• By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Feast of the Ascension of the Lord
    Matthew 28:16-20

    This weekend, many dioceses in the United States liturgically celebrate the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. Other dioceses observe this weekend as the seventh Sunday of Easter. These reflections will refer to the biblical readings for the Feast of the Ascension.

    The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, is from the beginning of Acts. As with the Gospel of Luke, the author addresses Theophilus, whose identity is unclear. Was Theophilus his actual name? Perhaps it was. Perhaps it was not. “Theophilus” also is a title, meaning “friend of God.”

    In any case, this initial form of address recalls that Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles are inseparably linked. Acts simply continues the story begun in the Gospel. At some point, editors divided these books and placed the Gospel of John between them. This arrangement remains today in biblical translations.

    This is important. It shows that in the mind of the holy author, the process of salvation did not end with the Lord’s ascension into heaven. After the Lord went to heaven, salvation continued as the apostles proceeded with the mission accomplished by Jesus, ordained long ago by God.

    A lesson to be learned is how important the apostles were. In Acts, the text clearly reveals that the first Christians greatly revered the 11 surviving apostles, that Peter led these apostles and spoke for them, that they performed miracles just as Jesus had performed miracles, and that they exercised the very power of Jesus in calling Matthias to be an apostle, equal to the others.

    Still, despite all these assertions as to their dignity, they were only humans. They needed the inspiration of God.

    As its second reading, the church presents a selection from the Epistle to the Ephesians.

    This reading is a prayer that all Christians might find true wisdom. True wisdom reposes only in the Lord. Earthly wisdom can be faulty, and indeed often it is faulty.

    For the last reading, the church gives us a lesson from St. Matthew’s Gospel. Again, the status of the apostles is the point. The apostles are with Jesus. They see and hear the risen Lord. They literally experience the resurrection of Christ.

    Jesus tells them to go into the world. They should exclude or ignore no one. They should bring all humankind into God’s family by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this last instruction from Jesus is a clear and direct revelation of the Holy Trinity.

    Reflection

    The church, having proclaimed the Resurrection, now calls us to look at ourselves and our times. Christ still is with us, the church declares emphatically. As the bond between Luke and Acts tells us, salvation, perfected in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, still is on earth. He did not just live 20 centuries ago. He still lives. He still gives life, blessing us, forgiving us and taking us home to heaven. Jesus is with us, even after the ascension.

    He is with us now in the church, because the church stands on the foundation laid long ago by the apostles. From them it has received the message of Jesus. From them it has received the commission to reach to everyone with the blessings of salvation. From them, it has received the power to forgive sin and to bestow the new life of grace. From them, it received the sacraments, now offered to us.

    The church brings us to Jesus, and it brings Jesus to us. As Ephesians tells us, only Jesus is the source of truth.

    We are not dragged kicking and screaming to Jesus, however. We must turn to Jesus willingly and totally because we humbly realize our need for Jesus.

     

    Posted on May 23, 2017, to:

  • By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Sixth Sunday of Easter
    John 14:15-21

    The Acts of the Apostles once again this Easter season furnishes the first reading. In the readings of the weekends earlier in this season, the identity of the apostles clearly has been established.

    In a critically important revelation, the apostles exercised the very power of Jesus in naming a new member of their group, Matthias, to succeed the dead Judas. With power held by Jesus, Peter healed the sick. On behalf of the apostles, Peter spoke as Jesus had spoken.

    Clearly, the apostles discharged the divine power that had belonged to Jesus, and they continued the mission of Jesus the Redeemer. They had been the Lord’s specially selected students and companions, but in Acts they possessed a unique role themselves.

    Through them, the Lord continued the mission of salvation. They bore within themselves the Holy Spirit, and they gave the Holy Spirit to others.

    While Acts already has established that Peter was the head of the apostles, the character of apostle belonged not just to him. It was also with the others.

    Thus, in this reading, the central figures are Philip and John. They performed miracles as Jesus had performed miracles, having been sent by the apostles to Samaria. Their destination reveals much. They looked to the salvation of all people, even of Samaritans, whom Jews so despised. No one was beyond the scope of salvation in Jesus. No one was inherently bad, beyond redemption.

    The second reading is from the First Epistle of Peter. It is a strong, joyful and enthusiastic proclamation of Jesus as Lord, calling believers to hear the Lord and to follow the Lord. The Lord should be in their hearts and minds.

    St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. Not a Resurrection narrative, it nonetheless serves the church’s purpose as it teaches us this weekend. After celebrating the Resurrection for these weeks since Easter, the church gently is summoning us to look at our lives in these our times, occurring with circumstances particular to us and to our time.

    This reading is our blueprint for life. Our task as disciples is to love others as Jesus loved all. It is clear. In God’s love, given to us in the Lord, is our salvation. Indeed, the very act of giving us a blueprint for living is a vitally important gift given in love to us by God.

    Reflection

    The next major liturgical event for us will be the celebration of the feast of the Ascension of Jesus. Soon after this feast, we will celebrate the feast of Pentecost. Within sight now is the close of the Easter season.

    For these weeks, the church enthusiastically has proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus, gloriously occurring after the dreadful events of Good Friday. It has shared with us its joy, echoing the joy of the first Christians. It has told us again and again of the risen Lord’s appearances and admonitions.

    The message is very strongly catechetical. Contact with Jesus was not lost with the ascension, when Jesus returned to the Father. Contact with the Lord remains very clearly in the visible, institutional church. The church offers us the service of the modern successors of Peter and the other apostles. He lives!

    Through them we still hear the words of Christ. In the sacraments they give us, we still access the power of Christ’s eternal life. We commune with Jesus.

    Finally, in the reading from John’s Gospel, the church tells us how to live. We must love others.

    Gently, gradually, but definitely, the church has entered, and pursued, the process of leading us to ask what the Resurrection deeply and really means for each of us individually.

    Remaining for us is the obvious question. Are we willing to accept the risen Lord?

    Posted on May 17, 2017, to:

  • By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Fifth Sunday of Easter
    John 14:1-12

    Once again this season, the Acts of the Apostles provides the first reading. The early chapters of Acts graphically reveal to us the lives led by the early Christians. Very obvious in this glimpse into events so long ago is the primary place of the apostles, and the superior position among them of Peter.

    The apostles led the community because the Christians recognized the apostles’ special relationship with, and calling from, the Lord. Indeed, reverence for the apostles was so deep that the people placed their possessions at the apostles’ feet, allowing the apostles to control even the material assets of the community.

    In Acts, this community was situated in Jerusalem. Although the very heart of Jewish life and a city supremely symbolic for Jews, Jerusalem was not Corinth. It was not Antioch. It most certainly was not Rome. In the total scheme of things, it was not a great city.

    Even in Palestine, Caesarea, a seaport on the Mediterranean Sea, was more important. The Roman governor resided in Caesarea, and the Roman occupation had its headquarters there. Jerusalem was secondary.

    (The ruins of Caesarea now are in the suburbs of modern Tel Aviv. It is interesting, incidentally, that the only relic of the administration of Pontius Pilate as governor is a stone carved with his name, and the stone was found at the site of ancient Caesarea.)

    Very clear is the way of life for the first Christians. Care of the needy, and of widows who were very needy, was their priority. Evidently, the apostles directed such care. The apostles also taught the Gospel, with Peter as the spokesman.

    To assist in providing this care, and to proclaim the Gospel, the apostles chose seven holy men to be deacons. Calling deacons was an exercise not just of organization, but also of the apostles’ authority to act in the name of Jesus.

    First Peter provides the second reading, centering Jesus as essential in salvation. The reading urges Christians to be true to Jesus.

    St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading. Not a Resurrection narrative, it recalls the Lord’s discourse with the apostles, telling them what to expect in the future. As it looks ahead and frankly suggests that obstacles await, it is an appropriate reading now as people contemplate Christian living amid modern troubles.

    Reassuringly, Christ will be with us always. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” a description that belongs only to the Son of God.

    Reflection

    Almost a month has passed since Easter. For weeks, the church joyfully has told us of the Resurrection. He lives!

    Before long, the season will end. We will return to life in 2017, with its burdens and rewards.

    The church tells us that Jesus still is with us as savior, teacher and guide, our rock and our shield. We, today, compose the community of Christians: but to be authentic, our modern Christian community must mirror the community described in Acts.

    Applying the picture in Acts to the present is interesting. Which Christian community actually reflects the gathering of Christians in Jerusalem long ago? It has to be the Roman Catholic Church, precisely because the church still relies upon the apostles, with Peter clearly and actually as its head.

    The community in Acts showed profoundly was dedicated to the Lord, caring for the sick and the needy. Ever since, care for others has been no charming sideline for Christians. It is of the essence of their religion.

    Finally, the church tells us, as the Easter season concludes, that Christ is with us. In turn, we must draw ourselves into the community that the Lord created.

    Being in the community is more than joining a club. We must give our hearts to the Lord freely, totally.

     

    Posted on May 9, 2017, to:

  • By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Fourth Sunday of Easter
    John 10:1-10

    Readings from the Acts of the Apostles frequently occur during the Easter season. They clearly show not just life in general in the first Christian community, but quite expressly reveal the special place of the apostles among the early Christians, as well as the fact that Peter was the head of the apostles.

    Inevitably, Peter speaks in behalf of all the apostles. Such is the case in this weekend’s first reading. Peter preaches. His sermon goes to the heart of the Gospel message: Jesus is Lord, the Savior. He came among humans as human, but also as God’s own Son. He died. He rose. He reconciled humankind with almighty God.

    Humans have an option. They can accept Jesus as Lord. They can follow the Gospel. Or, they can reject Jesus.

    The author of Acts, traditionally believed also to have been the author of Luke’s Gospel, dates the sermon. It was preached on Pentecost, a Jewish holiday. Jewish holidays celebrated God and his relationship with humans — in particular with the Hebrew people. The holidays, therefore, celebrated the Covenant and God’s constant and uninterrupted mercy. In this case, the Jews recalled their special status as the people whom God protected and through whom God was revealed.

    The First Epistle of Peter provides the second reading. Jesus died on the cross to bring, forever and without qualification, God and humanity together. Individual persons affirm this reconciliation for themselves by freely accepting Jesus as Lord and by living as the Lord’s true disciples, as children of God.

    St. John’s Gospel, the last reading, presents a theme that was among the Lord’s favorites and that has always been beloved by Christians; namely, the theme of the Good Shepherd.

    Today in this country, the imagery may not be as immediately telling as it was in a rural society. Sheepherding is not a common livelihood in America, but at the time of Jesus in the Holy Land, everyone would have been familiar with shepherds and sheep.

    The nature of sheep is important. They are docile and quiet, vulnerable to predators such as wolves. They need their shepherds. Also, young sheep, or lambs, were the preferred animals for sacrifice in the temple because lambs were gentle and innocent. The meat of lambs was ritually prepared for Passover.

    But, sheep may wander. The shepherd does not tie them to himself. He leads them, but they can turn away from him.

    The Gospel’s message is clear. All humans are apt to stray, to be in danger, like sheep without a shepherd to guide and protect them.

    Jesus is the Good Shepherd, leading us to pastures rich with nutrition and protecting us from the predators that prowl in search of us, predators that literally kill us by succeeding in tempting us to sin.

    Reflection 

    Several weeks have passed since Easter, but the church still rejoices in the risen Lord. He lives! Giving us the words once preached by Peter, the Gospel calls us to repent, to turn away from sin and to turn to the only source of life, the Lord Jesus.

    Preparing us for this message, the church frankly reminds us of who and what we are. We are as vulnerable as sheep. Predators lurk on every side, waiting to assail us. The devil is the most vicious and crafty of these predators. The devil draws us to death, since sin is death.

    Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He leads us to the nourishment we need for spiritual health. He guides us to the eternal fields of heaven.

    The essence of this weekend’s message is clear and simple. We need the Lord. Otherwise, we shall die.

    We can follow the Lord, or we can go our own way just as sheep may wander; but if we turn from Jesus, we walk into peril.

     

    Posted on May 2, 2017, to:

  • By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Third Sunday of Easter
    Luke 24:13-35

    Again, as is usual for weekends of the Easter season, the Acts of the Apostles provides the first reading for the Liturgy of the Word.

    This reading recalls an event similar to several others in Acts. Peter preaches in the name of all the 11 surviving apostles. His remarks, or at least those recorded in this passage, are brief and crisp.

    The term used by biblical scholars is that Peter’s message was “kerygmatic,” drawing from “kerygma,” the Greek word for “message.” It means that Peter’s words contained the basic information about Jesus and about God’s plan of salvation.

    Despite the small number of Christians at the time, and in spite of the fact that the Jewish culture and the effects of Roman domination were overwhelming, the apostles still were determined to speak aloud about Jesus.

    Their determination revealed their trust and faith in Jesus as Savior and as the Son of God. The world desperately needed Jesus: Only Jesus could fill what the world, still today, needs. Remembering last weekend’s first reading that described both the early Christian community’s love for the Lord and its outreach to the troubled and needy, this reading shows that the first followers of Christ saw informing others about the Redeemer as a loving service.

    Note also: Here, as elsewhere in Acts, even though the other apostles were present, Peter and Peter alone spoke on their behalf.

    The First Epistle of Peter supplies the next reading. Scholars debate the authorship of this epistle. Was Peter the author? Or was someone writing in Peter’s name the author, or was the author presenting ideas that had come from Peter? In any case, the reading shows how totally committed to Jesus the Savior the early Christians were, and how aware they were that salvation had come through the Lord’s death and resurrection.

    The last reading, from Luke’s Gospel, is the powerful and lovely story of the risen Lord’s walk to Emmaus with two disciples. The Emmaus narrative appears only in Luke. It is one of the most renowned and beloved pieces in the New Testament.

    Important in its message is the fact that, regardless of their devotion to Jesus, the disciples still do not understand everything. They are limited human beings, bewildered by the events of the Lord’s death and resurrection. They need Jesus to understand the deep meaning and purpose of all that they had seen.

    Jesus meets this need. He teaches them. Jesus is with them. As they celebrate the meal, with its eucharistic overtones, Jesus is the central figure, presiding as they “break the bread.” After hearing the Lord’s explanation of events and encountering Jesus, they join in a holy meal. The connection with the Eucharist is too strong to overlook.

    Reflection

    Beginning with the Scripture readings for Easter and continuing this weekend, the church expresses to us forcefully and clearly its unflinching belief that after crucifixion and death the Lord Jesus rose to new life.

    With equal vigor and equally strong faith, it also insists to us that Jesus did not rise and then disappear. Instead, the Lord was with the apostles, showing to Thomas His wounds and blessing those who believed. He was alive, present and still teaching during the trip to Emmaus. The Eucharist at Emmaus was the culmination on the two disciples’ time with Jesus.

    The use of the technique of kerygma gives us the basic facts of the Lord’s identity and mission. The experience of the apostles shows us that they literally knew the risen Christ. We turn to them to know Jesus ourselves.

    Knowing Jesus is more than possessing data. It confronts us with the obligation to follow Jesus if we know Jesus. By our discipleship, extend Christ to those whom we meet.

    Posted on April 26, 2017, to: