Fr. Romanus' Letter of April 22nd
This Sunday’s gospel from John strikes a familiar tone with the narrative of Jesus as the good shepherd. In John’s gospel, Jesus revealed his identity through the “I am” utterances. There are seven of these utterances. Namely: “I am the Bread of Life” (Jn. 6:35); “I am the Light of the world” (Jn. 8:12); “I am the Gate” (Jn. 10:9); “I am the Good Shepherd” (Jn. 10:14); “I am the Resurrection and Life” (Jn. 11:25); “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn. 14:6); “I am the True Vine” (Jn. 15:1).
These sayings reveal the varied ways in which God provides for and safeguards his people. After experiencing the Holy Week and Triduum celebrations, it is not difficult to understand the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd. These celebrations highlight God’s unconditional love revealed through his son. They go to show how far God was willing to go for human redemption.
In today’s gospel, Jesus compares the Good Shepherd with a hired hand. When wild beasts threaten, the Good Shepherd stands his ground to protect his flock. This often involves putting himself in harm’s way, even to the point of sacrificing his life for the flock. On the other hand, a hired hand who has no investment in the flock abandons it and runs away when he senses danger. For him, the flock is not worth sacrificing his life.
The books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel contain condemnations of the bad shepherds of
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus laid down his life for his flock, as evident in our Good Friday service. Jesus reminds us that he laid down his life willingly, that is, without coercion. He laid it down that he might take it up again. Hence, the dying and rising of Christ manifest the supreme power of God, and reveal a God who is always in control of human destiny. One of the hallmarks of the Good Shepherd is the close bond he has with the flock. The Church helps to nourish that bond through the administration of the sacraments. A flock’s survival is also dependent on its willingness to cooperate with the shepherd and follow where the shepherd leads. A flock that follows its own designs will hardly survive.
In the gospel, Jesus refers to other sheep that also depend on him for leadership and guidance. This recognition is important in establishing common grounds for Christian unity and inter-religious dialogue. The recognition that Catholicism is not the only path to salvation was one of the major accomplishments of the Second Vatican Council. Ultimately, the goal is to have one flock and one shepherd. Hence, the importance of continuous prayer for Christian unity.
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus is the model of Christian leadership. We exercise leadership roles as parents, guardians, teachers, catechists, ministers, sponsors, et cetera. As Christian leaders, we have a responsibility to protect those entrusted to us. This is especially true in relation to the children entrusted to our care. We have to do everything to ensure their protection from abuse and danger. As we know, April is child protection month, when the Church places extra emphasis on the protection of children from abuse. Are we doing enough to ensure that those under our protection are safe?
Have a great week!
Fr. Romanus' Letter of April 15th
The narrative about the empty tomb on Easter Sunday hinted that Jesus did not abandon his body when he rose from the dead. Moreover, his body did not loose its human qualities, but remained a fusion of his two natures – humanity and divinity - in sync with the incarnation. The Church refers to Jesus’ risen body as the “glorious” or “glorified” body (Catechism of the Catholic Church, art. 999). Having no human limitations means Jesus could appear and disappear at will.
Last Sunday, Jesus appeared to his apostles, although the doors were locked (John 20:19). When Thomas who was absent during the appearance refused to believe, Jesus did not take offence. Instead, he visited a second time and invited Thomas to touch his body and feel the marks of his wounds (vs. 27-28). Thomas was overwhelmed after confirming that it was indeed Jesus and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (vs. 28). Jesus cautioned him not to persist in doubt, but to believe.
This Sunday’s gospel narrative follows on the heels of Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. After taking them on a Scripture discourse, they recognized him in the breaking of bread. Then, he vanished from their presence. The two disciples turned around and headed back to
As with last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus greeted them with peace, and asked why they were still troubled and skeptical. As with his proof to Thomas, Jesus invited them to touch his body and know that it is really him, not a ghost. He reasoned with them and reassured them since ghosts do not have flesh and bones. He proceeded to show them his hands and feet marked with the wounds of the cross. Upon realizing it was Jesus, they were overwhelmed with joy and their fears melted away.
To further eliminate any remaining doubt, Jesus asked for anything to eat. They gave him a piece of fish, and he ate it in their presence. It goes to show how far Jesus would go to carry us along and ensure that no one is left behind when the salvation train takes off. To question Jesus’ resurrection is to question the veracity of the gospels. Though the resurrection narratives differ slightly, they contain overwhelming evidence of its reality. Of course, this will be the last Sunday gospel proof of the resurrection immediately following Easter Sunday. If the resurrection were not a big deal, Jesus would not have spent so much time convincing his disciples that he was alive. The process of convincing the skeptical also meant exercising so much patience with human skepticism.
The resurrection of Christ says a lot about our future with God. As people of faith, we have a vision that transcends life on earth. While some in society believe that nothing follows after we are done with earthly life, as people of faith, we believe that real life begins after life on earth. The resurrection will mean an end to all impediments to happiness. It will mean an end to pain, suffering, and all the imperfections that besiege our earthly life. No wonder
Have a great week!
Fr. Romanus' Letter of April 8th
In this Sunday’s gospel, we read about the risen Christ appearing to his petrified disciples. As we know, fear leads to anxiety, restlessness, and intimidation. Hence, as a testimony to his abiding love, Jesus showers them with peace. “Peace be with you,” he said to them over and over. To help conquer their fears, he gave them the awesome gift of the Holy Spirit. He also gave them power to forgive sins, thereby entrusting them with the ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation.
One of the hallmarks of this encounter was the incredulity of Thomas who was absent during the visit. He simply refused to believe that the crucified Lord had actually risen and had appeared to his comrades. We should not be quick to judge him since it was unheard of (except in the case of Lazarus) that a dead person would come back to life after three days in the tomb. However, given their master’s predictions of rising on the third day and the raising of Lazarus, Thomas’ skepticism seems unwarranted.
Drawing from our gospel passage and parallel passages, the term ‘doubting Thomas’ is often used to describe one who refuses to believe something without direct, personal evidence. As a concept, skepticism is an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity about particular things or things in general. Today’s world boasts a lot of skeptics, especially in the area of religion. These skeptics doubt everything dealing with faith: the crucifixion, resurrection, creation, angels, heaven, hell, purgatory, etc. Unfortunately, some of these committed skeptics are baptized but non-practicing Catholics. Even some practicing Catholics find it hard resisting the strong lure of skepticism.
Scientific skepticism is certainly understandable given its emphasis on the empirical method. The empirical method questions the reliability of certain claims until they have been subjected to systematic investigation involving observation, verification, and analysis. Considering the rigors of the scientific method, science itself could reasonably be referred to as an organized form of skepticism.
As if anticipating a case of scientific skepticism, Jesus showed Thomas the nail marks on his hands and urged him to put his finger into his side where he was pierced. Then, he lovingly said to Thomas, “… do not be unbelieving, but believe.” That was the kind of evidence Thomas needed. Having satisfied his curiosity, Thomas proclaimed unequivocal faith in the risen Lord, stating, “My Lord and my God.” The good news is that Thomas’ doubt presented an opportunity for Jesus to bless present and future generations of believers who do not have to see to believe. That blessing extends to all of us whose faith is not based on science.
Liken the gospel, the first reading reminds us that to be Catholic or Christian is to belong to a community of believers. We are told that the early community of believers was of one heart and mind and had everything in common, sharing of their possessions. Those in religious orders seem to exemplify this way of life. For the rest of us, it is a call to take care of the church and one another, ensuring that no one is left in need. Obviously, we are doing a lot in this regard as evident in our social justice ministries and human concern efforts. However, there is always more to be done. We can choose to magnify our efforts through increased commitment to parish financial support and support of the Catholic Stewardship Appeal, helping to sustain the institutions that keep us united.
Have a great week!
Fr. Romanus' Letter for Easter Sunday
The Lord Is Risen, Alleluia!
This has been a busy week with several intense liturgical experiences. Palm Sunday, the celebration of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, coupled with the proclamation of the passion narrative, set the tone for the rest of Holy Week.
Holy Week has a long history that dates back to the early church. You will find the earliest mention of Holy Week observances in early church documents like The Apostolic Constitutions, the Canonical Epistle of Dionysius of Alexandria, and the Pilgrimage of Egeria. Though some things have changed over the years, Holy Week remains a time of intense prayerful devotion and celebration of God’s sacrificial love.
The celebration of the Passover meal on Holy Thursday marked the institution of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is at the center of the Church’s liturgical life. It is the ‘source and summit of the Christian life’ (LG, no. 11). While instituting the Eucharist, Jesus also instituted the Priesthood. The two go hand-in-hand since we cannot have one without the other. Priesthood in the Church has its origin in Jesus Christ, our Most High Priest. Another remarkable event of Holy Thursday was the washing of feet. This existed as a separate rite from 1570 until 1955 when Pope Pius XII inserted it into the rite for Holy Thursday. By washing the apostles’ feet, Jesus underscored his teaching on leadership as service.
On Good Friday, we celebrated Jesus’ redemptive suffering by venerating the cross. The passion narrative reminded us of the intense suffering, public humiliation, and death of Jesus for our salvation. The solemn celebration on Good Friday began with the priest and assisting ministers prostrating before the altar as a sign of humility before God. Of course, there was no Mass on Good Friday and during the day on Holy Saturday because the Church can only pray effectively through the “living” Christ. Hence, like famished and petrified children, the Church prayerfully awaited the Lord’s resurrection with solemn anticipation.
Easter Vigil is a breath of new life as the Church proclaims with uttermost gusto that the Lord has risen, and the universal Church echoes glorious songs of victory. The service of light, which includes the blessing of fire and lighting of the Easter candle, marks the transition from darkness into light. The renunciation of sin and renewal of baptismal promises captured the sense of re-birth. This year’s celebration includes the welcoming of our new member, Harry, candidate in the RCIA program, who receives the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist.
Easter Sunday is the oldest and most important feast of the Church’s liturgical calendar. Pope Leo the first referred to it as the feast of all feasts - festum festorum (Latin). Jesus’ resurrection is the light at the end of the tunnel and overshadows the preceding events of Holy Week. The resurrection gives us tremendous hope that when we are done with this life, God will raise us to a new life in Christ. The thought of sharing in the resurrection experience emboldens us when faced with death or the prospect of dying. St. Paul stated that if our hope in Christ was limited to this life, we would have been the most pitiable of all people (1Cor. 15:19). However, to rise with Christ, one must also learn to die with Christ.
As we gather with family and friends for Easter, let us not forget the reason for the celebrations, that is, the resurrection of Christ. We believe that if we die with him, we will also rise with him. I pray that God will fill you with the light of the resurrection and banish all fear, anxiety and despair.
Wishing everyone a glorious Easter!