Fifty days of rejoicing lead the faithful to feast of Pentecost
By Father Joseph Brando
In this previous column, we explored the entire season of Lent. Today, we will delve into the Sundays of the Easter season, including the great day of Pentecost.
Since we are covering twice as many Sundays we’re devoting half the space on each Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word in order to fit the allotted space. So, here we go.
The 40 days of Lent prepared us, by means of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, for Christ’s resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. Easter, in turn, generates 50 days of rejoicing culminating at the great feast of Pentecost. During that time, the liturgy presents us with a roadmap to glory. Each stop (Sunday) along the way gives us new insight into living with the risen Christ. We could give a name to identify the Sundays of Easter. The second Sunday of Easter (the first Sunday was Easter, itself), already has a name, Divine Mercy Sunday. The next five don’t have special names; but we can apply names to more easily identify the message they convey to us. So, we have Follow Me, Salvation, Renewal, New, and Peace. Finally, we have Ascension and Pentecost.
The Gospel for Divine Mercy Sunday presents the quintessential lesson for living the Christian faith. We forgive. Thomas not only insisted that the other 10 apostles did not see the risen Christ, he did so obnoxiously. Yet, after a week, he was still with them when Jesus appeared to them again. The community patiently loved Thomas until he saw the risen Christ and humbled himself, declaring Christ to be “my Lord and my God.” Had those in the Upper Room told Thomas to leave them, we might not have the important insight that Jesus is raised from the dead, and is our Lord and God. Christians should be inclusive and forgiving and, therefore, unified and joyous.
The first reading on Divine Mercy Sunday presents us an insight into Christian healing. People brought out their infirm relatives to have Peter’s shadow fall on them and they would all be healed. Peter’s aura signified his closeness to Christ. Our relationship to God can be a healing power effective for all who come to know us.
The second reading takes us to Patmos, the prison colony where Christians were sent by Roman authorities. One of the detainees gives us his name, John. He tells us details of the time he was “caught in the spirit.” His story begins with him hearing a loud voice behind him. When he turned to look, he fell as if he were dead. Instead, the figure, who later turned out to be Christ, touched him and said, “Do not be afraid.” The Lord also heals us from perhaps the worst malady that inflicts human beings, namely fear. Fear probably causes all our wars, domestic or international. Christ can heal them all.
This Sunday we should get in contact with the Lord (we call this praying) and pray to be healed ourselves and for the power to heal others. It only takes an attitude similar to Peter’s.
The Third Sunday of Easter I have named “Follow Me” Sunday. It seems certain that Jesus wanted his apostles on the move and not returning to the comforts of home. True, Christ must be made present there. However, he needs people to bring his message to other homes, other areas, other countries all over the world. Could those called to bring Christ’s message and presence to others live in your home?
Taking a look at the Gospel, we see Peter and some of his fellow Apostles, who were fishermen themselves, doing what they knew best. It was after Jesus’ resurrection. The Lord was waiting for them on the shore cooking fish for their breakfast. But before eating, he had a point to make. After learning from his disciples they had caught no fish after trying all night, he told them to put out the nets once more on the other side of the boat.
When they complied they filled the nets with more fish than they could hold. By that time John realized it was the Lord. At hearing it was the Lord, Peter immediately jumped out of the boat and swam to the beach. Jesus had everyone eat together, then he took Peter aside. Peter apparently thought that after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension the journey was all over. He could return to his old way of life, fishing. No more following Jesus. Wrong idea!
Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loves Him. By the third time, Peter must have realized that Jesus had a problem with his staying-home concept. After each of Peter’s affirmative answers to “Do you love me,” Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep.” By the third time Peter is distressed. At the end of the dialogue Jesus just says, “FOLLOW ME.” That’s the bottom line. Peter and the other disciples are called to lead others. Together, we are called to follow Christ and bring him to others. We need to leave our comfortable boats and follow Christ. For Peter, it was to his execution in faraway Rome. For us, who knows?
What Peter did in response to this confrontation with Christ may be found in the first reading on this Sunday. The high priest and the ruling body of their country were demanding that the apostles do what they had wanted to do themselves, namely go home and mind their business. But now they were to “rejoice that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.”
To find out where the Lord wanted them to follow him we need go no farther than the second reading. We go back to Patmos to learn more of John’s vision. Here, in the midst of a grand assembly, is the throne and the Lamb “who was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.” Yes, the Lord we follow leads to being slain. However, there is more. Being slain is not the end. The journey continues to the New Jerusalem where the Lamb, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, reigns in glory.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter may very well be dubbed Salvation Sunday as the Gospel shows us Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Yes, we are his sheep and we do follow him. That begs the question “where are we going?” The answer is “to eternal life.” We are to end up with the Father for eternity.
With that settled, the second reading, from the Book of Revelation, gives us more specifics. John has a vision of a great multitude standing at God’s throne from everywhere wearing robes “made white in the blood of the Lamb.” The Lamb, himself, will shepherd us to life-giving water, wiping away every tear from our eyes. The pain of being a disciple in this life is worth it when we realize the rewards to come.
In the first reading, Paul and Barnabas have a mixed response in Antioch-in-Pisidia. The Jews there listened to them but refused to accept Christ. Paul and Barnabas told them “since you reject it [the word of God] and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. The Gentiles were delighted at what Paul and Barnabas told them. They accepted the faith in large numbers. Knowing that many were accepting salvation produced such a joy in Paul and Barnabas that it blotted out the disappointment of being thrown out of the town by the Jews.
The Fifth Sunday of Easter proclaims things that Christ’s resurrection makes all things new. So it can be called “New Sunday.” In the Gospel reading, the Lord gives us a new Commandment: love one another. If we all followed it we would have heaven on Earth.
In Revelation, John sees a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. It’s beautiful. It is where God dwells with the human race always. “The One who sat on the throne [God, the Father] said, Behold, I make all things new.”
Back with Paul and Barnabas at the end of what we now call Paul’s First Missionary Journey, they returned to Antioch and called the Church together. They told them that “they opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” Opening is a form of newness. And that is a function of the faith. It opens our minds and our souls to the always new presence of God.
The Sixth Sunday of Easter has the message of peace. The first reading recalls the major issue that threatened the unity of the early Church. The question was can we baptize Gentiles without circumcising or must we make all Christians Jewish first? The original apostles themselves were divided. Peter found himself switching from side to side. It was a difficult time. Finally, after collecting all the information and opinions, a meeting including all the apostles was called to make a final decision. It was: Gentiles can be baptized without becoming Jewish first. The letter written to announce the decision was received with great joy not only for its resolution of the dispute but also for how they did it. In times of discussion we gather all the Church leaders and pray to the Holy Spirit to discern the proper decision. What results is peace.
Returning to Patmos for more of John’s vision of the New Jerusalem, we learn that there are some important fixtures not found there. There is no sun, no moon, and no temple. The glory of God, Himself, provides the center of worship and all the light in the New Jerusalem. In fact, all our needs will be provided for in heaven. We will experience perfect peace along with everyone else.
The Gospel for this Peace Sunday makes the point with emphasis. We return to the Upper Room at the Last Supper where Jesus proclaims, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. … Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” So, the Lord will give us all the peace we need, but we must not allow troubles or fear destroy that peace. It’s up to us to accept God’s peace and reject whatever troubles or fears the world, flesh, or devil sends our way. This Sunday is an opportunity to accept God’s peace into our hearts.
The last two Sundays in this Easter season are the feast of the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. It seems most appropriate to move the celebration of an event that occurred on a Thursday 40 days after Easter to a Sunday. It would fit better with Easter and Pentecost. As a solemnity, it raises the dignity of the Eastertide program of Sundays and fits in thematically with the other Sundays as the day Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father.
Finally, we have the great feast of Pentecost. In dignity, there is no feast of greater rank. Of course, it commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in the Upper Room. As such, it relates the last event of Christ’s mission – Jesus’ greatest gift to us. In a sense, the event is still happening: in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, at times of momentous decisions for the Church and each one of us. Pentecost insures that Easter never ends. ■
Father Joe Brando is retired from the active priesthood in the Diocese of Knoxville.