Sunday Scriptures

Offering Ourselves to Be Changed and Renewed

By Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J.

AS WE HAVE reflected upon the Acts of the Apostles, have you noticed the born-again bravery and courage which have filled Peter’s speech and action these Easter weeks?

The fear, self-preserving behavior and “bystander” attitude which formerly afflicted him are long gone. No longer a “bystander,” acting like or going along with the crowd, he’s on fire with “let me tell you about Jesus Christ the Nazarene.” Peter is telling all of Israel, and you and me, of the One Who it is that he now “knows” with all of his being.

Fidelity, Fortitude, Trust

Mercy has been his as the Holy Spirit filled him with recovery from his own denials, abandonment and fear and with the power and grace of fidelity, bold speech and trust for the future. For Peter, these are the gifts of the One Who “knows” him through and through. These gifts are what make him able to speak of “the Name” by which we are not only healed and restored, but also saved.

The second reading from John’s letter is a tender and loving reminder of who we are in God’s eyes. God, Who knows us long before we are born, names us “beloved” and “children of God.” John assures us that is truly who we are. Last week, we were reminded that we come to “know” this more and more as we live in right relationship with God and with every neighbor (God in our midst).

Like Peter, we have our personal histories and our self-preserving inclinations which cause us to forget, avoid and even deny this amazing knowledge. We must always be thankful that the tender mercy of God washes over our own forgetfulness, avoidance and denial so as not to change the reality of our name. We hear God’s promise of who and what we will become when we are faithful. We shall truly see God. We shall know God.

The Risen Christ offered and continues to offer us a new and personal way of “knowing” and relating to God. He shows us a relationship of compassionate love, of personal nearness, of self-emptying care and of a great challenge to trust and follow. The images in that following are not only ones of rejection, threat and “laying down of life,” but also of the resurrection and new life.

The invitation of the Risen Christ and the power of the Easter message call us to a discipleship where there are no bounds and ours is the freedom of knowing our true names – “Child of God … beloved of God.”

As we live with these paradoxes and seek to be faithful, we can also understand the self-preserving inclinations of the first listeners and these same within ourselves. Am I really willing to speak aloud that which I hear God speaking to me? Am I able to be steadfast in the faces of rejection, threat or the “laying down of life?” I cringe at so much less.

We live in a world where brothers and sisters are being slain for their beliefs, children and families run for their lives and so many are rejected by their own. As I call God’s name in prayer, I pray that I am not put to the test.

Known and Loved

Every year in this week, the Church offers us the image of Jesus as Good Shepherd and each of us as the flock. In today’s Gospel we are taught the extent to which our Savior spends His life for each of us. “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). He does not abandon his own and continually searches for those still lost or at a distance. John offers us in this Gospel that reminder: “I know Mine and Mine know Me.”

“Knowing” God has always meant living in right relationship with God. This implies a love for God with all our mind, heart and being. This love is evidenced in the way we live and is not a mere intellectual knowing. We are the flock. Do we “know” the Shepherd? Do we trust that we are not left alone or to our own devices? Do we believe that “God’s mercy endures forever?”

Two weeks ago, our Holy Father Pope Francis reminded the Church (that’s us) that “it’s time to return to the basics and bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters.” He holds before us justice and mercy and reminds us that these “are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love.”

‘Justice Is Mercy’

He writes: “God’s justice is mercy” and challenges us to be “opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes modern society itself creates.”

Perhaps in the proclaiming of jubilee and declaring a Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis, our chief shepherd, is calling each of us by name and reminding us of what we already know. He’s also challenging us to be that mercy in our world.

At every Sunday Eucharist we’re offered the assurance that God is “constantly at work within us.” We need be present to this tender mercy. With the bread and wine at the offertory we are invited to offer ourselves to be changed and renewed. Easter is God’s promise to do just that.

At this halfway point in the great 50 days, may we believe and live in the truth that, as Pope Francis has said, “Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”

As we open ourselves to those “spirit moments,” let us keep each other in prayer.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter         

Acts 4: 8-12

Psalm 118: 1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29

1 John 3: 1-2

John 10: 11-18

Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J., a trained spiritual director and retreat facilitator, is a pastoral associate/family minister at St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish, Jamaica.

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