Rejoice and Be Glad
Daily Reflections for Easter to Pentecost 2020
May 31: Pentecost Sunday
Signs of the Spirit
Readings: Vigil: Gen 11:1-9 or Exod 19:3-8a, 16-20b or Ezek 37:1-4 or Joel 3:1-5; Rom 8:22-27; John 7:37-39. Mass during the day: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
Scripture: And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. (Acts 2:4)
Reflection: The Spirit is everywhere today—in wind and tongues of fire, in breath and spoken words. If we let ourselves sink into the first reading, we can imagine the house shaking from wind, as perhaps we’ve experienced in an especially violent storm. We can almost hear the cacophony of different languages being spoken all at once, as we might in the midst of a popular tourist site in a foreign country. Our senses are overwhelmed by all that is happening when the Spirit enters the scene today. How interesting, then, that for us to truly know the Spirit we must create just the opposite scenario: a still, quiet place where even the slightest whisper can be heard. We’d probably prefer it if the Spirit came to us in a dramatic light show. It would be easier to recognize, easier to believe. On this Pentecost, we’re likely not going to find ourselves speaking in tongues or caught in a windstorm of spiritually epic proportions. More likely, we will have to look for the Spirit amid the ordinariness of our daily lives, but, to be sure, the Spirit is there, waiting for an entry point, hoping we will slow down long enough for the movement to catch us up and propel us forward. Sometimes that might happen in prayer, but, often, it will happen when we are going about our chores and responsibilities. A friend of mine calls those moments God-incidences, and they’re all around us, all the time.
Meditation: Sit in silent prayer today for at least five minutes. Turn off all electronics. Sit in a chair or on a cushion, kneel in a pew in a church, or walk down a path through the woods, whatever suits you. Breathe deeply and put yourself in the presence of God. Whenever your mind begins to drift, gently bring it back. Invite the Spirit into your heart. Don’t speak any words; just silently listen for what Spirit is asking. Can you do this once a day, or at least once a week? As we end this journey through the Easter season, make a commitment to keep this prayer practice going in the weeks and months ahead.
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.
May 30: Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Racing toward Heaven
Readings: Acts 28:16-20, 30-31; John 21:20-25
Scripture: When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “. . . What concern is it of yours?” (John 21:21-22)
Reflection: Jealousy and rivalry, topped off with insecurity and fear—so much pours out in Peter’s brief exchange with Jesus today. It all sounds so familiar though, doesn’t it? We’ve been there ourselves, in the workplace, in our families, among friends. We don’t just worry about how we’re doing; we worry about how everyone else is doing. We have a hard time measuring our own progress without making comparisons, without—like Peter in the Gospel—turning around to see who or what is gaining on us. “What about him?” we cry, even if only internally, when we’re asked to take on more work and the person next to us is not. “What about her?” we whine when a sibling gets out of taking on some responsibility. We keep a laundry list of slights that make us feel we’re not being treated fairly. To that Jesus says, “What concern is it of yours?” If you’ve ever been in a race, you know the worst thing you can do for your own speed and form is to turn around again and again to watch the progress of those behind you. Even the quickest glance can break the momentum. We don’t need to track how well others are doing on the spiritual journey; we just need to keep our eyes straight ahead and trained on our own goal. We are each on our own path. The only thing that is the same for each of us is the starting point Jesus gives us: “You follow me.”
Meditation: When was the last time you experienced that “What about him?” feeling? Once you got past the initial complaint, did it make you feel any better about your own situation? Did questioning someone else’s situation help you get where you needed to go faster or more successfully? Probably not. We tend to be at our best when we stay in our own lane and focus on our own work—spiritual and otherwise. When we do that, with our eyes always on Jesus, all the other pieces fall into place and suddenly we don’t see others as competition but as brothers and sisters.
Prayer: Teach us mercy and patience, Lord, as we continue on this journey. Let us not get caught up in the worldly race to win earthly prizes but on the good race that leads to heaven.
May 29: Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Readings: Acts 25:13b-21; John 21:15-19
Scripture: He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (John 21:17)
Reflection: Poor Peter. He so often seems to be at the wrong end of the questions and answers with Jesus. And although on the surface today’s Gospel exchange could seem a little cruel and unusual on Jesus’ part, what with the repeated asking of the same question, with 20/20 hindsight we know that Peter needed this opportunity to unravel what he had done on Good Friday. Then three denials; today three affirmations. It’s almost like Jesus is giving him the chance to roll back the clock for a do-over. For every time Peter said a variation of, “I tell you, I do not know the man,” today he says, “You know that I love you,” even as Jesus alludes to the martyr’s death he will die in Jesus’ name. Wouldn’t we all like an opportunity to unravel or rewind our past mistakes—words said in haste, actions done without thinking of others’ feelings, silence when we should have spoken up? Or maybe there have been times when we were in the other position, the one who could offer someone the chance to change a trajectory, offer an apology, or recast a statement gone wrong. Jesus chose Peter, knew he would deny him, even referred to him as Satan at one point, and still Jesus trusted that Peter would do what needed to be done, and Peter trusted that Jesus was who he said he was.
Meditation: What does today’s Gospel bring up for you? Do you feel yourself tensing up as Jesus asks Peter over and over to affirm his love, or does this interplay between Master and follower comfort you and remind you that you, too, will be given the same opportunity to make up for past faults, to reclaim your place in the kingdom? Like Peter, we may feel distressed and confused in the face of what we thought were easy answers, but God reassures us that no matter what we do, he remains at our side. And always God gives us another chance, allowing us to repent and reaffirm our love.
Prayer: God of mercy, we come to you with heads bowed, hearts heavy, asking forgiveness for those times we denied you through words or actions or inaction. Hear us as we answer as Peter did. You know that we love you.
May 28: Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Readings: Acts 22:30; 23:6-11; John 17:20-26
Scripture: . . . and the group became divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection or angels or spirits, while the Pharisees acknowledge all three. (Acts 23:7b-8)
Reflection: Satan is the great divider. Have you ever noticed that when people start getting closer to the truth, maybe when you yourself have edged precariously close to some breakthrough in your own life, out of the blue comes a roadblock or figurative explosion that threatens to derail everything? The devil loves to sow doubt and division, especially among those striving daily to do God’s work. So often people of great faith—deeply committed to their beliefs and their efforts to make the world a better place—end up at each other’s throats over differences in opinion. That is not God’s work, you can be sure. I’ve seen it unfold right before my eyes working in the Church. Everyone is united behind a cause, the fight for the dignity of life, for example. Suddenly, infighting begins over how best to move the cause forward or what to do with Catholics who support moral evil, and now the focus is turned away from the most vulnerable, the ones who need our attention most, and onto our new “enemy,” the ones who won’t do as we say as soon as we say in the way that we say within our own Church. When you see that happening, take a step back and know that, like Paul, you are watching the devil desperately trying to undo the Lord’s work. The devil won’t win in the end, but many of us may get caught in the spiritual crossfire. Be on watch.
Meditation: People often joke about the two things you should never discuss in polite company: religion and politics. How sad that talking about God can cause such strong negative reactions on all sides of a conversation. Have you found yourself in such a discussion any time recently? Did anything good come of it? Were any minds changed or did even great division and resentment result? The next time you see division rising up among believers, take a step back and notice if the division is a distraction or a dire need. If it’s the former, make a decision not to participate in the mudslinging and instead do something positive—pray, write a letter, call a friend, turn off your phone and silently talk to God.
Prayer: Today we pray for patience and an open mind. May we be forces for unity and work to heal the divisions that tear families, communities, churches apart.
May 27: Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Truth or Consequences
Readings: Acts 20:28-38; John 17:11b-19
Scripture: “Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.” John 17:17
Reflection: Truth has never been a relative thing. It is what it is. In a world where relativism is rampant—from the political arena to personal life—truth is one thing not up for debate, although you’d never know it these days. People in the public eye put “spin” on just about everything that hits the news media. Ordinary people, myself included, talking about living “my truth.” When the truth becomes something we mold to our own wants and desires, we start heading toward trouble. In both the first reading and the Gospel today, truth is the focal point—not truth as we would have it, but the Truth as incarnated in Jesus, the Truth that God has revealed to us. Even to St. Paul, it was evident that truth could become a tricky matter. In the first reading, he warns that people from within their newly formed Christian community would come forward “perverting the truth” to try to lead people away from those who followed Jesus. Why should our world be any different? Truth often must exist in tension with the human need for power, control, and material riches. The only way to be sure we are not creating a truth in our own image is to cling to the Truth of the Gospel, to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, who reminds us that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.”
Meditation: St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church, wrote, “Truth suffers, but never dies.” Reflect on that statement today. As you go through your day, notice where truth may be suffering. Do you have a part in it? What can you do to end the twisting of truth in your own world and in the larger world? While we may not have the power to right the mistruths at the highest levels, we can begin where we are and effect powerful change—even if it’s just on social media or in the office or around our kitchen table. If each one of us protects and promotes the truth, we will soon find that our truth and the Truth become aligned and inseparable, and then all will be right with our world.
Prayer: Jesus, your Truth is not always easy to live, but we know it is the only way to live. Show us the Way to the Truth that sets us free.
May 26: Saint Philip Neri, Priest
Readings: Acts 20:17-27; John 17:1-11a
Scripture: “Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)
Reflection: On this memorial of St. Philip Neri, I can’t help but think back to my very first visit to Rome. On the last day of my stay, I knew I had time for one more church visit and rushed over to Chiesa Nuova. I made it just in time for Mass and slid into a pew. I had visited so many churches during that solo visit—enough to have many of them blur together or seem non-descript—but this one is seared into my memory for all the right reasons. It wasn’t for the sculptures or frescoes, soaring ceilings or flying buttresses. I really couldn’t tell you much about the actual physical church where St. Philip Neri spent the last twelve years of his life. I remember the Mass, the feeling of community despite a language and culture barrier, the knowledge that even here, in Rome, I had a home in church. Philip Neri seems a good fit for today’s message from St. Paul about not being too attached to this life but rather to the ministry we are called. Philip lived that daily, bringing together lay people in his Oratory to pray and sing. He was known to be cheerful and kind, funny and deeply spiritual, and, like Paul, trusted completely in God’s plan. I’ll always have a soft spot for St. Philip Neri thanks to his beautiful church down the road from my Roman hotel and the spirituality he left behind there for all who take the time to pause and say a prayer.
Meditation: “There is nothing more dangerous to the spiritual life than to wish to rule ourselves after our own way of thinking,” St. Philip Neri once said. We cannot cling to our own ideas, our own plans, our own goals. We have to let go and, like Paul in today’s first reading, not worry so much about this life. That’s no small challenge. It takes more than determination and commitment; it takes prayer and a willingness to surrender. We can look to St. Philip Neri as a model of the humility and faithfulness, cheerfulness and prayer that will sustain us in our efforts. Make a note to look up St. Philip Neri’s life story; reflect on some of his most famous quotes.
Prayer: We surrender our hearts to you, Lord. Help us to do so with courage, with cheer, with patience, and with faithfulness. Jesus, we trust in you.
May 25: Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter
More than a Wish
Readings: Acts 19:1-8; John 16:29-33
Scripture: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
Reflection: Jesus’ words today feel like the understatement of the century: “In the world you will have trouble.” Tell us about it. Our world’s trouble seems to grow by leaps and bounds with each passing day. We see it on the grand scale of global and national politics and closer to home in our workplaces and communities and families. There is no escaping the trouble this world hands out. It is hard to fathom what some go through or how they go on, when we watch their homes washed away by tsunamis, their families lost through the violence of war, their children dying on the dangerous journey to a safer place. Even for those of us blessed with “first-world problems,” the struggle is real. Sure, we joke about how we can’t live without our smartphones and our creature comforts, but the reality is that trouble comes to us as well—in the form of illness and job issues, addiction and parenting worries, grief and more. We feel burdened by the trouble this world dishes out and, while we take comfort in Jesus’ words of reassurance, we also know that this life takes its toll in the here and now. So, what are we to do? How do we maintain our hope? “This is what Christian hope is: having the certainty that I am walking toward something that is, not something I hope may be,” Pope Francis has said. “This is Christian hope. Christian hope is the expectation of something that has already been fulfilled for each one of us.”
Meditation: There’s a big difference between believing something deep in your heart and simply wishing something were true. Is your faith a belief or a wish? Do you, in the deepest recesses of your heart, know God without question? Do you hope to get to heaven one day, or, as Pope Francis suggests, is your hope firmly planted in the knowledge that heaven is waiting for you? That’s what keeps us from being conquered by this world: We have to live in the hope of what we know awaits us, rather wishing for a dream to come true.
Prayer: Lord of all hopefulness, do not let our hearts become so weighed down by the worries of this world that we lose sight of the very real salvation that awaits us in the next.
May 24: Seventh Sunday of Easter
Strength in Numbers
Readings: Acts 1:12-14; 1 Pet 4:13-16; John 17:1-11a
Scripture: All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:14)
Reflection: In the aftermath of the ascension of our Lord, we see the apostles, along with the Blessed Mother and other women followers, gathered in prayer. In community with one another, in conversation with God, they find their strength. I imagine it also helps them push back fear that must be nipping at their ankles. For the second time in recent weeks, the Lord leaves them. First on the cross, when everything seemed lost, and now through his ascension, when everything seems changed. But still, for all their trust and faith and hope, they are human, and being without Jesus had to be scary. In our own way, we know how that feels. We pray and don’t get an answer—or at least not the answer we want. We sit in silence and feel nothing but that annoying itch on our nose, and we feel alone, even though in our heart of hearts we know God is with us. But our human minds, with its cascade of monkeys clamoring for attention and a voice, try to convince us otherwise. And then we go to Mass, filing into a pew to sit next to a stranger, or perhaps a family member or friend. We pray together, we raise our voices, we shake hands, we receive Jesus in the Eucharist. We do exactly what the apostles and Mary and others did in the upper room. We pray as one, and suddenly we do not feel so alone. We look up and see others filing past us into pews and think, “You too?” We are in this together. We need community, but even more than that, we need communal prayer, where we can feel Jesus in our midst even if we cannot always hear his voice.
Meditation: Notice the difference this week when you pray alone and when you pray in community, whether a rosary or holy hour or Mass. Does it feel different to you? If so, how? Does your parish community inspire you to deeper prayer or more regular spiritual practices? Is there a spiritual program you’d like your parish to begin? Can you help get it started? Maybe it’s lectio divina or adoration or Liturgy of the Hours. Community is critical.
Prayer: Wherever two or three are gathered in your name, there are you among them. That’s what you promised us, Lord. Strengthen our community of faith so that we may lift each other up along the way.
May 23: Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Only One Way
Readings: Acts 18:23-28; John 16:23b-28
Scripture: He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:26)
Reflection: I don’t know about you, but the scene in the first reading today is one that sparks my curiosity. We hear about Apollo, an early evangelist who “taught accurately” about Jesus and had been instructed in “the Way,” and yet soon after we are told that he needs further clarity in order to be more accurate in his preaching. I can’t help but wonder what Priscilla and Aquila said to him about the Way. I wish I could drop into this story if only for a moment in order to gain some clarity for myself. We could all use a Priscilla and
Aquila to pop in on us now and then and reset our course so we don’t stray too far from the Way, but few of us are so lucky to receive—or open to receiving—that kind of thoughtful personal correction. And you can imagine how easy it would have been for Apollo to rebuff this married missionary couple and send them on their way. So much that could have gone wrong did not. Spirit at work yet again. The richness of everyday detail in this season’s readings from the Acts of the Apostles are just the kind of food for thought we need as we come down from our Easter Alleluia high and edge back toward Ordinary Time, which can never be ordinary in light of all we now know. The Acts of the Apostles remind us of that. In the stories of these first disciples, we find our road map, the Way forward.
Meditation: Early Christians, before they were called Christians, were known as followers of the Way, as we see in today’s reading. There’s something intriguing and mysterious about that label. When we think of ourselves as Christians, it’s easy to shrug it off. We know we’re Christians. No explanation necessary. But the Way—what would it mean to describe ourselves as followers of the Way? How would it change the way you define yourself or describe your beliefs? How might it change the way you live out those beliefs? Today, look at yourself as an early follower of the Way, and see if that changes how you act and live.
Prayer: Jesus, you said that you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Help us to know the way to you and to be the way for others.
May 22: Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Heaven on Earth
Readings: Acts 18:9-18; John 16:20-23
Scripture: “So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:22)
Reflection: I’m a great one for letting other people dampen my joyful spirit. In fact, one of my favorite songs—one I pull out pretty regularly and play at full blast—is a song called “Joy” by alternative-folk singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams. “You took my joy. I want it back,” she wails with her southern twang, and I own it as if it is my personal anthem. And then, usually shortly afterward, I remember that if someone can take my joy with such ease, maybe it wasn’t the kind of joy that matters, or maybe it wasn’t really joy at all, but rather fleeting self-satisfaction or pride or just a happy event that sparked a momentary flare up of positive feelings. When we read Jesus’ words today, we understand that he’s talking about the kind of joy that lasts, the kind that lives so deep within us no one else can find it, no less take it. I want that joy so much it hurts sometimes, but it’s not something we can get by working harder or exercising more or eating healthier. That kind of joy comes only through a deep connection with our God, one built on and sustained by a deep reservoir of prayer. If we don’t remember who we are and who we belong to, we can be pulled off course by any flash in the pan, but that’s not what brings true joy; only true faith can provide that.
Meditation: When was the last time you remember being joyful? Where were you? What was happening around you? How long did it last? Now, when was the last time you met someone who was joyful in the midst of challenge or even sorrow? What do you remember most about that? When we meet someone with the kind of faith that feeds the joy Jesus promises, we know we are in the presence of someone and something special. It just feels different. We sense peace and acceptance, and usually we want it for ourselves because we know that to live in that kind of joy is to live in heaven on earth.
Prayer: God of eternal joy, we hunger for a faith so deep it cannot be shaken, a joy so strong it can never be depleted. Teach us to seek the joy that comes through you, not the momentary happiness the world offers now and then.
May 21 (Thursday) or May 24: The Ascension of the Lord
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Matt 28:16-20
Scripture: The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. (Matt 28:16)
Reflection: I was listening to an audio book on my drive home from work recently, and a segment caught my attention. Reading from his work, actor and author Alan Arkin related an experience in which a woman who had just witnessed something spectacular alongside him said, “I refuse to believe it.” “How can you refuse,” I asked. “I don’t understand. Either what you saw seemed real or it didn’t. “No, I refuse to believe it,” she repeated again, but she went on. “Because if I believe this, I’m going to have to believe a lot of other things and I refuse to do that.” As soon as I read today’s Gospel, I thought of Alan Arkin. I know. It’s quite a juxtaposition, but I think there’s a kernel of truth in the way my brain made what felt like a logical leap to me. The disciples probably knew somewhere deep down that if what they were seeing was really true and not just a figment of their imagination, it would mean they
would have to give up every preconceived notion and belief they may have held and build their life on something else entirely. What a scary prospect! It’s probably the same for us today, isn’t it? We’re not unlike those doubtful disciples—or the woman in Arkin’s book. Doubt protects us in a way. It allows us to hedge our bets a bit, even if unconsciously.
Meditation: I’ve always posited that if I truly and completely without any shred of human doubt believed in Jesus the way I am called to believe, I could not help but completely transform my life. It might mean giving up things I love. It might mean really difficult choices. It would definitely mean abandoning safety nets and security blankets. And so, I profess and in my heart I want to believe the way I should, but fear holds back a little piece of me. When will we be ready to give it all to Jesus? Can you shed a small layer of doubt today? Can you let go a little more and stand on the mountain Jesus calls you to without fear and with full commitment?
Prayer: Your words give us comfort, Jesus. You are with us always, and yet we are still fearful. Fill us with faith as you did your first disciples so that we, too, may go out and bring others to you.
May 20: Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Readings: Acts 17:15, 22–18:1; John 16:12-15
Scripture: “He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17: 26-27)
Reflection: When was the last time you “groped” for God, desperately reaching out—perhaps literally—in the hope of grasping onto something, anything, that would convince you that God was not far away from you? To our ears, this groping might sound a little too desperate. If we’re prayerful and holy enough, shouldn’t we be able to find God in a more civilized manner? But in today’s first reading we hear Paul tell us that God created everything—the heavens and seasons and all of us on this planet—so that we “might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him.” In other words, God wants us to come after him, to reach him, to know him, to feel him nearby. Even though God is always nearby. What a fascinating and funny God we have! God wants us to actively make a connection; ours is not a passive faith.
In The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence says there is “nothing more delightful as a continual walk with God.” He writes: Please get started now. I don’t care how old you are. It is better late than never. I can’t imagine how any faithful person can be satisfied without the practice of the presence of God. For my part, I spend as much time as possible alone with him at the very center of my soul. As long as I am with him I am afraid of nothing, but the least turning away from him is unbearable. Brother Lawrence knew how to grope for God. Maybe we can all take a page from his book.
Meditation: Practice of the presence of God will be different for each person, and yet at its core it’s the same: it means seeking God right where you are. Today, practice being present with God in the midst of your life. Maybe that will happen as you drive to work or wait for your children to come out of school. Maybe it means you’ll spend five minutes of silent prayer at your desk at lunch, or at a Holy Hour at your parish church, or over a bubbling pot of soup in your kitchen. Whatever it is, make the space and time to seek out God, who is nearer than you think.
Prayer: Ever-present God, help us to keep our eyes always on you and to never doubt that you are near.
May 19: Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter
A Spiritual Catch-22
Readings: Acts 16:22-34; John 16:5-11
Scripture: “But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you.” (John 16:7)
Reflection: We tend not to like goodbyes. Usually it hurts more than is comfortable and fills us with a little fear, whether we’re the one going or the one left behind. In the case of a permanent separation, like death, saying goodbye can be unbearable. We cannot imagine life without our loved one. And yet, we know that goodbyes are necessary and, sometimes, beneficial. As difficult as it may be to say goodbye to a child leaving for college, we know that the leaving will result in a more independent and well-rounded child. Similarly, leaving a job, a home, even a friendship that has become untenable may cause anxiety and make us sad even as we recognize the good that will come from the decision. The disciples in the Gospel today are facing one of those major goodbyes. I’m guessing it was the kind of separation that left them paralyzed with fear and sadness. But Jesus tells them that the goodbye will lead to better things. They cannot have the Spirit until they say goodbye to Jesus. A catch-22 if ever there was one. We don’t ever have to face that decision when it comes to God. The Spirit is ours for the taking, if our hearts are open. Although we know that, ultimately, we will have to face the goodbye of a lifetime—our own—in order to get the reward of eternity. We can have it all, but it comes at a price.
Meditation: What goodbye in your life left you beyond consolation? It’s likely that you can still conjure up exactly what you felt at that moment, right down to the smells in the room or the color of the sky outside. Moments like that leave a permanent scar. But now, maybe years later, despite the fact that you wish that goodbye never had to happen, can you see the places where the goodbye presented you with a gift of some sort? Maybe you have a closer relationship with a sibling or parent because of a mutual loss you suffered. Maybe you now have a wonderful work community because you were laid off from a previous job. Can you begin to look at the hard moments of your life and find the places where God poured grace into them?
Prayer: Spirit of God, be with us when we struggle, comfort us when we grieve, lead us to where grace is waiting.
May 18: Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter
The Color Purple
Readings: Acts 16:11-15; John 15:26–16:4a
Scripture: One of them, a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. (Acts 16:14)
Reflection: A dealer in purple cloth. What a gorgeous jewel of a detail given to us in today’s first reading. As if the presence of Lydia isn’t enough to make our spiritual heads spin, the added detail about her trade kicks everything up a notch and, if we’ve drifted off a bit, we’re at full attention now. Who is this woman? Clearly someone of significance to the newly forming church to garner this kind of attention in the Acts of the Apostles and clearly someone of significance in her community to have had the ability to invite Paul and his fellow missionaries to stay in her home and to have her household be baptized en masse. How many Lydias were out there in the early church, risking comfort and safety for a faith being preached by men from afar? What was it that opened Lydia’s heart to the message? Yes, the Spirit, but what words did Paul say, what moved her to go out on a limb? What would move us to do the same? Ours is not a faith for the faint of heart. As we see in Scripture, not long after Lydia’s conversion and kind gesture, Paul and Silas find themselves on the wrong side of an angry mob. The juxtaposition of the two scenes is jarring. In one, faith and hope wrapped up in a kind of mysticism shrouded in the majesty of purple; in the other, fear and greed expressed in the violence of beatings and jail cells. This is the story of our faith: hope in the face of suffering; trust in the face of fear; faith in the face of persecution.
Meditation: What if your faith story was given a spot in the New Testament? How would the writers describe you? What details of your life would make us pause and hunger for more? Today imagine yourself as a modern-day Lydia, visited by missionaries preaching in a way that moves you to reform your life and make a bigger space for God. What might you do? What would it take to give you the courage to take a leap and be Lydia to the church of today?
Prayer: Holy women of the early church, give us the courage to take risks for our faith, to put ourselves out there when we hear the truth, to bear witness to what Jesus taught with our lives.
May 17: Sixth Sunday of Easter
Alone in the Crowd
Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 Pet 3:15-18; John 14:15-21
Scripture: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18)
Reflection: We live in a world where loneliness is a growing epidemic. We are more connected than ever thanks to the internet and social media, and yet the very thing that connects us often causes us to become more isolated. In the glow of our screen, we sit alone and “talk” to “friends” out there. We may even be surrounded by family members or coworkers or a crowd on a train, but, at the same time, deep within our hearts we may feel very much alone, orphaned. It’s clear from Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel that the fear of being alone isn’t something reserved for the iPhone generation. Jesus’ followers, though bound together by their common belief, know he’s going away, and they are afraid. We get it. We’re afraid too. Like those early disciples, however, we have access to the very same graces they did; we have an Advocate. As Jesus promised then and now, we are not orphans. Jesus lives within us, the Spirit swirls around us, the Father watches over us. What a comforting reality. Now, you may say, “Well, yes, but I’m still alone in my house.” If you let the Spirit do its work and if you respond to the Spirit’s call, you won’t be alone for long, because the Spirit grows in community. If we allow the Spirit to lead, we will soon find ourselves surrounded by others who, just like us, are hungry for a connection to God and to those who love God.
Meditation: When was the last time you put yourself out there and took a chance on introducing yourself to someone new, or joined a group or class that has always piqued your interest? Although we can count on God to be with us always, it’s nice to have people who support us on the journey. This week, make an effort to look at your parish bulletin or community newspaper and find a new meeting or class or organization that could use your help or talents, or that you could learn from. Let the Spirit guide you. Or find one person who could use a friend, a ride, a meal, and be that connection for someone else.
Prayer: Spirit of God, although we know in our hearts you are with us, help us to become more aware of your presence in our lives and to bring that presence out into the world.
May 16: Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Change Is Inevitable
Readings: Acts 16:1-10; John 15:18-21
Scripture: Day after day the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number. (Acts 16:5)
Reflection: It’s easy to imagine that the early disciples somehow had less of a challenge with faith. After all, they were close to Jesus. Some knew him firsthand; others knew him through the apostles, or even through powerful visions that could knock them headlong off a horse. In today’s first reading, we hear that the churches grew stronger day by day and think that if only we had their experiences, we, too, could grow our churches at a time when attendance and engagement seems to be going in the wrong direction. But follow the course of that reading down a little further and another line sets things straight: “. . . they tried to go on into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Things were not as cut and dry as we might assume. Entire areas were blocked from even hearing the Good News for reasons we may not understand. But carry on they did, to a different region, where the reception might be welcoming. Are we as persistent, as unfazed by obstacles when it comes to speaking and living the Gospel, especially in a world that isn’t particularly fond of its message? In today’s Gospel, Jesus tell us directly that we can expect the world to hate us because we “do not belong to the world.” Our mission is not an easy one. What is the Spirit of Jesus asking of us? Are we listening?
Meditation: Think of your own parish church. Depending on where you live, your pews might be filled to overflowing. Give thanks for that blessing. If you are in other regions, where populations in general are declining or moving, your church might be sparsely populated or on the verge of closure. In cities where communities once thrived and every block seemed to be home to multiple ethnic parishes, doors are locked. Our church is a living, breathing Body of Christ. That means we move and change, decrease and expand. Like so many other aspects of our lives, nothing stays stagnant. Can we accept that and work with it, instead of against it? Can we hear the Spirit telling us when we need to go somewhere new, despite our strongest inclinations to stay put?
Prayer: Spirit of Jesus, speak to us as we discern what is ahead. Open our ears to your challenge and give us strength to move forward.
May 15: Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter (USA: St. Isidore)
Readings: Acts 15:22-31; John 15:12-17
Scripture: “This I command you: love one another.” (John 15:17)
Reflection: Jesus’ challenge today is not only the greatest commandment, it’s the toughest. It’s easy to love God, but loving everyone else is a tall order when everyone else typically finds a way to push our buttons on a regular basis. Whether it’s the nightly news or a coworker or the person in the car in front of us, we are easily pulled off course when it comes to this commandment. We tend to love those who love us or those who are suffering in some way and deserve our concern and compassion. And in those moments, we might think, “I’ve got this.” And then, and then . . . the light turns green and the car stays put, the driver clearly looking at a cell phone. Love goes out the window, perhaps along with a few choice words. C.S. Lewis of Narnia fame, in a chapter on charity in his book Mere Christianity, writes: Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. That puts today’s Gospel into practical terms, daunting but doable if we’re willing. Are we willing?
Meditation: Couples who attend Marriage Encounter weekends are told to “make a decision to love” in order to build up their spousal relationships, but when I read that C.S. Lewis quote, I realized that suggestion applies to all of life. Make a decision to love—at home, at work, in the grocery store, on the ballfield. When we do so, even in the face of someone who is difficult to love or has done something to hurt us, we soften and begin to see the frailty that exists there under the hardened façade or seething silence. We are essentially all the same, but we forget. Today, make a decision to love, and see how it changes your interactions with everyone around you. How does it feel to love without getting love in return?
Prayer: God of unconditional love, we struggle to live up to your greatest commandment. Open our hearts to those who cross our paths so that we may love as you do.
May 14: Saint Matthias, Apostle
Winners and Losers
Readings: Acts 1:15-17, 20-26; John 15:9-17
Scripture: So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. (Acts 1:23)
Reflection: Losing is never easy, especially when it’s out there in public for all to see. That’s why, on this feast of St. Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot, it seems even more fitting to focus on the guy who lost: Justus. That’s a pretty big seat to lose—not just a town board or city council but one of the Twelve. I would imagine that Justus had every reason to feel let down, angry, and resentful. Would anyone have blamed him if he said, “If I’m not good enough to be part of the inner circle, I don’t want to be part of it at all.” We’d nod our heads and think he showed them. But that’s not what he did. According to history, he continued to proclaim the Good News and died a martyr’s death. By the standards of our society, he was a loser in every category. Fortunately, God doesn’t do things by the standards of society; just the opposite. He takes the downtrodden, the beaten down, the miserable and makes them the ones who should be emulated and honored. Because they suffered for his sake. They did not put themselves above God, even when the cost was life itself,
because life is not worth anything at all if living it requires us to cut ourselves off from God. The heroes of the early church knew they could lose everything on earth and gain the kingdom. Turns out there was no loser in today’s first reading, even if we don’t hear it that way.
Meditation: Has there ever been a time when you’ve lost out on an important position or award—a job you really wanted, an honor you thought you deserved, maybe even just a compliment or sign of appreciation from your boss. It hurts, and, often, it can make us want to go our own way in order to prove a point or make someone else suffer. Today’s readings, from the vote for a new apostle to Jesus teaching that we must be willing to lay down our lives for a friend, are reminders that losing is often winning in God’s eyes. The last shall be first, even when being last feels like the end of the world to us.
Prayer: Sts. Matthias and Justus, give us the courage to follow God’s will, even when it is not easy. Show us the way to say yes to hard questions.
May 13: Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter (Our Lady of Fatima)
Readings: Acts 15:1-6; John 15:1-8
Scripture: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” (John 15:1)
Reflection: This feast of Our Lady of Fatima, which has no Scriptural reference, seems perfectly tied to today’s Gospel. The Spirit at work. The image of the branches either clinging to the vine or withering and ending up as kindling seems to echo the messages the three children received from Mary as they tended sheep in a village in Portugal more than a century ago: pray and do penance in order to save yourselves and the world. Much focus over the years has been on the secrets of Fatima, but more than the prophetic messages, Fatima offered a way to God by amending our own lives and praying for others. It’s another way of looking at the pruning process that is used to describe our spiritual lives in today’s Gospel. Even the good branches must be pruned in order to produce more fruit. Although we may not like to admit it, we usually know where and what in our life could use some gentle pruning and shaping or, in some cases, maybe even the power of an axe or chainsaw. Life has a way of getting messy and dragging us along with it if we don’t take time regularly to pray and reflect and make some hard sacrifices. If three little children in a field could grasp that, maybe we can do the same.
Meditation: Where does your life need pruning? What are you willing to sacrifice? Perhaps more importantly, what are you not willing to sacrifice? Start there, because that’s probably the most likely thing that’s getting in the way of your spiritual journey. Now add prayer, but not just any prayer. On this feast of Our Lady of Fatima, take out your rosary beads. I know you have them, probably multiple sets tucked away in all sorts of places—nightstand, office, pocket. Even if we don’t tend to say the rosary with regularity, many of us keep the beads close by, a reminder of just how powerful this prayer is. Today, make time to say the rosary. If that seems daunting, start with just one decade. Let the rhythm of the prayers wash over you and give you the courage to do the pruning that needs to be done.
Prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of your mercy.
May 12: Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Readings: Acts 14:19-28; John 14:27-31a
Scripture: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22b)
Reflection: Things are tough all over in today’s readings. Violence and intimidation in the first reading as Paul is stoned and dragged from the city; in the Gospel, uncertainty and fear among the disciples as Jesus tells them he is going away. But in the midst of it all, hope and promises—promises of a kingdom that awaits us, promises of peace, promises of an Advocate who will stay with us always. Those same promises belong to us, but we, like those early disciples, often fall prey to the troubles that dog us. We forget that the day-to-day struggles that scare us are not the end game. They are not even a means to an end. They are just moments in an earthly life that is the tiniest fraction of our eternal life. That’s a challenge for most of us to grasp. Everything we do in this world seems monumental when it’s happening to us, and some of it is pretty critical as a life goes—raising children, supporting a family, building a marriage. But when we put it in perspective, as Paul tries to do for us, we remember that we are not as important as we think we are. We will all have to suffer a bit; such is the nature of human life. But we do not suffer alone. We have a future, even when we no longer have breath, because we have an Advocate who leads us day by day toward the kingdom God has built for us. That promise trumps everything the world can throw at us.
Meditation: What trouble is weighing you down today? Is it an overwhelming worry about a child, bills that can’t be paid, a diagnosis you’re fearing? Can you give it to God for even one day? Sometimes the troubles that overwhelm us are things that shouldn’t be given so much power: a difficult job, a full calendar, a house that needs cleaning. We turn those passing worries into mountains that block our path to God. It’s easier to focus on the job or the house than it is to focus on what really matters—our eternal salvation. So, we busy ourselves with an endless list of “What ifs” rather than accept what is and live our lives accordingly.
Prayer: Eternal God, help us to see clearly the truly important things in our day-to-day lives and to find you in the midst of them.
May 11: Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Readings: Acts 14:5-18; John 14:21-26
Scripture: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14:23)
Reflection: In her book Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila writes about God dwelling within us in poetic prose that gets to the heart of the main thing that often gets in our way: As to what good qualities there may be in our souls, or Who dwells within them, or how precious they are—those are things which we seldom consider and so we trouble little about carefully preserving the soul’s beauty. All our interest is centered in the rough setting of the diamond, and in the outer wall of the castle—that is to say, in these bodies of ours. It doesn’t matter that this Doctor of the Church wrote those words more than four hundred years ago. It turns out that human beings are similar at our core no matter what the era. We look at ourselves in the mirror and see our imperfections; we can’t imagine God dwelling within us because, quite frankly, we’re having a difficult enough time dwelling there ourselves. But St. Teresa reminds us that our physical selves are merely the outer wall of this castle with many rooms, the place where God resides. Can we learn to look past our outer wall and seek out the One speaking to us from deep within the center room of our heart? Can we, as Jesus challenges in today’s Gospel, keep his word so that Father, Son, and Spirit will find a welcome place in us?
Meditation: When you invite people to your house, you probably spend a fair amount of time getting ready— cooking, cleaning, maybe even doing some of those chores that rarely get done, washing windows or decluttering closets. Candles glow, music plays, and the smell of food wafts out the door when we open it. What’s the spiritual equivalent? What do we need to do to ready our interior castle for the most important visitor we could possibly entertain? It’s not all that unlike the house prep. We need to declutter our minds, create an open space inside, clear out the things that get in the way of our relationship with God. Light a candle, put on some peaceful music, and open the door to the One who is waiting to be invited in.
Prayer: God of patience, thank you for bearing with my tendency to ignore you amid the busyness of my life. Today I begin to clear a bigger space for you. Come, Lord Jesus.