this “newness”!5
In Jesus we are “God’s newness” present everywhere. For that God loves us! God in Jesus by their Spirit loves us as God’s daughters and sons; God loves us because we give others access to God. We do that when we model our faith on the faith of Jesus and make it concrete in our lives each day for the sake of all. Living our faith is Christian love; Christian fruit that will abide.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause to rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Peter and Cornelius, who both desired to live as friends of Jesus, to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank him for inviting you to make him known to others.
  • Ask him for grace to welcome his faith and life and model your faith and life on his.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer Jesus gave us charts our course for living his faith.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1323.
  2. Acts 10.1-29.
  3. Isaiah 42.6, 49.6. Quoted in Acts 13.47.
  4. For example: Matthew 9.10-13; Jesus was aware: Matthew 11.19.
  5. His homily closing the 2014 Synod of the Family and beatifying Pope Paul VI.


Wiki-images: Peter’s vision by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing CC BY-SA 3.0 Plums by Fir0002 CC BY-SA 3.0

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Sunday word, 03 May 15

More Than an Image
Fifth Sunday of Easter B (03 May 2015)
Ac 6. 26-31; Ps 22; 1Jn 3. 18-24; Jn 15. 1-8
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Jesus promised future presence among his followers at his Last Supper: I am the vine, you are the branches. Jesus organic image also describes the communion we call the church. Early in this Fourth Gospel two of the Baptizer’s disciples followed Jesus when John called him the Lamb of God. Jesus turned and asked them what they wanted. They desired to know where Jesus stayed.Disciples wanted to know the place a rabbi stayed so they could come and learn.

Imagine we were among the earliest Christians hearing this gospel. We would hear it in Greek and the word we would hear for residing, for staying, for remaining would be the same word: abide. When we heard Jesus promise his future presence with us as vine and branches we would hear the same word: Abide in me, as I abide in you. …as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it abides on the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me.

When I learned that I realized that to abide in Jesus is to enjoy truer and more real living; abiding with Jesus is more than the very important learnings of many kinds. Abiding with Jesus is relationship with him and Jesus with, in and among us. That relationship establishes and protects our communion we call the church.

All of Jesus’ ministry glorified God.2 By the mutual indwelling and abiding of Jesus and disciples, all his disciples also glorify God: By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Often from our human perspective we marvel at the disciples: that they left everything to follow Jesus3; that they persevered in following Jesus; that they announced Jesus boldly in the face of opposition. They did all those and more, yes. They were empowered by Jesus’ Spirit with whom they cooperated in all they did.

Barnabas, for example, had to defy human logic to introduce Saul as a disciple of Jesus. The facts were beyond question: Saul had sought to destroy the church…breathing threat and murder against the disciples of the Lord.4 Holy Spirit empowered Barnabas to defy human logic and reassure the disciples that God had touched and transformed Saul into one of them.

Barnabas lived up to his name—son of consolation—by rescuing Saul and dispelling the fear his name put into the disciples. Holy Spirit chose Barnabas to do that. The consolation of the Holy Spirit gave growth to the church through him.

Our scriptures let us see two key, enduring effects Holy Spirit’s consolation had on the earliest Christians. One is comfort. Barnabas consoled; he was one instrument by which Jesus’ Spirit continued Jesus’ signature way with his own. Another was boldness. Barnabas reassured disciples the former murderer of disciples of Jesus had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. Barnabas helped the disciples recognize themselves in Saul: Holy Spirit led them beyond their fear to proclaim Jesus as Messiah and Lord. They experienced holy boldness as a gift of Holy Spirit; it allowed them to love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.

The church prays we will become disciples of Jesus in name and in truth5; that we profess God’s Son not just in word or in speech, but also in works and in truth.6 Holy Spirit is eager to give us the same gifts of consolation and boldness so our witness may extend Jesus’ church in ways that give glory to Jesus, his Father and their Spirit.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Barnabas and St. Paul to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank him for his presence with you every moment.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to allow him to prune you with his word into a stronger, more mature branch on his vine; and for holy boldness to make him better known by what you do and say.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Our regular praying the words Jesus gave us keeps us joined to Jesus in ways that fit our times and our needs.
Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. John 1.35-39.
  2. John 13.31.
  3. Matthew 19.27; Mark 10.28; Luke 5.11.
  4. Acts 8.39.1.
  5. Prayer after Communion, The Baptism of the Lord, Roman Missal.
  6. Prayer after Communion, Ninth Sunday of the Year, Roman Missal.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sundayword, 26 Apr 15

Related to God
Fourth Sunday of Easter B (26 Apr 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

In Jesus’ time the work shepherds did was not attractive. The shepherds keeping night-watch over their flock1 at Jesus’ birth likely were hired men. Owners of sheep hired others to guard flocks; owners slept at night; they avoided the lonely tedium of a shepherd’s day. Day and night many hirelings did work few sought. Hired men did not own the sheep they watched. That helps us appreciate what Jesus’ hearers understood: many had no concern for the sheep. Eking a living had reshaped the image of shepherd.

Long before Jesus the people God had freed from bondage and led to freedom knew God as their shepherd.2 Later a shepherd boy, David, became king. Royal care was to mirror God’s care. As good shepherd Jesus fulfilled in his person God’s loving, life-giving care: the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.

Good shepherd Jesus offers us God’s life he shares with his Father. After his resurrection Peter realized Jesus’ risen life was cornerstone and foundation of creation. As cornerstone Jesus’ risen life is the measure of God’s love—for God’s son and all humans with whom God’s son joined himself.

God’s resurrection-love for Jesus recovers the way the image shepherd evoked divine love and care. By calling himself the good shepherd Jesus proclaimed he embodied divine love and care. Jesus offered himself as more than a guide: he offered himself as the truly perfect model of living and loving: freely I lay down my life in order to take it up again.

Jesus reshaped shepherd to mean giver of divine life in no vague or random way. Jesus shares his risen life with each of us as if each of us was the sole person in the universe. He does so by his Spirit, the energy of his risen life. Jesus joins us to himself in an intimate, knowing way: I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. In Jesus we are children of God.

On Jesus’ lips children is an endearing term. Children suggests we enjoy a future: to grow in our identity as beloved by Jesus, who is beloved by God. That future is our personal connection with the Easter mystery. To grow in our identity as beloved by Jesus also is the lifelong mission of each of us. The word the church uses for our mission is “vocation.” It echoes the words of St. Therese of Liseux: “LOVE…IS THE VOCATION WHICH INCLUDES ALL OTHERS; IT’S A UNIVERSE OF ITS OWN, COMPRISING ALL TIME AND SPACE—IT’S ETERNAL!”3

In his message for this World Day of Prayer for Vocations Pope Francis personalized our love-universe:“The Christian vocation is first and foremost a call to love, a love which attracts us and draws us out of ourselves. …To hear and answer the Lord’s call is not a private and completely personal matter fraught with momentary emotion.” [To hear and answer the Lord’s call] fills our lives with joy and meaning.”4

The pope addressed us all because Jesus calls all of us: the single; married; men and women who consecrate their lives by vows of chastity, poverty and obedience; clergy. Praying for vocations is universal: that all baptized into our risen Messiah and Lord may grow ever genuine, generous children of God, who witness to the new life our risen Messiah has won for us. We witness well when “all [our] activities [are] bathed in the light of the gospel.”5

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Mary and your patron saint to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for laying down his life to share with us his risen life.
  • Ask Jesus two things: to renew us in our vocations; and to bless young people discerning their vocations so they may live their baptized “lives with joy and meaning.”
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. To call God our Father joins us with Jesus and his relationship with his Abba,6 the font of life and love, the source of all we are and have.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Luke 2.8.
  2. The earliest witness, Jacob: God who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day (Genesis 48.15). The image gained lasting asso-ciation with David, to whom the Lord said…You shall be shepherd of  my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel’ (2Samuel 5.2). Matthew recalled that in his gospel (2.6).
  3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 826
  4. His Message on the occasion of the 52nd World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
  5. The Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church, 43.
  6. Matthew 14.36.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday word, 19 Apr 15

Prominent Features
Third Sunday of Easter B (19 Apr 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The fifty-day Easter festival allows us to fall deeper into the mystery of our crucified and risen Messiah. Mystery aptly names Jesus, our crucified and risen Messiah. Christian mystery is first of all a person, Jesus. As a person Christian mystery is no problem to solve. Risen Jesus lives more powerfully today by the power of his Spirit. I’d like to reflect with you on risen Jesus present with and for us by looking at three of scripture’s prominent features: empty tomb; appearances; and eating together.

An empty tomb plays prominently to signify God raised [Jesus] from the dead. God did not resuscitate Jesus’ corpse. Resuscitation brings back to life for a time someone who had slipped away from life. Resuscitation isn’t resurrection.

Resurrection is transformation—an astonishing one! In raising Jesus from death God worked in and beyond time and history. Beyond history is beyond human knowing. The women who came early to his tomb illustrated that: they…puzzl[ed] over not finding Jesus’ body. For know-ing beings not knowing disturbs greatly. In their confusion [angelic messengers]…said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here…he has been raised.1 Raised equals living.

An empty tomb is not all. Also prominent are appearances of risen Jesus. One result of his risen transformation is that people did not immediately recognize the living one present to them. The two disciples who walked with risen Jesus Easter afternoon recognized him in the breaking of bread.2 As they recounted it to the apostles and those with them Jesus appeared to them.

Jesus showed them his hands and his feet.3 He offered another side of his presence. His presence could elude recognition yet he could be known by an action—breaking bread as Jesus did. Risen Jesus showed bodily presence:“Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.

The feelings and reactions of the disciples are equally important: startled and terrified and incredulous for joy and amazed. Present to them was Jesus; his bodily presence was transformed: equally real and different from theirs. Their feelings and reactions communicate they were in the presence of God. Scripture reported—as do people today—that being touched by God can be at once awesome, even worrisome or terrifying, and inviting.

Eating together is a third prominent feature of risen Jesus’ presence. 4 Risen Jesus taught his disciples that by communal meals guided and shaped by his spirit he would continue to be present to them and to all who would follow their witness. We call it Jesus’ sacramental presence. All Christian worship, all Christian living flow from the eucharistic meal and return to it.5

Today’s gospel echoes a Catholic conviction: risen Jesus is present as we dine together here. “From that time [of the disciples]…the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery: reading those things which were in all the scriptures concerning him, celebrating the eucharist in which ‘the victory and triumph of his death are again made present,’ and at the same time giving thanks to God for his unspeakable gift in Christ Jesus, in praise of his glory, through the power of the Holy Spirit.”6

You and I live in the presence of risen Jesus. Risen Jesus is no dead person of the past; he is our living Messiah, Lord and Savior. We will never understand the core of our faith this side of heaven. We know that is true when we take long, loving looks at our close relationships: dear friends, spouses and family members remain mysteries to us. Yet they are real and really present with us and for us. So much more true that is of our risen Jesus!

How may we profit from noticing these prominent features? An emptiness we feel when it comes to Jesus may result because we don’t seek him as he truly is, our living Lord. In other areas of our lives we may let surface appearances distract us from what is more real. We allow both when we don’t put our hearts into the sacred meal that keeps him present to us and makes us more present to him.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask the disciples to welcome you and present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; ask Jesus to open your mind to understand the Scriptures and others’ testimony to him.
  • Name what holds you back from feeling and acting risen Jesus really walks with you; then ask him to transform it into grace so you will feel him present.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. To request our daily bread is hollow until we give our risen Lord what keeps us from feeling and recognizing him present with us and for us.yourself to rest in the presence of our triune God.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Luke 24.3-6.
  2. The passage immediately before today’s gospel.
  3. Also see John 20.20.
  4. Acts 10.41. Jesus had promised they would also eat and drink in his kingdom.
  5. “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Liturgy, 10.
  6. Constitution on the Liturgy, 6.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday word, 12 Apr 15

Ambassadors of God’s World
Second Sunday of Easter B (12 Apr 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

The narrator of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was intelligent and also needed to learn. Scout’s first day at school was a disaster: so disastrous she begged her father keep her home. He listened to her then said, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll learn to get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”1

The lesson needs no explaining; we have our experiences of it. “Simple” as it may be, the “trick” may not be easy: to think as another thinks challenges us; to see as another sees challenges us; to appreciate as another appreciates also challenges. They are so in our homes. With other cultures and earlier times the challenges are steeper. Scripture belongs to another culture and a very distant time. Both make climbing into it and walking around in it very challenging to us modern folk.

That challenge is also an invitation. We may not think it, yet when we come together around the tables of our triune God’s word and risen son God invites us to inhabit God’s world. Why? So we can return to our daily living and, with God’s spirit helping us, reshape it in ways more like the world in which God welcomes us, teaches us and nourishes us.

I tried to enter the world today’s scriptures described. I share with you a few impressions from my visit. I hope you find them helpful and want to ponder and savor them this week. I hope you let yourselves feel my impressions then let them shape you. 

Enter the scene of the Acts of the Apostles. Inside it I was surrounded by power, the power of the apostles. They were at the center of the community of believers. Their unity unites us. Where did they get their power? Not long before they feared for their lives: they had locked…the doors [where they] were for fear. Risen Jesus’ presence did not quell their fear at first—only after he showed them his hands and his side! Then the disciples rejoiced to recognize their Lord.

The power wasn’t theirs. Risen Jesus imparted it to them. Breath symbolizes spirit in the world of scripture. Humans created as living beings began with God breathing.2 John’s gospel imparts a deeper intimacy: Jesus breathed his spirit.  His personal, loving gift transformed disciples into bold witnesses: “We have seen the Lord!” Their witness to their absent friend was no report but eager joy: they desired that he be free of dejected fear, too. Thomas—whose name means twin3—defused the joy given him. Humans can choose not to be overcome by Holy Spirit. Jesus presented himself to Thomas so he could recognize risen Jesus for who he was: Lord and God.

Thomas is our twin. Oh, we may not say we refuse to believe; we may not intend not to believe. Yet we defuse the power Jesus imparts to us; we defuse Jesus’ spirit rather than fan its flame to fire us with eager joy and make faith the action of our lives. The First Letter of John is very clear: the love of God is this, that we keep [do] his commandments. Christian life is action.

God is love,4 the letter reminds us. It means God acts: God loves us into being and holds us in being each moment—everyone! In Christian practice those God loves into being love each person for whom the person is—not what any of us wish a person to be. We don’t do that on our own: we fear; we desire the person be what we want; or we have other agendas. We do it by God’s power. God’s spirit is nothing less than God’s power, God’s life, God’s world. Into it God invites us unceasingly. When we enter it and live what we enter, we allow others to climb into it, walk around it and enjoy now a share in God’s life.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Calm yourself to rest in the presence of our triune God.
  • Ask Thomas and the other disciples to present you to risen Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; tell him your desire to let his faith be your faith; allow him to breathe on you. We have received his spirit, yet we benefit each time we feel it is Jesus’ self-gift.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to free you to live the life and love he breathes into us each moment.
  • Close saying slowing the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave us his prayer so his life and love may transform us and shape us as his disciples, his ambassadors to his world that even now welcomes us and everyone.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Page 30 of this online edition.
  2. Genesis 2.7
  3. The word didymus continues in use in modern Greek.
  4. 1 John 4.16
Wiki-images: Paschal Lamb window The Disbelief of Thomas PD-US