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April 1 2018 Easter Sunday (B)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection and Dialogue with Questions of the Day: “You shall be my witnesses”

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Acts 10:34, 37-43).  We have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection.  This is Peter’s address to the pagan centurion Cornelius and his household at Caesarea, after Cornelius has sent for Peter at the Lord’s suggestion. They were obviously interested in become followers of Christ. The sermon was probably typical of an early Christian presentation of the Gospel message. It began with the baptism by John the Baptist, the anointing by the Holy Spirit, and gave central event of Christ’s ministry, his miracles through the power of the Spirit, his crucifixion, resurrection and post-resurrection appearances to show that he had truly risen in his bodily existence. It also gave Christ’s mandate to his apostles to preach that he was God’s appointed messenger and the saviour of the world. Early sermons such as these gave the framework of the Gospel tradition that would later be consigned to writing in all four gospels: from the preaching of John to the resurrection. The call at the end to believe in Christ and repent of sins is valid from all times.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 117[118]). This day was made by the Lord; we rejoice and are  glad.

Second Reading (Colossians 3:1-4). You must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is. This section of the epistle to the Colossians is chosen as appropriate for Easter Sunday when we commemorate the resurrection of Christ and his return in glory to the Father, where he constantly prays that his work on earth through his Church be successful. Christians are united to him in baptism, and by God’s grace are united with him in heaven. The passage reminds us to think of these consoling truths. It is all in keeping with Christ’s own words: Store up treasure for yourselves in heaven; where your treasure in, there will your hearts be also (see Matthew 6:19-21). No one can serve two masters. Today’s reading is no generic statement without substance. In its context in the Epistle it is preceded by the exhortation: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as your were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Col 2:6-7). And in the same letter today’s passage continues with the consequences of belief in this new life in Christ, namely on the negative side putting to death everything that is earthly, listing first four sexual practices, then other minor offences, ending with a list of works indicated by belief in Christ: kindness, humility, forgiveness and such like. The Easter invitation to have minds and hearts set on Christ does nor foster withdrawal from social commitments. Rather does it imply this.

Alternative Second Reading (1 Corinthians 5:6-8). Get rid of the old yeast, and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread. In the immediate preceding context Paul had condemned the abuse in the Christ in the church at Corinth where a man was living with his step-mother, something condoned by the community. Paul alerts to the danger of the bad example. He is thinking against the background of the Jewish Passover when all bread with yeast (leavened) had to be removed for the festival, and the sacrifice of the paschal lamb performed. Leaven (yeast) is here taken as a symbol of corruption. Easter should be celebrated in holiness, symbolically with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. For our own day this can be a call for the traditional Easter confession, the sacrament of reconciliation.

The Gospel (John 29:1-9). He must rise from the dead. There are different accounts in the New Testament of the resurrection of Christ and his appearances to chosen followers. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) lists five appearances, first to Peter and last of all to Paul himself. Today’s account by John in the Fourth Gospel but part of a series of episodes: first the empty tomb, without any appearance of the risen Lord (John 20:1-10); then an appearance to Mary Magdalene (11-18), then to the disciples without Thomas (19-23), and then with Thomas (24-29). Today’s reading is about the visit to a tomb found empty. Mary Magdalene suspects robbery. The “other disciple” (probably the beloved disciple) recognized Peter’s special privileged position. The tidy situation with regard to the items of clothes rules out robbery. The “other disciple” has an insight into the resurrection, and he and the Church will later see in this the fulfilment of Scripture. A certain unevenness can perceived in the narrative (for instance Mary Magdalene, although alone, says “we” do not know), due to the use of earlier traditions in which a number of women go to the tomb. In this section on his longer narrative the evangelist rearranges earlier traditions.

B.The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: “You shall be my witnesses”

In the first reading Peter stresses that the apostles are attested witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, with the task of proclaiming to all what Jesus’ saving mission meant. The message of the second readings is that all followers or Christ should be witnesses to the new life in Christ in a world that often has a contrary message. There is fruit for reflection in this for us today.

            During this Holy Week, and on Easter Sunday, many Catholics will attend the ceremonies and Easter Sunday Mass who may well stay away until next Christmas. It is a feature of modern Ireland. Regular Sunday Mass has in many places decreased dramatically. The Church in Ireland has been through trials of different kinds, and is still in turmoil. There has been, and there still is, a growing secularism with less interest in the divine and in religion. Then there have been the shocking child sex abuse scandals by clerics, and the state Tribunal reports on these and on the religious institutions. Coupled with this there has been a somewhat concerted campaign to highlight any abuse that might damage the Church. One may also instance the campaign to promote and register what is described as defections from the Church. And before the 2011 Census of Ireland there was a campaign directed at citizens not to register themselves under “Roman Catholic” in the Census return, but rather as “no religion”. One could have wondered what the present situation of the Church in Ireland really is, or what its future prospects are. The official figure for the 2011 Census of Ireland, showing that the number registering themselves as Roman Catholic had actually increased by 5% since the last Census in 2006!! The figure for the total population was (in round figures) 4,580,000 (four million, five hundred and eighty thousand), while the total number registering themselves as Roman Catholics was 3,860,000, that is 84% the total population (with 4%  registering themselves as “no religion”). When measured against the nationalist Irish population (not including non-nationals) the percentage is higher again, in the region of 90%. Thus despite all the trials and setbacks it appeared that the Irish people were still solidly attached to their Church. However the 2016 census paints a less favourable picture, with 78.3% registering as Roman Catholics (and 8.1% as of “no religion”). One can only pray that this trend does not continue.

            We can compare the situation somewhat to that of the disciples during and after the terrible events of the Passion and death of Jesus. The hopes expressed in him on the entry over the Mount of Olives seemed dashed. In his hour of trouble his disciples had abandoned him; Peter had even denied him three times. The situation changed with the resurrection belief, and the words of Jesus that his death was really a victory. They could take courage. Through his death and resurrection he had conquered “the world”, that is all forces trying to take believers away from him. And his followers would be witnesses to this new age. As Jesus said (John 15:26-27): “When the Advocate (Paraclete, Comforter) comes, whom I send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.”

            The Church in Ireland is now at a turning point. In the census some eighty-four percent (84%) of the population of the population has registered themselves as Catholics, while a mere 4% registered as of no religion. There has been expressed regret and apologies for the sex abuse, but also stating the obvious that there is need of renewal. The high proportion of those registering themselves as Roman Catholics in the last census might not present any reason for complacency. A number of those so registered may have intended to register merely as “ethnic” Catholics, rather than as believing and fully committed. The current situation calls on all believers to become informed of their religion, of the call of Christ, to be active witnesses, by their way of life. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, has revealed shortcomings. But that same Spirit is our Comforter and our Advocate, giving peace in believing and strength of faith conviction. Presence at Easter ceremonies could be a call and a reminder from Christ that all who believe in him are his witnesses, witnesses to his passion and resurrection. Renewal means greater contact with the Mass and the sacraments than twice a year, quiet prayer alone, and also if appropriate in the family, a deeper understanding of the faith, and enthusiasm for all Christ and the Church stand for in the troubled world of our own day. Let us all be Christ’s witnesses, because we have been with him (and he with us) from the beginning, from our baptism.