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RCIA – The 5th Sunday of Easter

May 1, 2010

May 2, 2010 – The 5th Sunday of Easter

Opening prayer: God of our lives, you who have loved us from the beginning, continue to form us as a people of love and service. Make our hearts wide and generous that the world may benefit from what we hear in your Word. We ask this in the name of your Son and our brother Jesus. Amen.

What spoke to you in today’s liturgy of the Word?

We often hear the expression, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Today’s readings seem to better imply that presence makes the heart grow fonder. We seem to look for tangible signs to indicate that our loved ones are still present. Such signs may take the form of photos, keepsakes, or memories. Almost instinctively, we act as if it is our solemn duty to make present the legacy of the past. Today’s Scripture readings build upon these human reactions. They powerfully suggest that the modern Christian can – and must – make God present in a variety of ways. They insist that presence makes the heart grow fonder. (JOF)

The 1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles (14:21-27)

In today’s section of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke presents a whirlwind proclamation of the Good News on the parts of Paul and Barnabas. Upon completing their preaching and teaching in Derbe (“that city”), the two retrace their steps and then travel by ship to their base of operations in modern southeastern Turkey (Syrian Antioch). While Luke emphasizes the need for perseverance in the faith, and growth through persecution, he also highlights the importance of having a visible presence of God in the community. (JOF)

The installation of elders (presbyters) in each community offers one form of God’s presence. The primary sign of God’s presence, however, is the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas that opens the door of faith to the Gentiles. For Luke this is a special form of God’s presence. Paul, therefore, is the dauntless missionary who will abide no opposition in sharing the Good News, particularly with the Gentiles. As regards to the Christian message, it is the presence of Paul that makes the heart grow fonder. (JOF)

On the surface of this reading we have a report of the missionary activities of Paul and Barnabas. But the details express a deeper truth – a conviction that God is doing a new and mighty work through the disciples of Jesus. This work is so compelling that it spreads quickly, despite opposition, throughout the Greco-Roman world. Paul and Barnabas have been to Lystra before: Paul healed a crippled man there. The people at first wanted to worship him, but as if to prove that no good deed goes unpunished, the healing was used against him by opponents and he was stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:8-20). Now, amazingly, Paul returns to this city where he nearly lost his life to monitor the growth of his recent converts. So when he exhorts the disciples that “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” he is speaking from hard experience. One who has come so close to martyrdom can speak convincingly of the need “to persevere” in the face of opposition. (LTP)

Throughout the Easter season, the readings can lead us to meditate upon various aspects of Christian life understood in the light of the resurrection. The events surrounding the birth of new Christian communities described in Acts, for example, illustrate some essential elements of life in the Spirit of the Resurrected Christ. These communities are founded on the preaching of the apostles, and continually encouraged by them. They are structured communities of faith and prayer helped by people such as the elders mentioned in today’s reading. And the life of these communities is marked by love and joy and the attraction of new members. (RCL)

The 2nd Reading – The Book of Revelation (21:1-5)

Symbolism – in this passage “sea” refers to chaos and death. (LTP)

For the persecuted Christian community in the Book of Revelation, divine presence is a key issue. The message of the author is that perseverance will ensure such presence. To encourage his audience, the author borrows the theme of the new Jerusalem from the Book of Ezekiel (Chapters 40-48) and elsewhere. The tempestuous sea – often the symbol of oppression to God’s presence (see Gn 1:2) – no longer exists (Rv 21:1). Lady Jerusalem descends from heaven to assume her proper place as God’s unique dwelling place (Rv 21:2). At this point one of the four living creatures explains the significance of divine presence. The community can boast that this God is their God forever. God is no longer elusive, no longer present only for brief intervals. (JOF)

The absence of tears, pain, death, and mourning is not merely the result of a divine deed. It is the perseverance of the faithful that makes possible the new Jerusalem as the place of divine presence. For the persecuted, such presence makes the heart grow fonder. (JOF)

This reading reflects the themes of a people who believe in the resurrection, which gives them hope and healing, a sense of newness. Easter faith has to do with reaching out to realize hope for a renewed world. It is the living Christ who is our center and hope. (RCL)

Think a few moments about your daily life situations. Can you identify any area where there is a lack of hope, or where you and others are longing for change? What can you do for such a situation?

The readings from the book of Revelation in this season can be seen as meditations on Easter themes in the Christian life. In these readings we have been introduced to a living Christ who stands at the center of all things in heaven and earth, the Easter Christ – bearing the marks of his passion, yet reigning and receiving the worship of the whole universe. In these readings we have seen the destiny of those who persevere in faith: they are clothed in white, delivered from sorrow, shepherded by the Lamb, and refreshed with streams of water. And today the book of Revelation invites us into a vision of new heavens, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem. Not only is the Easter Christian one who hopes for personal salvation; Easter faith reaches out to embrace the hope for a renewed cosmos, and a holy city, a new Jerusalem. (RCL)

The faithful reading of scripture can render any situation tolerable, for the truths we encounter in its pages foster joyful faith and confident hope, even in people facing grief or crisis. Today’s reading is a sample of “apocalyptic” literature written especially to bolster the faith of people living through hard times. But one need not be facing crisis to appreciate it. The key word in this text is a word overused and cheapened by advertising media that ceaselessly proclaim, “New and Improved!” But your belief in the impossible news of Easter morning should help you speak of the newness promised here with special meaning and conviction. John’s vision is not of life beyond, but of life renewed and infused with hope here on earth. It is a message for now, not for the end. The Resurrection inaugurated a new age: the one who died and rose had lived in human flesh among us, but now through word and sacraments, God lives with us forever. Granted, what John “sees” is not yet fully realized; tears, mourning, pain, and death are still among us, but faith helps us see God at work transforming and renewing and allows us to hope for the day when all those signs of death are gone for good. (LTP)

John clothes his message in jubilant imagery: Jerusalem is a “bride adorned for her husband!” See the vision as John does, one scene at a time, as if frame after gorgeous frame of the revelation were displayed before you. (LTP)

The best is yet to come. The promise of new life echoes repeatedly throughout the entire Easter season. This promise is God’s greatest gift, but it is not meant to take away our appreciation for this life. Our present life is also a gift. God wants us to be thankful for it, to enjoy it and to share our blessings. But we know this life is incomplete. We long for something more. Many years ago, at the end of an Easter homily, this priest said, “You know, I can’t wait for this new life to come.” And today, I am even more excited by it. For if God promises the fullness of life in the resurrection, I will be more alive then, than I am now. I will be more aware of God’s love and more conscious of his beauty shining through all of his creation. (Fr. Kenneth Grabner, LF)

Based on the above reflections, take a moment to voice a prayer or a petition for the needs and wants of family and friends and the needs and wants of the world.

God of mercy and of truth, you sent your only Son to lead us on the way to fullness of life. Through the mystery of his death and resurrection, transform our hearts from disobedience to discipleship, and from self-centeredness to love. We bring our needs and wants before you. Bless us and those we pray for and with. Stay with us that we may be made new. We ask this in the name of your Son, Christ our Lord. Amen. (M & RCL)

The Gospel – John (13:31-33a, 34-35)

Why does mention of Judas open a Gospel of the Easter season? Set in the context of the Last Supper, this soliloquy anticipates Jesus’ final glorification which Judas’ departure now sets in motion. John equates suffering and glory, for the one leads to the other, hence Judas’ ominous departure prompts Jesus’ confident assertion that he will be exalted by the Father. (LTP)

The connection between the seemingly disjointed first and second halves of the reading is provided by Jesus’ injunction to “love one another.” Not really a new commandment (compare Leviticus 19:18), Jesus, nonetheless, makes it the distinguishing sign of the new people of God. Jesus will be “glorified” not in a palace or on a regal throne, but in the love his followers share for one another. Jesus’ announcement of glorification is full of expectant hope. The news that he will remain with them “only a little while longer” is not a melancholic lament, but a promise of better things to come, for as Jesus states later in the discourse, his departure makes possible the coming of the Paraclete (the Holy Spirit). (LTP)

Today’s Gospel reading is from the “farewell discourse” that Jesus makes to his disciples once the train of events leading to his crucifixion has begun. Yet as Jesus speaks, it becomes clear that the evangelist has told the story in such a way that we do not merely hear the earthly Jesus speaking to his band of followers, but we hear the resurrected Lord speaking to his disciples through all the ages. Where the synoptic gospels place the account of the institution of the Eucharist as the memorial of Jesus, John’s gospel situates Jesus’ new commandment: “Love one another.” The command to love is made specific: the disciples’ love must be like the love that the exalted Jesus bears for them. Thus their love becomes a memorial and a sign of Jesus, even as the Eucharist is celebrated in imitation of and in memory of Jesus. It is the way that all will know that these are his disciples. (RCL)

The fundamental quality of Jesus’ commandment of love, therefore, may be the occasion for even deeper insight into the first two readings of this Sunday. What is the Easter life of the first Christian communities founded by the apostles, if not a life permeated by this love that is a memorial and a sign of the love of Jesus? What is this new Jerusalem for which every Christian longs, if not the city where the love between God and humanity may be fully realized? What are these new heavens and new earth seen by John, if not the promise of a world transfigured by the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ? The Easter season is a time for meditating on the Christian life in light of the resurrection. What is the quality of love that animates the church? A love that is an effective sign of the living Jesus, present in our midst. (RCL)

This gospel selection focuses on three things: Jesus’ glorification (Jn 13:31-33); Jesus’ departure (Jn 13:33); Jesus’ commandment of mutual love (Jn 13:34-35). By glory the author suggests the supreme manifestation of the Father’s holiness in the saving work of the Son. Speaking like a patriarch bidding farewell to his family (as in Gen 49; Dt 33), Jesus links his glorification to his departure. His absence will pose a challenge to the disciples. They are to make Jesus present by their love for one another. This love between Christians draws its inspiration and strength from the selfless love demonstrated by Jesus: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Wherever such self-giving love is found, people will recognize the disciples of Jesus. It is such presence that makes the heart grow fonder. (JOF)

How would an outsider know that we and the members of the parish are disciples of Jesus?

Christ has first loved us, and asks us to become a fuller part of him in loving one another. State what you need from God to truly love all people.

Name the people who have truly loved you.

Next to the above names add the feelings or qualities their love evoked in you.

How were you changed by their love?

Let yourself feel Christ’s love for you. How are you changed by this love?

Today’s Scripture readings speak to a variety of people. They address the official proclaimers of the Word (Paul and Barnabas) as well as the officers (elders) of the community. They also appeal to the rank and file, the people in the pews, with a timeless message regarding God’s presence in the world. These readings teach us that wherever and whenever one offers consolation to another, God is present. Whenever and wherever one speaks out for justice and honesty, God is present. Wherever and whenever one lends a helping hand to the unfortunate, God is present. It is especially in the mutual love and support of Christians that God is present. Love reveals our God and thus provokes a presence that makes the heart grow fonder. (JOF)

And just what do we mean by “love”. Love is an overloaded term in the English language, while the Greek language has four different words for the four different kinds of love.

Affection (storge, στοργη) – a natural love
– fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance.

Friendship (philia, φιλια) – an admiration love
– a strong bond existing between people who share a common interest or activity.

Eros (έρως)– a passionate love
– love in the sense of ‘being in love’.

Charity (agapē, αγαπη) – a sacrificial love
– love directed towards one’s neighbor which does not depend on any lovable qualities that the object of love possesses.

Source: http://somethingboutrenes.wordpress.com/2007/04/24/ancient-greek-meaning-of-love/

The love that we speak of today is agape, a sacrificial love. What and how much are we willing to sacrifice for others? Jesus laid down his life for us even though we were sinful. We would have a lot more peace in the world today if we all expressed a lot more agape.

Catholic Teaching

The covenant made by God with the people of Israel was given expression through the Law of Moses. This Law symbolized the way God kept faith with the people and, in turn, the way they would keep faith with God. It not only expressed how people related to God but how they were to relate to each other, that is, it structured relationships within the community. For example, lying, stealing and adultery were forbidden by the Ten Commandments. Also, the way in which clans and families could go about exacting revenge was regulated so that the people would not forever be involved in blood feuds, tearing the social fabric completely apart. The code of behavior stipulated by the law of the old covenant was therefore seen not only as a challenge and an obligation but as a great gift to the whole community. (RCL)

On this Sunday we celebrate the new commandment, the law of love, that Jesus gives us, his disciples. This law of love is not unknown to the old covenant. It is recorded in Deuteronomy (love God wholly and completely, 6:5) and in Leviticus (love your neighbor as yourself, 19:18). This new commandment of Jesus is new in that not only does he put these two injunctions together to express how the whole law is summed up, but Jesus, in his own person, by his life, his mission and his own sacrifice incarnates this command. In other words, while based in this heritage of the old covenant, this command of Jesus is “new” in that through the incarnation and redemption of the Son of God it is given to the Church to be lived as a law of grace, a law of love, a law of freedom (CCC 1972). (RCL)

This new law of Jesus and the gospel does not negate the old law but perfects it and opens us believers to the full potential of that first covenant (CCC 1968). And while the shape of the new law can be discerned in the New Testament scriptures, it is not codified in a series of prescriptions so much as brought to life by the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. As St. Paul writes, we “put on” the new person of Christ in baptism. In the same way, the new commandment of love is etched upon our hearts by not only pondering scripture but by partaking of the living tradition of discipleship in a church formed by the outpouring of the Spirit in Christ. (RCL)

To expound on the underlined portion above, Jesus didn’t give us a list of do’s and don’ts in the Gospels. Rather, he gave us a way of life. We hear often from our Protestant brothers and sisters “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” They are correct; we need a personal relationship with Jesus. It is in this relationship that we come to understand this way of life, the commandment to love one another. So we need to spend time with Jesus in prayer and let the action of the Holy Spirit guide us in the life of the Church. (CWW)

This new commandment to love is given explicit form by the example of Jesus who teaches his disciples to love as he himself loved them. Not only did he show them this love through the years of their mission together but he symbolized this love (reported in the verses just prior to this Sunday’s gospel passage) by washing their feet, and later by dying on the cross. The Eucharist, as presented in John’s gospel, is thus the meal which symbolizes our following in the way of love, the way of service and sacrifice for one another. (RCL)

The following is a reflection by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

“The less we have, the more we give. Seems absurd, but it’s the logic of love.”…

True love causes pain. Jesus, in order to give us the proof of his love, died on the cross. A mother, in order to give birth to her baby, has to suffer. If you really love one another, you will not be able to avoid making sacrifices.

The poor do not need our condescending attitude or our pity. They only need our love and our tenderness.

To me, Jesus is the Life I want to life, the Light I want to reflect, the Way to the Father, the Love I want to express, the joy I want to share, the Peace I want to sow around me. Jesus is everything to me.

If faith is scarce, it is because there is too much selfishness in the world, too much egoism. Faith, in order to be authentic, has to be generous and giving. Love and faith go hand in hand…

God has created us so we do small things with great love. I believe in that great love, that comes, or should come from our heart, should start at home: with my family, my neighbors across the street, house right next door. And this love should then reach to everyone.

(M, from Mother Teresa: In My Own Words, compiled by Jose Luis Gonzales-Balado)

The closing prayer is a prayer of exorcism:

All-powerful God, you revealed the power of your love to us through the raising of your Son from the dead. Not even the darkness of death could overcome your love for the world. We pray for these candidates and catechumens who present themselves to you.

In the name of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we ask you to remove from them the barriers to love. Free them from that which keeps them from recognizing and accepting your love, from memories that bind them, and from hesitancy to reach out in love.

Strengthen in them your gifts of faith, hope and love. May they come to live as apostles, witnesses of your love for all people.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sources:

(M) Magnificat Vol. 12, No. 3 / May 2010

(LTP) Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word, 2010

(JOF) Journey of Faith – The Word into Life, Year C

(RCL) Foundations in Faith

(LF) Living Faith, A-M-J 2010

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