These reflections are a result of more than 40 years of ministry as a Roman Catholic priest. Most of these years I spent in the Diocese of Charlotte which covers Western North Carolina. Now I am retired, and live in Medellín, Colombia where I continue to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Medellín.
One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. (Jn 6:8-11)
This is one of my favorite Bible stories—the Boy with the Bag Lunch. I’m sure that kid was embarrased when his mother gave him the bag lunch to take with him. “Aw Ma, I’ll be the only one!” And he was. But then Jesus wanted his bag lunch. That kid must have thought twice before handing over his little sack of goodies, but he did hand it over. Jesus took it and blessed it, and there was more than enough for everyone.
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit. (Jn 3:34)
The Spirit freely given . . . not only to the One that God sent . . . rather through that One to all of us in abundance. God isn’t stingy.
God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (Jn 3:16-17)
Growing up in the Baptist tradition meant that isolated Bible verses were drilled into our heads. We even had Bible Sword Drills (trust me, it’s a Baptist thing!) so that we could practice looking up chapter and verse of specific scripture passages. Well, one thing I learned as a Catholic is that when studying the scriptures, context is everything. As Baptist kids, we all knew John 3:16 by heart . . . but very few of us ever heard of John 3:17.
The community of believers was of one heart and mind . . . . (Acts 4:32)
I remember a wonderful retreat when I was in Second Theology. A classmate recommended a priest friend to us as our retreat director, Father Ed Hays. Our classmate said, “He has a prayer farm called Shantivanam.” We were a little sceptical but we made the call. Father Ed needed the money and so accepted. That was 1975. To get ready for our retreat, Ed Hayes spent a week on retreat at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani. But I will never forget his enthusiasm for the Word of God. He held up the New Testament and told us that it was the how-to manual for being a priest. I can still hear him singing our call to prayer for the retreat: ♫“Come my friends, let us be of one heart and one mind!”♫ After that retreat, Ed Hays would go on to write over 30 books on spirituality. He died in 2016.
‘You must be born from above.’ (Jn 3:7)
To be born from above is to be born of God. As the Fourth Gospel says:
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God. (Jn 1:12-13)
Perhaps that’s why the Risen Lord says to Mary Magdalene: “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (Jn 20:17) To be born from above means we are members of God’s new family of grace, sisters and brothers of the Risen Lord Jesus.
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:26-29)
Everyone seems to think that Thomas actually touched the Risen Lord . . . but the gospel doesn’t say that at all. In response to what Jesus says to him, Thomas gives the highest confession in all the New Testament, “My Lord and my God!”
On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’” Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mk 16:5-8)
Mark’s gospel ends with that remarkable statement that the women “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mk 16:8). The gospel writer was perhaps a little too smart for the audience. The gospel writer intends that WE, the hearers of the gospel, should be the ones to go and tell the leadership the good news that “he has been raised.” Unfortunately, the church misunderstood the gospel writer’s intention and was never satisfied with the ending. So through the years various “endings” to the gospel have been added. But these ”endings” rob the gospel of its punch. Because the women were told to go and tell the disciples and Peter . . . but they didn’t because they were afraid. And so the proclamation of the Good News is up to us. And just who is this “young man” clothed in a “white robed?” Perhaps he has something to do with the young man who followed Jesus and that they tried to seize in the garden "wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked" (Mk 14:51-52). Obviously, the young man is not an angel . . . and now he's clothed in a white robe . . . he must be one of the recently baptized!”