Engaging the Gospel – Third Sunday of Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter (Year C): Gospel – John 21:1-19

In a scene that calls to mind Peter’s previously denying Jesus three times, the Risen Christ asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Peter responds with three declarations of love, and each time, Christ charges him to care for His flock.

St John Paul II reflected on the meaning of this exchange in Ut Unum Sint, his encyclical letter On Commitment to Ecumenism:

It is just as though, against the backdrop of Peter’s human weakness, it were made fully evident that his particular ministry in the Church derives altogether from grace. It is as though the Master especially concerned Himself with Peter’s conversion as a way of preparing him for the task He was about to give him in His Church (91).

As the heir to the mission of Peter in the Church, which has been made fruitful by the blood of the Princes of the Apostles, the Bishop of Rome exercises a ministry originating in the manifold mercy of God. This mercy converts hearts and pours forth the power of grace where the disciple experiences the bitter taste of his personal weakness and helplessness (92).

Associating himself with Peter’s threefold profession of love, which corresponds to the earlier threefold denial, his Successor knows that he must be a sign of mercy. His is a ministry of mercy, born of an act of Christ’s own mercy (93).

Saint Augustine, after showing that Christ is ‘the one Shepherd, in Whose unity all are one,’ goes on to exhort: ‘May all shepherds thus be one in the one Shepherd; may they let the one voice of the Shepherd be heard; may the sheep hear this voice and follow their Shepherd, not this shepherd or that, but the only One; in Him may they all let one voice be heard and not a babble of voices…the voice free of all division, purified of all heresy, that the sheep hear.’

The mission of the Bishop of Rome within the College of all the Pastors consists precisely in ‘keeping watch’ (episkopein), like a sentinel, so that, through the efforts of the Pastors, the true voice of Christ the Shepherd may be heard in all the particular Churches…

This primacy is exercised on various levels, including vigilance over the handing down of the Word, the celebration of the Liturgy and the Sacraments, the Church’s mission, discipline and the Christian life…He has the duty to admonish, to caution and to declare at times that this or that opinion being circulated is irreconcilable with the unity of faith (94).

Question for reflection: When has the Lord given me an opportunity to make amends?

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Spiritual value of work

No matter what kind of work we do – whether inside or outside the home – our daily duties have a spiritual dimension.

The Church offers us a rich theology of work, what St John Paul II calls a “gospel of work,” that may revolutionize how we see our workaday lives. In Laborem Exercens, JPII explains that we are in fact collaborating with God’s work of both creation and redemption.

“The Church finds in the very first pages of the Book of Genesis the source of her conviction that work is a fundamental dimension of human existence on earth.” God created us in His image and gave us the task of earthly stewardship. “In carrying out this mandate, man, every human being, reflects the very action of the Creator of the universe” (4).

This truth took on special resonance when God became man in Jesus, and worked in St Joseph’s carpentry shop. Jesus “belongs to the ‘working world’…He looks with love upon human work and the different forms that it takes, seeing in each one of these forms a particular facet of man’s likeness with God, the Creator and Father” (26).

And the “sweat and toil” of our work likewise give us a share in Christ’s work:

This work of salvation came about through suffering and death on a Cross. By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity. He shows himself a true disciple of Christ by carrying the cross in his turn every day in the activity that he is called upon to perform. The Christian finds in human work a small part of the Cross of Christ and accepts it in the same spirit of redemption in which Christ accepted His Cross for us (27).

The True Meaning of Freedom

Too often in our society, freedom is taken to mean the ability to do whatever we want. But if we follow that illusion, we end up being unhappy.

In reality, freedom isn’t about being free from all constraints; rather, freedom is about being free for something, the ability to choose the good.

God gave us the gift of free will to choose Him and to live in accordance with His will for us. Because He created us, He knows what is best for us, what behavior contributes to our human flourishing and happiness.

This moral law is encoded within our very being as human persons. Whenever we flout the moral law in the name of “freedom,” we go against the truth of God’s design for us and actually deliver ourselves up to slavery to sin.

But Jesus liberates us from bondage to sin, gives us true freedom, and empowers us to live in His friendship. As disciples, we are called to follow Jesus in freely giving ourselves for the good of others.

St John Paul II explains this beautifully in Veritatis Splendor: “Human freedom…is given as a gift, one to be received like a seed and to be cultivated responsibly” (86).

Our “freedom of conscience is never freedom ‘from’ the truth but always and only freedom ‘in’ the truth” (64).

Jesus is “the living, personal summation of perfect freedom in total obedience to the will of God.” Through contemplation of Jesus on the Cross, we grasp “the full meaning of freedom: the gift of self in service to God and one’s brethren” (87).

God’s Inspiring Plan for the Family

Today’s celebration of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a sign of the dignity of the family itself, and a call to live up to God’s inspiring plan for our own families.

Marriage and family life have profoundly theological dimensions, as St. John Paul II explains in Familiaris Consortio.

God Himself is the author of marriage: He created man and woman as complementary partners, designed for a matrimonial union, to cooperate with Him in the extraordinary gift of transmitting new life. Husband and wife therefore enjoy a “unique participation in the mystery of life and of the love of God Himself” (29).

Parents are to bring children up in the faith – a task so important that St. Thomas Aquinas “has no hesitation in comparing it with the ministry of priests” (38). The family thereby fulfills its vocation of being a “domestic church.”

The family is also “the first and fundamental school of social living,” with each member called to self-giving for the others (37).

“The essence and role of the family” is summed up by love: “the mission to guard, reveal, and communicate love,” as “a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride” (17).

And to the lonely, John Paul offers a special word: “No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone” (85).

Christ the King

It is providential that this blog arose from my volunteering at the Cathedral of Christ the King, because faith formation helps others to recognize and welcome the Kingship of Christ.

Although the imagery of Christ as King is ancient, its annual liturgical celebration is relatively new – calling to mind St. Augustine’s cry to God, “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new.”

Pope Pius XI established the feast of Christ the King in his 1925 encyclical, Quas Primas.

In Quas Primas, Pius XI issues a clarion call to embrace the Kingship of Christ in every aspect of our lives:

He must reign in our minds…. He must reign in our wills…. He must reign in our hearts…. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls…. If all these truths are presented to the faithful for their consideration, they will prove a powerful incentive to perfection.

Quas Primas, 33

The goal of faith formation is not simply to further knowledge in an intellectual sense alone, but to deepen our relationship with Christ.

By studying the beauty, depth, and richness of our Catholic faith, we are inspired to respond ever more to God’s grace and grow in holiness.

The more we let go of ourselves and surrender to Christ, the more we experience His peace and joy, even amid difficulties and sufferings. We remember that our time on earth is short, and this life is but a preparation for eternity.

Through honoring Christ’s Kingship in our daily lives, we prepare ourselves to enter into His heavenly kingdom, where our deepest human longings will be fulfilled.

But what does it mean to entrust ourselves to Christ, and how do we do so?

We come to know Christ through the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition, two expressions of the one Divine Revelation handed on by the Church.

We converse with Him in prayer, both privately and in the prayer we lift up as part of the universal Church.

We encounter Him in the sacraments that He instituted, above all the Eucharist.

We meet Him in our neighbor, so that our faith takes on the practical aspect of moral living, in right relationship with each other.

All of these elements – beliefs, worship, moral life, and prayer – are set forth in great detail in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

For this reason, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged us to study the Catechism in a special way during the Year of Faith that he inaugurated last October.

As a result, I have been summarizing the Catechism, topic by topic. These summaries will now find a home on this blog.