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Breaking Open the Word

7th Sunday of Easter May 12, 2024

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Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9 

Ephesians 1:17-23 

Mark 16:15-20

Acts 1:1-11


The first reading is the beginning of The Acts of the Apostles. This is the second volume written by Luke, an immediate continuation of his gospel writing. In both books he begins by addressing Theophilus, an unknown person whose name has an interesting translation, literally “Friend of God.” Luke introduces his gospel to Theophilus (Luke 1:1-4) with a prologue, and ends his gospel with a brief story of Christ’s Ascension (Luke 24:50-53). He begins Acts with a prologue (Acts1:1-5) in which he describes in detail the 40 days following the Resurrection. This time leaves us wondering, the appearances of Christ are curious, mysterious, other-worldly: still bearing His wounds, He has a physical but enhanced body: He can appear and disappear, He can mask His identity, He eats, and He was aware of the apostle’s conversations when He was not present. The gospel tell us these are signs on His Resurrection. But this was a time of teaching His followers about the Kingdom of God, and though He tried to do this before His death on the cross, they were now paying a lot more attention to Him. The most important message was that Jesus was alive- the Resurrection would be the prime message to the world.

Then Luke continues to describe the Ascension in greater detail than the gospel, just before Jesus ascends into Heaven. When the apostles knew their time with Jesus was short they sensed the urgency and asked a somewhat desperate question: “is this now the time you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” They reveal in their question that they still think in terms of restoring the glorious days of kings David and Solomon; they still don’t get it. But Jesus, knowing by the question that they don’t yet understand His “kingdom”, gently tells them it is not theirs to know the time. Now 2000 years later, His answer seems obvious, we have come to accept it: Christianity is lived in the present. Jesus knew they would need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to understand the kingdom of God.

The Acts of the Apostles could also be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit; every chapter is filled with the effects of the gifts of Holy Spirit indwelling in the disciples. Through the Spirit it could also be called the Acts of the early Church, you can read how the message of Jesus spread.

The responsorial is from Psalm 47, and with every word it sounds like the reception Jesus received from all the heavenly inhabitants on His arrival. But the joy was not just in heaven, read the end of Luke- “As Jesus blessed them and parted from them and was taken up into heaven, they did Him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24:52-53).

The second reading is St. Paul praising God and basically telling his vision and purpose in Christ’s Ascension. It is word intensive and filled with praise and glory and worth reading more than once to take it all in. He also describes how Jesus is the head of His Church, which is His mystical body (Eph 1:22-23).

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Gospel Explained

How do we make sense of the Ascension? A departure is always sad, yet they were filled with joy and praised God as recounted by Luke in his gospel. So they could not have felt abandoned, that Jesus was now in a far away place, but had a new presence. Since God is everywhere, Jesus, who went to the Father at His right hand, is now everywhere, a continuous closeness, not just a man in Bethany. The apostles could feel it, and that’s why they were praising God. He did not abandon His disciples, nor did He leave us to make our journey to salvation alone.

Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit: “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs” (verse 20). The miracles the disciples performed in Jesus' name confirmed for them His divine presence throughout their mission to carry the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. They knew where their power came from and they gave Jesus the credit.

In the Sacraments Jesus gave His Church, He continues to nourish, protect, and guide us on our journey to salvation and enable us to carry out our covenant obligations. The command the disciples received to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” is the same commissioning every baptized Christian receives in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Jesus calls us to take up the mantle of apostleship and to fearlessly proclaim the Gospel of salvation. If we are obedient to the same command Jesus gave His Apostles, then one day, when we also ascend to the heavenly kingdom of our Lord, He will welcome us with the words: "Well done, my good and faithful servant!"

Note the predictions of Jesus regarding His followers that came true: speaking new languages (Acts 2:4-8), laying hands on the sick and drive out demons (Act 5:16), Paul picked up a snake and lived (Acts 28:3-6). In addition, both Peter and Paul raised a person from the dead (Acts 9:36-42, Acts 20:7-12).

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Today's Theme

The theme for this Sunday’s readings is Emmanuel, meaning God is with us.

Matthew begins his gospel with the angel Gabriel telling Mary Jesus’ name (Matt 1:23), and referencing from Isaiah 7:14 and Daniel 7:14. Matthew ends his gospel with the same words, spoken by Jesus: “Behold, I am with you always.” This ending reminds us of the person of Jesus in his earthly life–the one who shared time and space with people, lived, and was present with them, and showed us how to “be holy like God is Holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

Jesus said He would never leave us. Think about this. Every week when we gather together, we listen to the liturgy of the Word (God speaking to us) and a homily, which are different every week. Then we begin the liturgy of the Eucharist which is the same with a few exceptions. It is easy to be lulled by the repetition, but think about it. We are not just witnessing the celebration, we are active participants. We all face the altar; we kneel, stand, sit, sing and we pray all as one. Then Jesus Himself presides invisibly over every Eucharistic celebration, yet visible through the priest acting in the person of Christ. We are joined by all the angels and saints in heaven and everyone who died and live in God’s glory. For a few minutes, surrounded by heaven we share the Eucharist meal.

Around the year 155, St. Justin Martyr wrote to the emperor to explain what Christians worshiped. It describes the Mass at that time that you would recognize as essentially the same as our Mass today. You can read his letter in your Catechism (CCC 1345).

The Catholic Church is the mystical body of Christ, with Jesus as the head. As you read the Acts of the Apostles, keep with this thought and you can see that Jesus never left, as He said, it is His Church. When Paul (Saul) was blinded by the light, he heard a voice speak to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” Paul said “Who are you sir?” And the reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:3-5).

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Theme in our Life Today

Imagine the apostles: Wait, Jesus, your leaving and not returning? Why, after only 3 years in the public, and after His incredible Resurrection? Nearly all of us have lost loving, amazing, wonderful people either through death or distance and we know what it’s like to miss them greatly. Had Jesus remained on earth, sight would have replaced faith. But St. Paul says we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).

Even as Jesus left, consider how quickly those apostles spread the faith around the immediate world, to Jews, Greeks, Samaritans, Gentiles, Romans, and others, all after receiving the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came not to replace Christ, but to allow Christ to dwell in our hearts. The sacraments of initiation, Baptist and Confirmation, open the door to the indwelling of the Spirit. The sacraments of Eucharist and Confession allow Christ to dwell in our hearts through the graces received. We have God with us in the Eucharist every day if you desire. What a simple way Jesus intimately chose to be near us, just as He said He would be, in the most simple of foods, made of only wheat and water, compact and easy to distribute to everyone who receives.

God is with us in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us. We are temples of the Holy Spirit. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, council, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1-2). They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them (CCC 1831). The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the church lists 12 of them: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (Gal 5:22-23, CCC 1832). You can measure your openness to the Holy Spirit working in your life by these fruits. In people we know who exemplify these gifts and fruits, “God is with us” through Christ in them. And to the degree we are open the will of the Father and to the grace from Jesus to practice them, we are “God is with us” to the world.

In The Lord’s Prayer, we say “thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Jesus lived His life in the fullest example of this petition in His obedience to the Father. You can’t earn your way into heaven just by obeying the commandments and doing good works, but by aligning your will with Christ (as it is in heaven) you become an imperfect but trying human participant in the heavenly kingdom, practicing the 4 spiritual virtues: Justice, Wisdom, Courage, and Moderation (Wisdom 8:5-7).

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Prepare for Sunday

1. Examine your life in how you exemplify the fruits of the Holy Spirit

2. Place your focus at Mass on the super-presence of Christ

3. During Communion, ponder and sense the presence of Christ in every person

Let us pray:

(A prayer of St. Augustine)

You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised:

great is your power and your wisdom is without measure.

And man, so small a part of your creation,

wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality

and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud.

Despite everything, man, though but a small part of your creation,

wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise,

for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.


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