Sunday Church at Home, 5th Sunday Easter Cycle C

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5th Sunday of Easter, Cycle C

Sunday Church at Home

during lockdown in the Coronavirus Pandemic

The New Commandment,
The New World, The New Community.  

The lay leader makes the sign of the cross, saying:

Leader:        In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All reply:      Amen

Leader:        Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

All reply:      Blessed be God for ever

Leader:        Jesus gave us a single commandment. Love one another, he said; love as I love.

LITURGY OF THE WORD

First Reading: Acts 14:21b-27

Introduction to the reading:

The Acts of the Apostles shows how the Easter message spread to all parts of the Mediterranean world.  Today we hear a travelogue of part of one of Paul’s missionary journeys that took him to modern-day Turkey.  The mountainous terrain there made travel difficult and dangerous.  The situation was made even worse because of the constant threat of robbers, flash floods and wild animals.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles

In those days:
Paul and Barnabus returned to Lystra
and to Iconium and to Antioch,
strengthening the souls of the disciples,
exhorting them to continue in the faith,
and saying that through many tribulations
we must enter the kingdom of God.
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church,
with prayer and fasting,
they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.

Then they passed through Pisidia
and came to Pamphylia.
And when they had spoken the word in Perga,
they went down to Attalia;
and from there they sailed to Antioch,
where they had been commended to the grace of God
for the work which they had fulfilled.
And when they arrived,
they gathered the church together
and declared all that God had done with them,
and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

The word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 145:8-9.10-11.12-13ab (R. cf. 1)

Let us now pray the Responsorial Psalm:

R/. I will bless your name forever, my king and my God.

The Lord is kind and full of compassion,
slow to anger, abounding in mercy.
How good is the Lord to all,
compassionate to all his creatures.

All your works shall thank you, O Lord,
and all your faithful ones bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your reign,
and declare your mighty deeds,

They shall make known your might to the children of men,
and the glorious splendour of your reign.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;
your rule endures for all generations.

R/. I will bless your name forever, my king and my God.

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-5a

Introduction to the reading:

Many people think that the book of Revelation gives secret information about future events, including the end of the world.  But it was really intended to be a source of hope for Christians suffering persecution toward the end of the first century.  The author vividly describes visions of how God will ultimately overcome all evil and bring all creation to its destiny.

A reading from the Book of Revelation

I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth;
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband;
and I heard a great voice from the throne saying,
“Behold, the dwelling of God is with people.
He will dwell with them,
and they shall be his people,
and God himself will be with them;He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and death shall be no more,
neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore,
for the former things have passed away.”

And he who sat upon the throne said,
“Behold, I make all things new.”

The word of the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia
A new commandment I give you, says the Lord,
that you love one another even as I have loved you
Alleluia.

Gospel: John 13:31-33a.34-35

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John.

When Judas had gone out [from the upper room,]
Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of man glorified,
and in him, God is glorified;
if God is glorified in him,
God will also glorify him in himself,
and glorify him at once.
Little children, yet a little while I am with you.
“A new commandment I give to you,
that you love one another; even as I have loved you,
that you also love one another.
By this, all people will know that you are my disciples
if you have love for one another.”

The Gospel of the Lord.

Reflection on the Readings

The leader reads the text prepared by the priest and leads the sharing.

St. Jerome lived in the 4th century after Christ.  He is famous for his translation of most of the Bible into Latin. Jerome also wrote about the Apostle John. He said that when John was old and frail, he used to be carried to the assembled Churches, everywhere repeating the words, “Little children, love one another.”

His disciples, tired by the constant repetition, asked him why he always said this. “Because,” he replied, “it is the Lord’s commandment, and if it only be fulfilled, it is enough.” The Apostle John knew that the greatest truth could be forgotten because it was taken for granted. This is one of the greatest calamities in the Christian Church and the one that causes divisions.

Ever since Easter Sunday our first readings have been from the Acts of the Apostles. From these readings, and with Paul’s writings to the early churches, we learn that the church was “lively,” showing a rich and powerful variety of gifts.

We also learned that charismatic leaders and their followers emerged from the community. The church also had its chaotic moments and sometimes could get out of control. Those first Christians were not unlike us modern Christians. We also discover that Paul tried to exert his authority to keep the members unified and focused on their primary task: giving witness to the risen Christ.

In the first century, communication was difficult and slow. When Paul was on his missionary travels, he had to do most of his work of instruction and reconciling from a distance. He would write letters himself and sometimes some of his followers would write in his name. This lack of immediacy caused him difficulties and frustration. For example, when Paul wrote to the Galatians, he says to them,  “You senseless Galatians!” Galatians (3:1-3) 

Today we hear about Paul and Barnabas in the middle of their missionary journeys. Their travels take them far and wide. Eventually they head back for Antioch, their home base, and are able to report back about the success of their preaching. We hear about the growing numbers of people joining the communities, and we also hear about suffering among the Christian converts. That’s why when Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, “they strengthened the spirits of the disciples.”

While there is an enthusiastic growth in numbers as the preachers spread the word of God, there is also suffering of those who accept the faith. Paul and Barnabas were not working on their own. The church in Antioch had sent them to preach and, after they finished their appointed preaching, they returned to their base in Antioch to make a report of what, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they had done. The support of the community in Antioch gave Paul and Barnabas a sense of being connected to the wider community. They say that the success of their mission is due to God working through them.

Through their preaching Paul had noticed a remarkable phenomenon: Gentiles (or non-Jews) were responding to the gospel message. From their Jewish roots they never would have anticipated this. A close reading of Scripture reveals that prophets like Isaiah had said that Israel would be a light to all nations. For example, Isaiah 49:6 says: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

With the arrival of the Gentiles into their community, Paul, Barnabas, and the early Christians were experiencing God’s open-armed acceptance of all people. So, Paul tells the gathered church in Antioch what he and Barnabas had experienced on their missionary travels: God “had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” Paul was a major instrument in God’s invitation to “the nations,” or in other words – to all non-Jews.

The work and teachings of Peter and Paul helped the early Christians to accept and receive non-Jews into their communities. Gentiles could now, by their faith in Christ, claim the heritage and promises God gave Israel. This is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy that God’s people, Israel, would be “the light of the nations”. Jesus’ words to his disciples before his ascension really give the central theme to the mission of the new church: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth”.

While the Acts of the Apostles has historical references about the early church, it is not primarily a history book. It is a faith document. Looking back at the early church helps us to reflect on how we are doing today in terms of the contemporary church and our Christian lives.

We tend to idealize the first generation of Christians. They were closest to Jesus’ time on earth so, we guess, they got it right – how to act like Christians and be a model, closely-linked community. But, as we read Acts and the Writings of the New Testament, we realize they were just as human as we are. Like our contemporary Church, they had their doctrinal disputes, liturgical variations, sexual scandals, feuds among the leaders, etc.

Running through the story of the Acts of the Apostles, we see the influence of the Holy Spirit all the time. While we observe Paul, Barnabas and the other missionaries spreading the gospel far and wide and making “a considerable number of disciples,” we are really witnessing the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise at the beginning of Acts: that his small group of disciples would, “Receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you. Then you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The early missionaries were able to continue their efforts despite many hardships. And yes, there were conflicts, scandals and serious divisions in the early church.

The same can be said of our Church today.

That is why the synodal process started by Pope Francis is so important. Studies of the Church today show that there is a growing gap between the hierarchy of the church and the lives of the ordinary  Catholic faithful sitting in the pews. The hierarchy is the term to describe the priests and bishops of the church. People might say that this particular bishop is a good and caring man, but the bishops in general are out of touch with the People of God.

Pope Francis launched the two-year global consultation process leading to the 2023 synod on synodality with a call to “look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say.” That is why it is so sad that some misguided elements within the church are trying to sabotage this process. In particular, there is a tiny – really miniscule – but vocal group of conservative bishops who oppose listening to the laity.

Please pray for Pope Francis and our church that we may continue to demonstrate to the world that we have faith in the ultimate truth and goodness of God. When we express our love and affection for one another with authenticity, when we live with the integrity of our values, we will be living the example of Jesus:

“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Hearing the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church gives us trust that, despite the shadows and dark times, God has not left us on our own – not back then, not now!

The Holy Spirit continues to “strengthen the spirits of the disciples” through spirit-filled preachers, teachers, musicians, lectors, parents, theologians, etc. I pray we can all be spirit-filled disciples in our parish community giving thanks to God at Mass today.

From today’s Acts reading:

“They strengthened the spirits of the disciples,

and exhorted them to persevere in the faith…”

Reflection:

That same Spirit that strengthened and brought new followers to the early church continues to “strengthen the spirits of the disciples” through spirit-filled preachers, teachers, musicians, lectors, parents, theologians etc.

So we ask ourselves:

  • What touched you in the readings today?
  • Can you name a few Spirit-filled disciples in your worshiping community and give thanks to God for them?
  • Would you personally thank them for the witness they give to presence of the Holy Spirit with the Church?

Prayer of the Faithful

Leader:       

Let us bring our petitions before the God who is at home among us and knows our every need.

Reader:

We pray for Pope Francis, bishops, priests and all religious leaders: that they may be known as disciples of Jesus by the love and care that they show one another.

LORD HEAR US

We pray for the renewal of community life: that God will guide us in deepening our relationships, encouraging one another along life’s journey, and caring for one another as we face hardships.

LORD HEAR US

We pray for all who suffer exhaustion or loneliness in caring for a loved one: (pause) that they may feel the comfort of God’s presence.

LORD HEAR US

We pray for all who struggle with their relationships: (pause) that they may be given the grace to love as Christ loved.

LORD HEAR US

We pray for good stewardship of natural resources: that we may honor God’s work of creation through caring for the earth, water, and air that we share so that all may enjoy and share in its benefits.

LORD HEAR US

We pray for members of our families and friends who have died and those whose anniversaries occur about this time.

LORD HEAR US

We pray for Maria de Canha and Salome Ngobeza who died this week.
Eternal rest grant unto then, O Lord.

And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. AMEN

Leader: Let us pray our EASTER PRAYER

Good and gracious God,

we give you praise for the greatest sign of new life:

the resurrection of your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The sadness and despair of his death

has given way to the bright promise of immortality

for the Resurrection is our guarantee

that justice will triumph over treason,

light will overcome darkness

and love will conquer death.

We ask for your grace that we might live

the promise given to us,

that we might imitate the life of Jesus

in reaching out to the poor,

the marginalized and the least among us.

May we strive to make our country

a beacon of hope and justice in a world hungry for peace. 
We make our prayer through Jesus Christ,

our risen Lord.  Amen.

Spiritual Communion

We can unite ourselves to the Eucharist through making a spiritual Communion.

By making an Act of Spiritual Communion, we express our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and ask him to unite himself with us.

My Jesus, I believe you are really here in the Blessed Sacrament.
I love you more than anything in the world, and I hunger to receive you.
But since I cannot receive Communion at this moment, feed my soul spiritually. I unite myself to you now as I do when I receive you. Amen.

CONCLUDING RITE

Leader:        Let us pray to the Father in the words Jesus our Saviour gave us:

All say:        Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Amen.

Leader:        We behold your glory, O God,
in the love shown by your Son,
lifted up on the cross
and exalted on high.

Increase our love for one another,
that both in name and in truth
we may be disciples of the risen Lord Jesus
and so reflect by our lives
the glory that is yours.

Grant this through Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead,
who lives and reigns with you now and always
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

All:               Amen.

Blessing

A leader who is a layperson, using no gesture, says:

Leader:        May the God who has redeemed us and made us adopted children
through the resurrection of his only Son
bless us and fill us with joy.
R. Amen.

May the God who has bestowed on us
the gifts of redemption and lasting freedom
make us heirs of eternal life.
R. Amen.

May the God who joined us to Christ’s resurrection
by faith and baptism
lead us to live justly
and so bring us to our home in heaven.
R. Amen.

Leader:        May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life. Alleluia. Alleluia.

All:               Amen. Alleluia. Alleluia.

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