"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." [1 Pet. 1:3] My brothers and sisters in Christ, a week ago, we celebrated the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus on Easter Sunday. Today, we are reminded:(1) of the free gift of the new birth that we have received:
(2) that the free gift was given to us through the love, mercy and grace of our Heavenly Father;
(3) that the Heavenly Father gave up His only beloved Son as the sacrificial Lamb; and
(4) that through His perfect sacrifice, we may now share in the living hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.Today's First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles [Acts 2:42-7] made reference to what it was like in the earliest days of the Catholic Church, in those days immediately after the glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus. In that reading, we heard the manner in which the Christians of the early Church worshipped.
The believers who welcomed the message of Peter, the first Pope, they received the Sacrament of Baptism in order to be admitted into the Body of Christ. Wholeheartedly, they devoted themselves to doing four things. [Acts 2:42](1) They learned and practiced the teachings of the apostles, these being teachings that Jesus had personally taught to the apostles.
(2) They worshipped in fellowship. Living a good life was not sufficient in those days, nor nowadays, to be called a faithful. Those who believed in Jesus had to demonstrate their faith by gathering with other believers during which time they prayed, they sang, they praised God, they witnessed to the work of the Holy Spirit, etc...
(3) They participated in the breaking of bread. In other words, they received the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
(4) Finally, the believers devoted themselves to the prayers. By this, it is meant that they were saying the prayers that were favoured in those days when the Church was being established. Such may have consisted of saying the Our Father, some of the Psalms that were commonly known in those days, and other prayers that were appropriate for the services that were taking place.From this knowledge, it is made known that what the Church leadership expected of the believers in the early days of the Church was no different than what is expected today.
In those days, to build the Church, the Holy Spirit manifested many wonders and signs through the apostles. As a result of these wonders and signs, awe came upon everyone. [Acts 2:43] Why was the Holy Spirit manifesting so many miracles? It was for three reasons.(1) First of all, it was to draw the people towards the Apostles.
(2) Secondly, it affirmed that the apostles were servants of the One true God.
(3) Thirdly, it was to affirm that the building of the Church was according to the Divine Will.In summary, through the wonders and signs, the people were drawn to the Apostles who were guided to admit them into the Church Of Jesus through the Sacrament of Baptism.
Over and above their worshipping, the believers sold their possessions and goods and distributed the proceeds to all according to their needs. [Acts 2:44-5] Why did they do this? It was because the faithful believed that Jesus would soon return and that they no longer would have a need for their personal possessions. Some had even left their employment in the hope of the soon to be return of Jesus. In his preaching, Saint Paul corrected some of the believers regarding their false understanding of the Second Coming of Jesus.
Throughout the centuries, many have tried to live according to this way of life, selling their goods and sharing all what they have with a community of faithful. They read in the Holy Bible how communal life was done in the early days of the Church but failed to read the admonition of St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-3 where it states: "As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction."
As we are gathered here today in the Church which is the Temple of God, the early Christians also came together in the Temple. [Acts 2:46] As we praise God together, they also praised God together. As we have the goodwill of all the people at heart, so did our early Church brothers and sisters. [Acts 2:47]
Today's Second Reading from the First Letter of Peter [1 Pet. 1:3- 9] consisted of the first papal document that was sent to the Christians of Asia Minor to explain the new life that is received through the Sacrament of Baptism. Its purpose was to enlighten the believers so that they may rejoice in the salvation and new life that they had received from God.
Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we as Christians shared in the death of Jesus so we may share in His life. Having been baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into His death. [Rom. 5:3] Having been buried with Him into death, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too will walk in the newness of life. [Rom. 5:4] Having been united with Christ in death, we will certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. [Rom. 5:5] We know that our old self was crucified with Jesus so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. [Rom. 5:6]
During our new birth, we were admitted into the Body of Christ during which time we have received the indwelling Holy Spirit as our "first instalment" [Eph. 1:13-4; 2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5] towards the imperishable inheritance that awaits us all in Heaven. [1 Pet. 1:4] The Christian inheritance is not of this world. Our hope is laid up for us in Heaven with the saints in the light. [Col. 1:5, 12; Lk. 12:33]
By the grace of God, we are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [1 Pet. 1:5] "Do you suppose that it is for nothing that the Scripture says, 'God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?'" [Jas. 4:5] To protect our new creation made of the seed of God, [1 Jn. 3:8] God placed His Holy Spirit within all of us so that we may follow His statutes, to keep and obey His ordinances.
If we have to suffer various trials for a little while, we should rejoice in knowing that our temporary sufferings are nothing compared to what awaits those who persevere to the end. Compared to the eternal life that we are called to enjoy, our present life shall be as a mere second in time. Therefore, let us rejoice for what awaits us.
On the subject of suffering, while God permits suffering to cross the path of our lives, He does not create the suffering itself. He allows us as individuals to experience suffering in order to test the genuineness of our faith. Are we going to imitate those who curse God when suffering comes their way? Or will we blame God for having created a situation that was man made through the free will of others? In our subjective thinking, are we going to fall short of perceiving that suffering sanctifies those who persevere? For in all things, during the day or the night, in health or in illness, in joy or in suffering, God should always be glorified.
Those who persevere in their suffering, they enjoy a "living faith." Their "perseverance" which is their "works" affirms that "faith without works is dead!" [Jas. 2:26] "For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life." [Eph. 2:10]
Speaking to the Ephesians, St. Paul stated, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing..." [Eph. 2:8] These words echo today's words of St. Peter, "For you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." [1 Pet 1:9] In gratitude for the gift of life that we have received, although we have not seen God, we love Him. Although we do not see Him now, we believe in Him and rejoice in the assurance that through Christ, we shall receive our blessed hope.
Today's reading from the Gospel of John [Jn. 20:19-31] provided us with an account of what Jesus did after His glorious Resurrection. The reading began by telling us that on the evening that Jesus rose from the dead, He came and stood among His disciples who had gathered behind locked doors. Take note that this appearance was still on the day of the Resurrection of Jesus, on the first day of the week that we celebrated last week as Easter Sunday. [Jn. 20:19]
If you recall when Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb in the morning of His resurrection, He told her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father." [Jn. 20:17] Now, appearing to His disciples during the same evening, He breath upon them the Holy Spirit [Jn. 20:22] in fulfillment of His promise to do so [Jn. 7:39] after ascending to the Father. [Jn. 15:26, 16:7] From this reading, it is revealed that on the same day, on Easter Sunday, Jesus:(1) resurrected,
(2) ascended to the Father, and
(3) gave the Holy Spirit to the apostles.In other words, while we celebrate the events of Easter and Pentecost on separate Sundays, we are celebrating two events that actually happened on the same day about twelve hours apart.
After saying, "Peace be with you," Jesus breathed on His disciples and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." [Jn. 20:21-2] In his reporting of this event, John used the same Greek verb "breathed" that is found in the Book of Genesis where it states, "Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being." [Gen. 2:7] This implies that when the Holy Spirit was bestowed upon the apostles, they became new creations just as the first man became a new creation when he received his human spirit at the moment of his creation.
From today's reading, we also find explicit evidence that Jesus was nailed to the cross versus being tied to it as was often the custom. Over and above Jesus showing His hands and His side to the disciples, [Jn. 20:20] there is a reference to the statement of Thomas who said, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." [Jn. 20:25] This evidence clearly reveals the unbearable suffering that Jesus endured to manifest His Divine love for us.
When Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." [Jn. 20:21] He was commissioning the Church through His disciples and their apostolic succession to perpetuate the work of Divine salvation that had been realized through His death and Resurrection.
Then Jesus said, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." [Jn. 20:23] Through these Sacred Words, Jesus established the Sacrament of Confession, giving the authority of forgiveness to His disciples and their apostolic succession. According to Catholic Tradition, this act of Jesus has always been perceived as the origin of the Sacrament of Confession. It should be added that the Church's power over sin is also exercised in the Sacrament of Baptism and the preaching of the redemptive Word.
Now we come to doubting Thomas. When Jesus appeared to the disciples for the first time, only ten were present. Judas, the traitor, and Thomas were absent. As we heard, Jesus appeared one week later, [Jn. 20:26] also on a Sunday, and challenged Thomas to put his finger in His wounds. [Jn. 20:27] The Scriptures do not reveal to us if Thomas ever needed to touch Jesus or not. What we do know is that the eyes of Thomas were opened and he said, "My Lord and my God!" [Jn. 20:28] The glorious Resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate evidence that Thomas needed to prove to him that the friendship He had enjoyed with Jesus for the past three years was indeed a friendship with God incarnated in human form. [Col. 1:19, 2:9] At that moment, Thomas must have been overcome with awe.
At the end of this event, Jesus said to Thomas, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." [Jn. 20:29] These Words affirm that miracles, signs, wonders, healing, speaking in tongues, etc... "may assist" [Jn. 4:48, 10:38] the seeker of faith. But it is through the preaching of the Word of God itself that the question of faith or disbelief is finalized. Did St. Paul not ask, "But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim Him?" [Rom. 10:14] "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" [Rom. 10:15]
Jesus did many others signs in the presence of His disciples, those not being recorded in the Holy Bible. [Jn. 20:30] What has been written is sufficient for us to believe that Jesus came on earth as the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through our believing we may have life in His Name. [Jn. 20:30] For it is in the Name of Jesus that we experience our new birth into a living hope, a hope that will never disappoint us.