Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bicycle Lessons



6th Sunday of Easter (A)

Picture: cc dadblunders

Sisters and brothers, do you remember when you first learned to ride a bicycle? Do you recall what the process was like? How you gradually learned to balance on two wheels? Usually, children begin by riding tri-cycles. Which don’t require any balance at all. Since the three wheels provide a stable base. Later, the kids may graduate to bicycles fitted with small training wheels. One on each side. Although not as stable as a tricycle, the training wheels provide enough external support to enable the child to remain upright.

But, if the child is truly to learn to ride a bicycle, the training wheels have to come off at some point. Although, for a time, the child may still need an adult to hold on to the bicycle from behind. Then, there comes a moment when even the adult becomes unnecessary. When the child is able to balance on his or her own. Without external support. What a wonderful feeling! How exciting and exhilarating! To finally be able to ride a bicycle on your own!

But notice also what all this involves. Notice how it’s really a process of internalisation. Something external gradually becomes internal. At first, balance is achieved only with outside support. Extra wheels. Extra hands. But then the external supports gradually become unnecessary. Balance begins to come not from without but from within. It’s internalised. This is what it takes to ride a bicycle. The internalisation of balance.

Strange as it may sound, sisters and brothers, internalisation is also something our Mass readings are bringing to our attention today. As you know, in just two weeks time, we will be celebrating Pentecost. And, already today, our readings begin to prepare us for that feast by speaking to us of the Holy Spirit. By inviting us to consider why we need the Spirit. What the Spirit does for us.

We begin with the gospel. Here, as part of his farewell speech at the Last Supper, Jesus reassures his disciples by speaking  about the Holy Spirit. Jesus knows that he will soon be taken away from them. He will no longer be present to them in the same way as he is now. And yet, I will not leave you orphans, he tells them. I will come back to you. Jesus will somehow make himself present to them again. But in a different way. Through a process that the Spirit helps to bring about.

We get a better sense of what this process involves by paying attention to a word that Jesus keeps repeating in today’s reading. It’s a very small word. An apparently insignificant word. Neither a noun, nor a verb. Not even an adjective. But only a preposition. Notice how often, in today’s gospel, the Lord uses the word in. The world can never receive the Spirit, Jesus says. Since it neither sees nor knows him; but you know him, because he is with you, he is in you. On that day you will understand that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.

Isn’t this an indication of what the Spirit does for us? The Spirit helps us to internalise the presence of Jesus. Even the presence of God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So that even though we may not see or touch the Lord the way the first disciples did. We can still sense his presence, by the power of the Spirit working within us. Through a process of internalisation.

Isn’t this also what is described in the first reading. When Philip proclaims the Gospel to the Samaritan town, the people are at first attracted by the external signs that Philip performs. We’re told that they united in welcoming the message Philip preached, either because they had heard of the miracles he worked, or because they saw them for themselves. Much like children learning to ride a bicycle, the Samaritans come to an initial reception of the faith by first relying on the external support of miracles. It is only later, after they have received the Holy Spirit, that the faith is gradually internalised.

Sisters and brothers, we know what it looks like when a child is finally able to ride a bicycle without external support. We know what the internalisation of balance looks like. But what does an internalised faith look like? What does it look like when someone no longer has to rely on the external supports of signs and wonders in order to believe? We find an answer to this question in the second reading.

Notice again, how, as in the gospel, we find here the repeated use of the preposition in. Reverence the Lord Jesus Christ in your hearts. Living a good life in Christ. Obviously, the writer presumes that the Christian community he is addressing is living an internalised faith. A faith that comes from within. Rooted in an intimate personal relationship with Christ. Even so, this internalised faith can and needs to be manifested externally. It can and needs to be expressed both in words and in deeds.

Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. The hope that is in you. Which means, be ready to express and to explain your faith in words. To proclaim to people the source of your strength. And do it not just in words. But also through your actions. By living with a clear conscience. By living a good life in Christ. By being willing even to suffer for doing what is right. Just as Christ himself, innocent though he was, suffered and died for us.

Sisters and brothers, this is what an internalised faith looks like. This is what the Spirit does for us. It enables us to live in Christ-like ways, even when it’s inconvenient to do so. Even when circumstances may conspire to try to make us lose our balance. Even when we may not see or hear of any miracles being performed. Even when we may end up being penalised or persecuted for doing what is right. As when someone who refuses to backstab others, or to compromise his or her Christian values at work, may end up being side-lined or passed over for promotion.

This is what an internalised faith looks like. Not just living quietly in Christ-like ways, but also being able and willing to explain to others the reason why we live the way we do. Being willing and able to speak about the Mystery that we continue to celebrate in this season of Easter. The joyful Message of the Dying and Rising of Christ. Who continues to be present to us at all times and in all circumstances.

Sisters and brothers, as baptised Christians, all of us have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. All of us are called to proclaim Christ both in deed and in word. Both in good times and in bad. Whether welcome or unwelcome. The question we need to ask ourselves is the extent to which we are truly riding the bicycle of an adult internalised faith. Or are we still pedalling only kids' tricycles today?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Celebrations in Contrast


50th Wedding Anniversary Mass of Charles & Suzanne

Readings: Ruth 1:16-17; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 17:20-23
Picture: cc Ross2085

Charles and Suzanne, sisters and brothers, have you ever noticed how you can read your smartphone more clearly when you look at it in the dark than in broad daylight? And, of course, you know the reason why. It’s the same reason why we switch off all the lights in the church before we screen a movie. It’s also the same reason why a white shirt seems to get dirty so much faster than a black one. Not that the white shirt is actually dirtier. It’s just that the dirt is more visible against a lighter background than a darker one. We call this contrast. We see things more clearly when we see them in contrast. So dirt is more obvious on a white shirt. Light shines out more brightly in darkness.

I mention this because it helps me to understand something about our Mass readings that at first seems very puzzling. As you know, we are all gathered here for a joyous celebration. Today we rejoice with Suzanne and Charles on the occasion of their Golden Wedding Anniversary. We join them and their family in giving thanks to God for 50 years of faithful and fruitful married life. And, typically, on an auspicious occasion like this, we expect everyone to be on their best behaviour. All of us. Including our jubilarians themselves. And me as well. We are expected to speak only about joyful things. To think only happy thoughts. To focus only on the brighter side of life.

And yet, when we look closely at our Mass readings today–readings which, by the way, were specially chosen by Suzanne and Charles–we find something quite surprising. Perhaps even unsettling. When we take the trouble to examine them closely, we find that each of our three readings is actually set against a background of deep darkness.

The first reading is taken from the beginning of the book of Ruth. Here we find Ruth speaking to her mother-in-law, Naomi. But before we examine Ruth’s words, it’s important to first consider their context. As you know, Naomi is a Hebrew woman from Judah. Years ago, a famine had forced her, together with her husband and their two sons, to become refugees in the foreign land of Moab. There both her sons married foreign wives. Ruth being one of them.  Then, one by one, her husband and her two sons died. Leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law to fend for themselves. With her family torn apart by death. Her heart broken by grief. Naomi decides to leave Moab. To return in sorrow to her homeland. This, my dear friends, is the background to our first reading. Truly, a situation of darkness.

We find something similar in the gospel too. The reading is taken from chapter 17. It is part of the High-Priestly Prayer of Jesus. And, again, it’s important to notice the setting for this prayer. Which is, as you know, the Last Supper. Earlier, in chapter 13, Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet, and shared a meal with them. Then, Judas Iscariot had left to betray his master. And, upon Judas’ departure, the gospel-writer had described the situation in these words: Night had fallen. Night had fallen. Not just because the sun had set. But because the Son of God would soon set out for his Passion. Night had fallen. Bonds of trust and friendship were being broken. Even as the body of Christ would soon be torn open. Again, dear friends, a situation of darkness.

And the darkness in the second reading is even more obvious. We find it already in the very first sentence. Using the name of the apostle Paul, the writer of this letter to the Ephesians refers to himself in a very striking way. I, the prisoner in the Lord, he writes. Reminding us of how Paul’s ministry ended. Of how the apostle was placed under house arrest in Rome. Before finally being beheaded by his enemies. Again, my dear friends, as in the other readings, a situation of darkness.

All of which may make us scratch our heads in bewilderment. Why these readings? Why all this darkness? Especially on a day like today. A day when most people would choose to look only at the light. Dear friends, Suzanne and Charles, please don’t get me wrong. I am not criticising your choice of readings. Indeed, I think you’ve chosen very well. In selecting readings set against a background of deep darkness, you actually help us to see more clearly. To see, by contrast. The bright light that shines in the dark. A light that darkness is powerless to overcome.

In the first reading, Naomi is in a truly vulnerable position. In a patriarchal society, with all the men in her family dead, she no longer has any social standing. And yet, in this darkness, Naomi thinks only about the welfare of her daughters-in-law. Instead of clinging to them, she tells them to leave her. To remain in Moab. To re-marry. To make better lives for themselves. And what’s even more remarkable is Ruth’s response. Although Naomi faces an uncertain future, Ruth chooses to remain by her side. Against the darkness of a family broken by disaster and death, we see, by contrast, the bright light of an enduring bond of love and fidelity. Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live.

This contrast is apparent too, in both the gospel and the second reading. At the Last Supper, even though Jesus knows that his disciples will soon be scattered. Even though he knows they will break their bond of friendship with him. Jesus remains faithful to his Father and to his friends. Right to the end. He even prays for the very people who will deny and desert him. He prays for unity and fruitfulness. May they all all be one… so that the world may believe it was you who sent me… Unity and fruitfulness. The same things that the prisoner in the Lord writes about in the second reading. Even though his imprisonment separates him physically from his friends, the writer continues to express his care and concern. He encourages his friends to maintain their ties of fidelity and love. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God who is Father of all...

All of which should help us to better appreciate why Suzanne and Charles have chosen these dark readings today. Perhaps they are reminding us of the very thing that we continue to celebrate in this season of Easter. The Good News that, because Christ has risen from the dead, we really do not have to fear the dark. On the contrary, when we face the darkness in our lives with open eyes and courageous hearts, we actually allow the light to shine out all the brighter. All the more clearly.

Isn’t this also what we see when we gaze upon Suzanne and Charles? At the family they have raised. At the life they have built. Over 50 years. In the midst of the darkness of rising divorce rates, what we see here is the bright light of a love and a fidelity that continues to stand the test of time. A bond that endures, because it is rooted in the fidelity of Christ himself. And isn’t this also what we Christians are all called to do? To let our light shine out in the dark. Shine out by contrast. So that others may see Christ more clearly. May experience God’s love more deeply.

My dear friends, Charles and Suzanne, as we celebrate this joyous occasion, how might our Lord be calling us to continue to let his light shine out in the dark–shine out by contrast–today?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Disturbances for Dwelling-Places (Rerun)




5th Sunday of Easter (A)

Pictures: cc Andy Roberts

Sisters and brothers, do you like disturbances? I don’t. I like peace and quiet. I like it when my home is neat and tidy. When everything is in its proper place. When my routine is un-disrupted. I don’t like it, for example, when I enter the restroom and find that the toilet roll has been used up and nobody has bothered to replace it. Disruptions like that are inconvenient. I don’t like them. Sometimes I wish that there were no disturbances in my life.

But it’s important for someone like me to remember that disturbances may be not always be a bad thing. Sometimes they are even necessary. Think of this beautiful worship space of ours, for example. Think of how and why it came to be built. Some of us may still remember how we felt when the beloved old church was torn down. Not that many years ago. We may also remember the disruption we had to endure when this new church was being built. For many weekends we had to worship in the parish hall. And, here on this spot, where once there stood a House of God, there was in its place only the noise and dust of construction.

Why did we put ourselves through such inconvenience? Was it because we like disturbance? No. One of the reasons we did so was because our community was growing in number, and the old church could no longer accommodate everyone comfortably. We chose to endure the disturbance of construction so that we could make space for more people.

Enduring disruption to make room for others. This is also what we find in our first reading today. While the earlier chapters of the Acts of the Apostles tell us about how peaceful and united the early Christian community was, today, in chapter 6, we find a disturbance. The Greek-speaking Jewish Christians are complaining that their widows are being left out of the daily distribution of food. What to do?

Well, if the apostles were as allergic to disturbances as I am, they might have been tempted to do nothing. They might have said something like: We are very busy people. We have been chosen by God to preach the Good News. Don’t bother us with such trivial matters. But, thankfully, the apostles are not like me. They don’t say such things. Instead, they take the trouble to re-structure, to renovate, the whole community. They commission a group of new leaders to take care of those whose needs have been neglected. The apostles, and the rest of the community, choose to endure disturbance so as to make room for others.

Of course, in the first reading, unlike us, the apostles are not constructing a new building. A physical structure. But still, in a very real way, they are building up the church. In the words of the second reading, the early Christians are allowing themselves to be living stones making a spiritual house. Through their willingness to endure disturbance so as to make space for those in need, they are making spiritual sacrifices. They are building upon the foundation, the cornerstone, that is Jesus Christ. They are doing what Jesus himself does in the gospel.

Today we read from chapter 14 of John’s gospel. The scene is the Last Supper. Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet. Judas has just left the room to betray his Master. Soon, in chapter 18, Jesus will be arrested and sentenced to death. But before that happens, here in chapter 14, Jesus delivers his long farewell speech. He comforts his disciples and explains to them his reason for leaving them. Do not let your hearts be troubled, he tells them. There are many rooms in my Father’s house.... After I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too. With a heart filled with love, Jesus goes to his Passion. He endures the disturbance of the Cross. So as to make room for us in his Father’s house.

But that’s not all. In addition to telling us the reason for his departure, Jesus also tells us how to follow him. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, he says. No one can come to the Father except through me. In order to arrive at the dwelling places that Jesus has prepared for us, we need to do for others what he himself has done for us. Like the early Christians in the first reading, we need to be willing to endure disruption, in order to make space for others. First of all, of course, to make space in our lives for the Lord himself. To make sure that we turn to him in prayer everyday. Bringing to him our concerns. And also allowing him to make known his concerns to us. The things he wants us to do. The people he wishes us to help.

For even as we busy ourselves with our own daily routines, the Lord continues to invite each of us to reach out in some way to those who have been left out. People who desperately need others to allow themselves to be disturbed in some way. Just so that the needy may have more space to live. More room to breathe. Definitely, we may think of people who need material help. But there are also those who require emotional support. Or even spiritual companionship. People who need us to lend a helping hand. To share a caring word. To offer a heartfelt prayer...

Just yesterday, I happened to spend some time with a bunch of Catholic young adults, who had gathered at our spirituality centre for a conference organised by Caritas Singapore. What were these young people doing? Whiling away the better part of a precious Saturday at a Catholic conference. Listening to others talk about the needs of the poor in Singapore and beyond. These admirable young people had chosen to endure disturbance, in order to make space in their hearts and their lives for others. Especially those most in need. Those most easily forgotten.

During the course of the proceedings yesterday, I found myself much moved by something that one of the participants shared. He talked about how he, a young adult in his twenties, had come to join the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. An organisation whose members’ average age is probably around sixty or more. The young man spoke of how, while doing full-time National Service, he had visited the elderly father of another NSman. The old man had suffered a stroke. Was barely able to talk. Or to walk. And unable to pay his medical bills. It was a sight that our young participant had never seen before. It broke my heart, he said. And from that moment, that generous young man became determined to do whatever he could to reach out to the poor in Singapore. He decided to allow himself to be disturbed, so as to make room for others.

Sisters and brothers, especially in this joyous season of Easter, we continue to celebrate the willingness of Christ our risen Lord to suffer disturbance for our sakes. To make room for us in the halls of heaven. How are we being invited, in our turn, to make room for others, in our world and in our church, in our hearts and in our lives today?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Between Foxes & Princes, Shepherds & Sheep


4th Sunday of Easter (A)
(Good Shepherd Sunday)

Picture: cc tiny_packages

Sisters and brothers, have you ever noticed how relationships are formed and deepened? How strangers become friends? And friends confidants? Or soul mates? How does it happen? The process is beautifully described in the book The Little Prince. In the book, a wild fox invites a prince to tame it. To establish ties. To enter into a relationship with it. If you tame me, the fox explains, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world...

Now it may sound strange that a wild animal should actually want to be tamed. But the fox explains why. My life is very monotonous, it says. I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. The fox wants to be tamed, because taming changes boredom into sunshine. Emptiness into adventure. Monotony into joy.

At first the little prince is hesitant. He’s too busy. I have not much time, he says. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand. But the fox manages to change his mind. One only understands the things that one tames, says the fox. Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me...

So the Prince accepts. But he discovers that taming isn’t all that easy. There’s a process to be undergone. Stages to pass through. You must be very patient, says the fox. First you will sit down at a little distance from me... I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…

Sisters and brothers, there are, of course, neither foxes nor princes to be found in our Mass readings for today. Instead, what we do find are shepherds and sheep. And yet, even though the characters and the animals may be different, the subject is actually much the same. Isn’t it? As with The Little Prince, our readings today invite us to consider the importance of intimacy and friendship. And not just any kind of intimacy and friendship. But intimacy and friendship between the Good Shepherd and his sheep. Between God and us. Intimacy and friendship that can change boredom into sunshine. Emptiness into adventure. Monotony into joy. I have come so that they may have life, says Jesus at the end of today’s gospel, and have it to the full.

But, not unlike the taming of a fox, growing in intimacy and friendship with God involves a definite process. There are steps to be taken. Stages to cross. In the gospel, Jesus speaks of passing through an entrance. I am the gate of the sheepfold, he says. Anyone who enters through me will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture. But what does it mean to enter this Shepherd-Gate? How does one do it?

Our readings show us three ways this is done. Three ways by which people enter the Shepherd-Gate. In the first reading, Peter has just preached a moving sermon about the dying and rising of Jesus. And we’re told that Peter’s listeners are cut to the heart. They want to draw closer to the Lord. What must we do? They ask. You must repent and be baptized, Peter tells them. This is the first way of entering the gate that is Christ. It is the way of commitment. By repenting of one’s sins and submitting to baptism, one commits one’s whole life to the Lord.

But, as we all know quite well, baptism alone does not always bring a person closer to Christ. Don’t we know of baptised Christians who don’t ever come to church anymore? Except on special occasions like weddings and funerals? And isn’t it true that even those of us who do come to church every Sunday, don’t necessarily have a close relationship with the Lord? Which is why, it’s important that we consider carefully what Jesus tells us about his own sheep. They all have a special talent. When the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out, the sheep follow him, because they recognise his call. And, as you know, another word for call is vocation. A true disciple of Christ is one who is capable of receiving a vocation. But how? How does one learn to recognise the shepherd’s voice? The process is a little more ordinary than we might expect.

Just as we may learn to recognise someone’s voice on the phone simply by talking often with that person. So too, is it possible to recognise the Shepherd’s voice by often spending quality time conversing with Him. Voice-recognition comes from frequent communication. When we find ourselves at the crossroads of our lives, how do we know the direction God wishes us to take? Not really by going for some crash course in spirituality and discernment. We are able to recognise His voice to the extent that we have earlier been making the effort to converse with him in prayer. Especially by meditating upon the Word of God. And by noticing how we feel, what happens within us, when the Lord speaks to us. This is the second way by which we pass through the Shepherd-Gate. It is the way of prayer. The way of communication.

But that’s not all. Our readings speak of one more way for growing closer to the Lord. Probably the most effective one. Also perhaps the most difficult. The second reading begins by telling us that there is merit in the sight of God in bearing punishment patiently when we are punished after doing our duty. That is, when we suffer not for doing wrong, but for doing what is right. For this, in fact is what we were called to do, because Christ suffered for us and left an example for us to follow. Just as we are drawn closer to someone by sharing in her trials. So too are we drawn closer to the Lord when we share in His sufferings. It doesn’t have to be something as great and glamorous as a martyr’s death. It can also happen in quieter, less conspicuous, ways. As when we make the effort to care for a difficult person, for example. Even when we may be unappreciated or rejected. This is a third way by which we deepen our intimacy with the Good Shepherd. By walking the Way of the Cross.

Commitment, communication and Cross. These are ways in which we enter through the Shepherd-Gate. Ways for us to grow in intimacy and friendship with God. Ways in which God gradually transforms the boredom and monotony of our lives into the joyful sunshine of Easter.

Sisters and brothers, incredible though it may sound, God actually wishes to be close friends with us. God actually wishes to help us to live lives that are meaningful and real. Rather than burdensome and empty. But how willing are enter through the Shepherd-Gate? What must we to do to continue to tame and be tamed by God today?

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Magic Marker



3rd Sunday of Easter (A)

Picture: cc sharyn morrow

Sisters and brothers, have you ever found yourself trapped? Stuck somewhere, and unable to escape? Do you know what it feels like? ... There was once a little girl, who had the strange habit of getting herself stuck. She would climb up a tree, for example. And then be unable to come down. Or she would enter a lift, and it would break down. Trapping her inside. Fortunately, this little girl had a fairy godmother. Who gave her a marker with magical powers. Whatever the girl drew with the marker would become real. So that, whenever she got trapped, all she had to do was to draw herself a way out. If she was stuck in a tree, she could draw a ladder and climb down. Trapped in a lift? Well, just draw an open door, and walk through it to freedom.

Sisters and brothers, do you sometimes wish you had a marker like that? Of course, probably few if any of us still get trapped in trees. Or even in lifts. But, especially in Singapore, don’t we sometimes find ourselves caught in traffic? Or how about being stuck in an argument. Where neither party is willing to back down. Or even to agree to disagree. Or what about being trapped in a dead-end job? Or a loveless marriage? Or a boring life? Or, what’s perhaps even worse, have you ever found yourself stuck in the past? Filled with regret at a missed opportunity? Or unable to forgive someone for hurting you? Or to forgive yourself for hurting someone else? In situations like these, wouldn’t it be great to have a magic marker that you could use to draw for yourself a way out? A path to freedom?

Strange as it may seem, this is precisely what the Resurrection provides us. This is what Easter is all about. Consider what happens to the disciples in the gospel today. The two guys on the road to Emmaus. It may not be obvious, but when we first meet them in the reading, they are actually stuck. Trapped in the past. For their own hope had been that Jesus would be the one to set Israel free. But Jesus has already been killed. He has died the death of a convicted criminal. Suffered the fate of one apparently accursed by God. And so their hopes are dashed. Their dreams shattered. They are stuck. Unable to move forward. Not even after having heard stories that Jesus has risen from the dead. Quite paradoxically, sisters and brothers, when we first meet them, the two disciples, although on the road, still remain trapped in their disappointment and disillusionment.

But then something magical happens to them. Jesus appears and sets them free. So that by the end of the reading, even though it is already evening, the two do not stop to rest. They return immediately to Jerusalem. To the very place from which they were trying to escape. To proclaim the very thing they were unable to believe. That Christ the Lord has indeed risen. They who once were trapped have now been let loose. They who once were stuck have now been set free. But how does this happen? How does Jesus bring this about?

Notice that the process has something to do with the drawing of pictures. At first, before the risen Christ appears to them, the two disciples have a very particular view of what had happened in Jerusalem. Of what had befallen Jesus. They picture the Lord’s Passion and Death as nothing more than a terrible tragedy. A dead end. An enclosed space. With no way out. But the risen Lord helps them to draw a different picture.

Using the magic marker of the scriptures, properly interpreted, Jesus helps them to understand something that they were unable to grasp before. The full message of the prophets. Jesus helps them to see that it was ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory. So that what at first looked like a closed door, or a dead end, is now changed into an open gate. A pathway to freedom. And with this change in vision comes a transformation in emotion and in action. Sorrow is transformed into joy. Escape into evangelisation.

We find the same thing happening in the first reading as well. It happens first to Peter and to the other apostles. At first, they were locked in the upper room. Fearful of the enemies of Jesus. But then, on the day of Pentecost, something changes. The apostles are able to paint a different picture of the death of Christ. So that the doors are flung open for them. Not just the doors to the upper room. But also the doors of their own fearful hearts. The obstacles are removed. And the apostles stream out to proclaim the good news of the Lord’s Resurrection.

And that’s not all. Not only are Peter and the other apostles transformed. But through their proclamation, they are able also to transform others. To set their listeners free. People who were once enemies of Christ become his friends. People once trapped in their own ignorance and hostility now become disciples of the Lord. And notice how the process again involves the drawing of pictures. On the day of Pentecost, in the power of the Spirit, Peter proclaims the story of the Dying and Rising of Christ. He paints for his listeners a picture of reality different from their own. An alternate perspective on life. One where loving self-sacrifice triumphs over anxious self-preservation. And, once again, closed doors are flung open. Dead ends are broken through. Trapped people are ushered onto the road of freedom. In the words of the responsorial psalm, you will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand happiness for ever.

This, my dear sisters and brothers, is the power of the Resurrection. The power of the story of the Crucified and Risen Christ. The power of the magic marker by which we, in the various places where we may remain trapped, are able to draw for ourselves escape routes to freedom. Pathways of thought and of action. Roads that lead from the darkness of despair into the bright light of faith and hope in Christ.

But this magic marker is only effective to the extent that we remember to use it. To draw for ourselves an alternate vision of life. Isn’t this why the second reading is so insistent in exhorting us to bear in mind that the ransom that was paid to free us from a useless way of life was not paid in anything corruptible... but in the precious blood of a lamb without spot or stain, namely Christ. For this is the power that has been entrusted to us. A power that we are tapping into in this very Eucharist. A power that can set us free. Free from lives that remain stuck in selfish concerns. Free from conflicts that divide us from one another and within our very selves. Free as much from the stress of overwork as from the boredom arising from apathy and laziness. A power that liberates us so that we can in turn set others free.

Sisters and brothers, in the Lord’s Resurrection, we have each been handed a powerful magic marker. Something that can open, for those who are trapped, a way to freedom. How can we use it more effectively today?
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