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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

4th SUNDAY OF EASTER (B) April 25, 2021

Acts 4: 8-12; Psalm 118;
1 John 3: 1-2; John 10: 11-18

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

With the recent spike in hospitalizations and deaths from the Corona virus in states across the country we are once again reminded of the heroic valor of emergency room medical staffs. Were we taking them for granted? Have we forgotten how much they have been giving of themselves and the sacrifices their families have made because they choose to respond to the desperate needs of members of the community? With the latest surge of critical cases we are reminded of what we owe them. Once again grateful neighbors are standing outside hospital emergency rooms cheering exhausted staff coming off duty and those entering for the next grueling shift. Modern day heroes for sure, who choose to risk their own health to save others. Their sacrifice benefits so many. As we watch, or read their stories of heroism do we wonder if we, in a similar situation, would respond so generously? Would we take the risks they take daily?

I wondered that once as a teenager as I stood on a stormy ocean beach watching a lifeguard my age rush into the turbulent waters to rescue a floundering man. If it weren’t for that lifeguard, willing to risk his own life, the man would have drowned. The memory of that lifeguard and current images of daily heroism by risk takers during the pandemic illuminate today’s gospel for me.

Five times in today’s brief passage Jesus says he "lays down his life" for us. He is ready and willing to give his life for his sheep. His sheep are threatened and he chooses not to be a bystander, but to confront death and save them.

If we are to be Jesus’ followers then we can not be bystanders when others are in need. Salvation is not just about me and my prayer life. We are a community and care of those in need is not just a job of a few professionals. Nor is the care of others just a matter of contributing to a "worthy cause" – as good and noble as that is. Following Jesus’ example and gifted by his Spirit, we are to be willing to give of our lives to serve others. We are not, as Jesus instructs, to be like the "hired hand" who flees when danger, or need threatens others.

If we can call it so, one of the "gifts" of this pandemic is the extraordinary sacrifices and gestures of hospitality shown to those in need by their neighbors. Strangers have become friends because they have reached out beyond the usual confines of their private lives. Isn’t that what Jesus encourages us to do – as he did – lay down our lives for others? After all, Jesus did not just offer his life as an example for us. His freely-chosen death also released us from our selfishness and privacy to do, in some way, what he did for others?

Jesus was not just a victim of harsh political and religious institutions, or circumstances beyond his control. While willing to give obedience to God’s will, still he was free to lay down his life – or not. Because of Jesus we also live in willing obedience to God’s will. In him we have a shepherd who knows each of us by name and loves us now, despite our wayward ways. He has willingly embraced each of us by laying down his life, taking it up again and sharing his risen life with us through his Spirit.

In our first reading Peter and John are defending their faith in the resurrected Christ before the religious authorities. They had healed a beggar at the gate of the Temple (Acts 3:1-10). Peter proclaimed that the healing came through the very God the people worshiped in the Temple before them. Their God had raised Jesus from the dead and in Jesus’ name the beggar was raised.

Now the two disciples are before the Sanhedrin’s religious authorities and Peter is defending what he did and in whose name he did it. The authorities can’t deny the miracle, there were witnesses to the event. But they want to know, "By what power, or in whose name have men of your stripe done this?"(4:7) When Peter and John stood before the religious authorities did they remember that Jesus had told them they would encounter opposition, but also that the Holy Spirit would be with them and tell them what to say? (Luke 12: 11-12 ) Jesus fulfilled his promise because Luke’s account in Acts begins: "Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said...."

It is called the "Acts of the Apostles," but as we read about the "acts" of the apostles, we realize we are really being invited to witness the "Acts of the Holy Spirit." We know of the previous dismal performance of the apostles from the four Gospels. But all has changed – they had changed – because in each of their wonderful preachings and healings, even before opponents, the promised Spirit was acting through them. Thus, the "Acts of the Holy Spirit."

We are not just casual readers of this account are we? No, we are people of faith being reminded that we too were beggars unable to heal and save ourselves. Then, through our baptism, new life was given us, healed beggars. We could stand up and move. Like Peter, who once healed in the name of Jesus, we too can "raise up" the downtrodden.

Who are they who need healing words and actions? Let us break the silence and speak loving and forgiving words to those nearest us in our own families. We have been locked up too long and in our frustration have said and done hurtful things to those closest to us. Break the silence. People around us are still isolated in their homes due to age, poverty, or illness. Let’s not pass them by, as Peter and John could have done on their way to pray. Instead reach out to them and break the silence.

There have been powerful, yet simple stories, about adults and children sending loving messages to a exhausted hospital staff. Let’s break the silence. We don’t have to look far these days for beggars. Like Peter and John we see, or pass them daily. They are near supermarkets, at food pantries, road crossings and living under highway overpasses. Can we share food with them, a smile and a kind word? Let’s break the silence. There are people in prisons and on death row, isolated by the virus and not allowed visitors. Some have been in prison so long they don’t even receive mail from their own families. Check the prisoners’ names below, send them a prayer message in Jesus’ name and break the silence.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/Bible/readings/042521.cfm

QUOTABLE

The vision fades; the Easter joy is past;

Again in dull drab paths our lot is cast.

The heavens no longer sing. The war clouds lower.

O Lord, where art thou in thy Risen power?

The calm voice speaks – it answers all I ask,

"I am besides you in the daily task."

Georgia Harkness

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his kindness endures forever.

Psalm 118:29

Depending on which Bible translation I read, "kindness" in the above passage could be written as "love" or "mercy."  I also remember that a person who takes an overly academic approach to faith and scripture misses the heart of the message. In my case, it is more important to remember how I should act with kindness, in emulation of our Lord, than be concerned as to which word is more scripturally correct.

In "Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton: Lent & Holy Week," the editors write: "We are all one kind, one human kind: we must recognize ourselves as kin or we will not be well. Jesus’ identification with all of us, his kindness to all persons is our cure. Kindness is the Lord’s blessing to be prayed for every day until His light opens a new vista for our eyes and everywhere we look we can see kin, our own kind. Though we remain a community of sinners let us imitate the Lord’s kindness." God’s kingdom is a king-dom where there is no "other." Reflect on how this message applies to you in your life.

It seems like it should be an easy thing to be kind to others. If that were so, fratricide and femicide would not exist nor racism nor many other -isms. We are a community of sinners with communal sins. Pope Francis states, "Kindness is firm and persevering intention to always will the good of others, even the unfriendly." The challenge to be kind is not so easy.

How does one go about changing the world’s unkindness to God’s kind-dom where all are kin? We must begin with ourselves; acting with intent to be kind. Celebrating Mass in the chapel of the "Domus Sanctae Marthae," Pope Francis reminds us, "How does God show his love? With great things? No, he becomes small with gestures of tenderness, goodness," he said. "God stoops low and gets close." Small acts of kindness, not great speeches, show God’s love best (6/8/18). Maybe start with one kind act that you have been avoiding out of a feeling of discomfort or distaste. Or, reach out to someone outside your "fold"; yours might be the kindness they have not experienced.  

Want more opportunities, we have many outreach ministries here at Cathedral where you can practice kindness regularly: https://www.raleighcathedral.org/human-life-dignity-justice

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,

Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd.

A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."

Reflection:

There are a lot of voices out there that can only distract and scatter us. Perhaps we’ve paid too much attention to them at times in our lives. Through hard experience we have learned that they don’t have our best interests at heart and if we listen to them we are scattered. But the voice of the Shepherd, Jesus tells us, wants to gather us. His voice can help us keep our wits about us in an often misguided world.

So we ask ourselves:

  • Can I name the "false shepherds" I have listened to?
  • How did they mislead me?
  • Where and how do I listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."

---Pope Francis

This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Quintel Augustine #0612123 (On death row since 6/21/2002)
  • John H. Thompson #0406487 (11/14/2002)
  • Neal J. Duke #0113234 (9/2692002)

----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars.

Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: https://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilias Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org. mailto:Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilias Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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