Living the readings: Out of the darkness

The Lord is with us—in the Kingdom all is light

by Father Joseph Brando

Spring brings the earth to life. The air is warmer; the grass is greener; the sunsets are later; and our lives become more enjoyable. However, it isn’t merely the movement of stars and planets that makes this season so delightful.

Consider the role of the divine responding to our prayers that makes relationships among people bearable and even downright exquisite. Without our Creator’s intervention into human affairs our lives would not be worth living. There would be painful problems of relationship between nations, among neighbors, and even within our own families.

That’s why it is a necessary task for us each spring to consider the clash of darkness and light as a basic problem of reality. During Lent we search our soul and its relationship with God. We come to name the sources of sin in our own lives and pray to God to free us from what drives us into darkness.

The result of winning the battle over personal evil is the joy of walking joyfully with God and all the fine people He has put in our lives. Now that the Easter season is almost here, we can change the scope of our searching to the level of the divine. We look for evidence of God’s work of answering prayer and uniting people in various relationships.

During this coming Easter season it will be a wise and happy occupation for us to meditate on the events of the most important time in sacred as well as human history. For our consideration in the months of April and May, we look to the liturgical calendar and find a treasure for our minds and hearts. Starting from Palm Sunday, we cover Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, and the Ascension of Jesus to Heaven.

We begin with Palm Sunday. Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem brought to the surface problems between Jesus, the Son of God, and the religious establishment in Israel. The crowd that Jesus brought with him included many people who were cured of illnesses physical, mental, and social. They followed the Son of David with utmost joy. That same group, however, appeared to the citizens of Jerusalem as an imminent danger.

In the Gospel for the Palm Sunday procession, Matthew writes, “When he (Jesus) entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken.” The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah starts with this 700-year-old prediction, “The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I may know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.”

Matthew’s Passion is the Gospel for the Mass, and he highlights the internal angst of Judas and Peter. Judas had the opportunity to hand Jesus over to the religious authorities, and he had to manage the anxiety such a possibility would generate in his heart. Peter, on the other hand, outwardly boasted he would never betray Jesus. Nevertheless, the Lord predicted correctly that Peter would deny him three times.

When Jesus went aside to pray in the Garden of Olives, he sweated blood. It was a dark night indeed. Before it was over Jesus was a prisoner being charged with a capital offense and undergoing cruel treatment.

If that night was dark, it did not go away on Good Friday. It only got worse with an eclipse of the sun and Jesus’ death. It was even more morose as the disciples shuttered the windows of the Upper Room so it could serve as a hiding place.

As bad as the situation was for the disciples, Easter Sunday proved there is no evil that staying in relationship with the Christ couldn’t overcome. The Easter Sunday liturgies consist of two Masses: one for the morning and the other for the evening. The earlier Gospel tells of Mary of Magdala. The evening narrates the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. None of the three recognized Jesus at first. And, their reaction to recognizing Jesus was the same.

Excitedly they ran from where they saw the Lord to the Upper Room to tell Peter. Out of the most miserable darkness, these disciples were becoming filled with the eternal light of relationship with the Lord. From there on out Christ is still extending His brilliance from person to person throughout the world. And each of us is part of this dynamic.

The first Sunday after Easter has appropriately been dedicated as Divine Mercy Sunday. This Sunday highlights the story of Thomas who did not hide in the Upper Room on Easter and missed seeing the risen Christ. And, during the ensuing week, denied that Jesus was alive.

The next Sunday Christ appeared and responded to Thomas’ request to touch Jesus’ wounds and side. He responded by making a profound act of faith in the risen Christ as his Lord and God. Peter, years later, wrote in his first epistle that the resurrection gives us a new birth. What a glorious attitude to maintain in our souls!

Peter takes the center stage in the Third Sunday of Easter. The first reading is his sermon to the crowd that formed after the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in the Upper Room. He accused the Israelites of killing Jesus. Yet, by announcing that Jesus was no longer dead, it was part of God’s plan.

So, we can all live in peace with the awareness that the Holy Spirit can enlighten our hearts with the gift of his presence. Spring, then, can be with us forever.

A passage from Peter’s first epistle serves as the second reading. He assures us that the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, ransoms us from our fruitless past. The darkness of guilt makes way for our faith and hope. Life becomes an eternal spring because we live in the life of God.

The fourth Sunday of Easter has long been considered Good Shepherd Sunday because of the Mass’ Gospel. Nevertheless, once again, Peter remains on center stage. His Pentecost Sunday sermon here comes to a strong finish. Luke writes that the people listening beg to find out what they should do next.

Peter’s answer is “repent and be baptized.” To repent is to make a choice of world views. Do we want to live in darkness or in the light of God’s spring? Luke also reports that 3,000 people joined the Church that day.

With that many people joining, the symbol of the Good Shepherd is very appropriate. The Lord is a shepherd who leads from the front. Where he is we would want to be there with him. We need to continue to hear his voice and follow it all the way to paradise. The alternative is to be stolen by false shepherds who lead us to confusion. Once again eternal life is a choice we can make right here where we can already enjoy, through faith and hope, the light of heaven.

Mothers should enjoy having the Fifth Sunday of Easter fall on Mother’s Day. The first reading centers on the institution of the ecclesiastic office of deacon. But the situation that made their function necessary was the care of widows. At a time when the Twelve Apostles were still strongly overseeing the welfare of the Church, one of its special ministries was caring for widows who could not care for themselves. When some widows were accidentally neglected, this was considered a major problem that had to be solved.

So, the light of grace filled the leaders of the early church. The Gospel bears this out. John points out that the opposite of faith in God is to have troubled hearts. Applying this principle to the problem of the widows: where there was trouble (as with some widows not being cared for) there was a lack of faith. The faithful feel the cry of the poor and solve the problem. That is an attitude of being light to the world, a person of faith.

The Sixth Sunday of Easter fits in well with the previous Sundays in that they center on Christ being the Light of our lives. A good example of this is the story of Phillip winning over the Samaritans. Upon reporting the great things happening there, such as the curing of paralytics and cripples as well as freeing people from unclean spirits, the Apostles in Jerusalem made the trip to Samaria to confirm them in the Holy Spirit. They were aware the Samaritans hadn’t been living in the fullness of the Trinity. Christians need to be sensitive to the spiritual and corporal needs of others and care for each other. This keeps the light and life of God alive in our communities. We should be living that lifestyle in our parishes.

The last Sunday in May happens to be the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. The first reading of the Mass is Luke’s account of Jesus’ ascending to heaven. Luke reports that the Lord “presented himself alive by many proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Talking about the Kingdom of God is especially important.

The kingdom is a common relationship consisting of all those baptized in Christ with Christ himself. It is filled with the spring-like feel of the power of Christ, the light of the Holy Spirit, and the infinite love of the Father. We are alive in the Trinity. One of the benefits of prayer is to enhance the experience of our unity with the Trinity.

Luke, then, writes that Jesus said the Holy Spirit will soon come upon them and that they will be witnesses of God to the whole world. (Christianity is not a local religion and excludes no one.) Then Luke tells us the Christians who were at the Ascension continued to look at the sky where Jesus had ascended. Looking at the sky is not a way of following Christ.

Then, two unknown men in white stood beside them and told them, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” Rather than looking for heaven we need to be rooted in heaven and with Jesus himself so that when people hear us they hear the risen Christ alive in heaven where we can soon be.

In Matthew’s rendition of the same scene we can find some other facts. First, some of the 11 disciples harbored doubts. Second, Matthew gives us a direct quote from Christ. He tells them, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

The Lord is with us; in the Kingdom the darkness is cast out. All is light.

Have a great spring.

Father Brando is retired from the active priesthood in the Diocese of Knoxville.

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