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Breaking Open the Word


May 21, 2023

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The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is 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 sure makes sense to us, and we have come to accept Jesus’ answer. Jesus knew they would need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to understand the kingdom.

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.

The responsorial is from Psalm 47, and would with every word sound like the reception Jesus received from all the heavenly inhabitants on His arrival.

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.

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Gospel Explained

There are four “alls” in this text: Jesus has all authority given to him, we are to make disciples of all nations, we are to teach that we should obey all that he commanded during his earthly life, and the promise that closes is that he will be with us always. These four “alls” capture much of what the paragraph intends to communicate and also the central message of the Gospel of Matthew.

Ten days after the apostles see Jesus rise up to heaven, starting at Pentecost (which the Church calls its birthday), the disciples immediately go out and proclaim the message of Jesus. The entire story in the Acts of The Apostles documents the extent of this commission.

We can understand why some would doubt or hesitate. Nothing in their experience has prepared them for what they are seeing, except the resurrection of Lazarus, which is not recorded in this Gospel (see John 11). Jesus could understand this doubt, because earlier He stated: “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Now Jesus’ own disciples are experiencing a bit of doubt as they see Jesus risen from the dead.

The Ascension was in Jesus’ plan from the beginning. In John 16:7 He told the apostles- “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”

In order to absorb the full impact of Jesus’ Ascension, consider all the major moments of His life: His Incarnation, which made it possible for Him to humanly live, to experience temptations, pain and suffering, weariness, frustration, and evil; His passion and Crucifixion, in which He suffered and died to allow the redemption of sins; His Resurrection, which showed us that death could not contain Him and that there is life after death, and and His Ascension, which opened up heaven to all believers.

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Today's Theme

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

Matthew begins his gospel with the angel 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 space and time with people, lived, and was present with them, and showed us what God is like.

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 is 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 pray all as one. And Jesus Himself presides invisibly over every Eucharistic celebration, 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 entered heaven. And for a few minutes, we share in heaven with the Eucharist while surrounded by heaven.

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 greatest thing about being a Catholic is that you can participate in the celebration of the Mass every day of the week. What other religion offers this? Have a crisis or loss or tragedy in your life? The next morning you can find comfort in attending Mass. And it doesn’t matter if you are local or nearly anywhere in the world, this is true. The more you feel the presence of Jesus at Mass in the Eucharist, the more you turn to Jesus at Mass for His comfort and peace. God with us.

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Theme in our Life Today

Imagine the apostles: Wait, Jesus, you’re 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). Would that He be a 2000-year-old man, living in Jerusalem? With everyone wanting to make an annual or once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to see Him? Or would He be making trips around the world, showing up by surprise to an individual like He did to St. Paul? Or would there be scheduled multi-city tours at a huge venue with ticket sales, and awesome blessings, healings, and communions, for the lucky ones who could attend the “God is With Us!” event?

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 simplest of foods, 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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