Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter
“Feed my lambs.” — “I know them and they know me.”
Reading 1 ACTS 25:13B-21
on a visit to Festus.
Since they spent several days there,
Festus referred Paul’s case to the king, saying,
“There is a man here left in custody by Felix.
When I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the elders of the Jews
brought charges against him and demanded his condemnation.
I answered them that it was not Roman practice
to hand over an accused person before he has faced his accusers
and had the opportunity to defend himself against their charge.
So when they came together here, I made no delay;
the next day I took my seat on the tribunal
and ordered the man to be brought in.
His accusers stood around him,
but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected.
Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion
and about a certain Jesus who had died
but who Paul claimed was alive.
Since I was at a loss how to investigate this controversy,
I asked if he were willing to go to Jerusalem
and there stand trial on these charges.
And when Paul appealed that he be held in custody
for the Emperor’s decision,
I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20AB
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
R. The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.
Bless the LORD, all you his angels,
you mighty in strength, who do his bidding.
R. The Lord has established his throne in heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Holy Spirit will teach you everything
and remind you of all I told you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 21:15-19
he said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
Commentary on John 21:15-19 from Living Space
The disciples now claim to understand exactly what Jesus is talking about, although it is doubtful that they really do. It will not be until later on that the full meaning of Jesus’ words will be grasped by them.
They are impressed that Jesus can answer their questions even before they are formulated. “Because of this we believe that you came from God.” Yet, perhaps they are speaking too soon.
Jesus questions the depth of their belief. Very soon, in spite of their protestations now, they will be scattered in all directions and leave Jesus alone and abandoned. Of course, Jesus will not be alone; the Father is always with him even at the lowest depths of his humiliation . Even when he himself will cry out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
He tells them all this, not to discourage them, but so that they can find peace. There will be many troubles facing them in the coming days and indeed in the years ahead. They are not to worry: Jesus has conquered the world, not in any political or economic sense but in overcoming the evil of the world. His disciples can share in that victory, as long as they stay close to him and walk his Way.
These words obviously have meaning for us especially if we are experiencing difficulties of any kind in our lives. The peace we seek is available if we put ourselves into Jesus’ hands. He knows; he has been through more than anything we are ever likely to have to experience.
The Book: The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen
The Wounded Healer is a hope-filled and profoundly simple book that speaks directly to those men and women who want to be of service in their church or community, but have found the traditional ways often threatening and ineffective. In this book, Henri Nouwen combines creative case studies of ministry with stories from diverse cultures and religious traditions in preparing a new model for ministry. Weaving keen cultural analysis with his psychological and religious insights, Nouwen has come up with a balanced and creative theology of service that begins with the realization of fundamental woundedness in human nature. Emphasizing that which is in humanity common to both minister and believer, this woundedness can serve as a source of strength and healing when counseling others. Nouwen proceeds to develop his approach to ministry with an analysis of sufferings — a suffering world, a suffering generation, a suffering person, and a suffering minister. It is his contention that ministers are called to recognize the sufferings of their time in their own hearts and make that recognition the starting point of their service. For Nouwen, ministers must be willing to go beyond their professional role and leave themselves open as fellow human beings with the same wounds and suffering — in the image of Christ. In other words, we heal from our own wounds. Filled with examples from everyday experience, The Wounded Healer is a thoughtful and insightful guide that will be welcomed by anyone engaged in the service of others.
As we approach the end of Easter Season, the scripture readings allude to the outcome of the life of St Paul and St Peter. Both would eventually arrive at Rome and die as martyrs. Theologically, it also means that the gospel has reached to the ends of the earth, since Rome symbolizes the West.
When we consider their lives, we cannot but be amazed as to how their lives had changed so much after they encountered Jesus. Saul was then a great persecutor of the Christians. He was ruthless in destroying the Church. Christ was his greatest enemy including the Christians. Peter denied Christ three times. He was then a coward and afraid even to witness Christ before a servant. Yet both of them became the great apostles of the Church and seen as the pillars of the Church.
What could have caused them to make such a radical change in their lives? Both have this common experience; namely, they encountered the personal love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Concretely, this love was mediated through forgiveness and inner healing.
Indeed, Paul hurt Jesus much, especially by persecuting the Christians. It is significant that Jesus told Saul that by persecuting the Christians, he was persecuting Him. When Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” Jesus said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” And yet Jesus forgave him. It was simply unbelievable for Paul as he shared in Romans, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8)
But if you think that Saul had done the most grievous hurt to Jesus, it was not Saul but Peter. This is becauseSt Peter denied his master three times. He betrayed Jesus by disowning Jesus in front of a servant girl. No one can hurt us more than our friends. If our enemies hurt us, we are not surprised. But when our friends betray us, we cannot but feel as if a sword has pierced our heart. Jesus who loved His apostles so much and then abandoned by them would have been most hurt and disappointed. Yet He forgave Peter just as He forgave Saul and His enemies, for He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they were doing.” This offer of forgiveness took place again at Easter.
But Jesus goes further than offering forgiveness. He knows that forgiveness is not sufficient. We also need inner healing as well. Hence, He gave Peter the opportunity to heal his heart by inviting Peter to repeat three times his confession of love as the antidote to the three denials of Him. Jesus knew that Peter could not be used for the ministry unless he experienced both unconditional forgiveness and inner healing of memories. Unless Peter is healed from within, he would only carry his wounds and his hurts into the ministry.
In a similar manner, Paul too was healed gradually after his life-conversion experience at Damascus. Although Christ had forgiven him and gave him back his physical sight, his past would catch up with him. Jesus knew that his past acts of killing would come back to haunt him. He wanted to preach the gospel immediately but he realized later that he was not yet ready. So he went away for a long retreat at Arabia. Paul too needed time to reflect on Christ’s love and mercy for him and be healed of his broken past before he could proclaim Christ’s mercy to all.
What are the implications for us who want to serve the Lord? If we want to follow the great examples set for us by Sts Peter and Paul in the ministry and mission of the Church, we must realize the importance of deepening the experience of Christ’s love for us if we were to be powerful witnesses of His love. The strength of our ministry must come from this utter conviction of God’s love for us in Christ. This is the only reason why we want to give ourselves to the Lord in service.
However, to experience His love, we must first receive forgiveness from the Lord. But we cannot experience the forgiving love of Christ for us unless we know that we are great sinners. The greater the consciousness of our sinfulness, the greater we can experience His merciful and forgiving love. As Jesus in the gospel said, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Lk 7:47) So if we find ourselves lacking love and commitment for Jesus, it is because we have been forgiven little. And if we are forgiven little, it is because we are not aware of our sinfulness, of the wrongs we have done to ourselves and to others and most of all to Jesus. For when we hurt ourselves and others, we hurt Jesus most because He loves each one of us dearly.
The truth is that we are often too self-righteous. We are not aware of our own sins but only of others. Indeed, many of us are keeping the hidden and repressed sins of our past life. We might have forgotten them today but they remain hidden in our hearts. Our conscience is waiting for an occasion to condemn us. Yes, if we find ourselves sad and restless for no reason, quite often it is because of our past and forgotten sins.
Until we come to terms with who we really are, not before our fellowmen but before God, then we will know how much we have hurt the Lord. Otherwise, we only think that we have at most put a few short needles into the body of Christ and we have not crucified Him. But when we come to understand how much we have crucified the Lord by our sins, especially of selfishness, then and only then, can we say with St Paul in Galatians, “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Gal 2:20-21)
But it is not enough to be forgiven we need also need inner healing. All of us have been wounded physically, spiritually and emotionally. When people say, “Time heals” it is not quite true. More often than not, it is not because time has healed them but because they have covered up their wounds. If we are simply suppressing our wounds and the hurts we have experienced in life, then we will become reactive in our ministry. This explains why those who are supposedly champions of social justice and the marginalized can be totally unjust in dealing with the oppressors themselves. More often than not, we are reacting from the deep hurts within ourselves. We disguise it as a calling from God. Externally, what we do seem to be praiseworthy but more often than not it originates from a vindictive and revengeful heart.
Indeed, to be wounded healers, we must first tend to our own wounds. Jesus did not appear to His disciples after the resurrection with open wounds but with the scars of the crucifixion. If we try to minister to others with our wounds still bleeding, we will only frighten people away. It is therefore necessary that we deal with our hurts and brokenness; healing them so that we can then use the healing grace we have received to heal others.
The question is whether we are availing ourselves of the means to healing? We have psychological means, such as psychological tests, counseling, psychotherapy, spiritual direction and spiritual healing. Are we humble enough to admit that we need the Lord to heal us? Whilst counseling and even medication can help, only the Lord, the great healer can truly repair the damages in our hearts. And this is done by contemplating deeply on the passion of Christ, His suffering on the cross for us. Only by contemplating on the face of the suffering Christ, can we be moved to conversion of heart and the forgiveness of sins.
As we approach the feast of Pentecost, let us pray fervently for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit can heal our hearts. The Holy Spirit who is the love and truth of God will illuminate our minds and heal our hearts. Only He can lead us deeper into the love of God and give us the strength to love others.
Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
13 MAY 2016, Friday, 7th Week of Easter
A CONVERSION EXPERIENCE IS INTEGRAL TO A PERSONAL FAITH IN CHRIST
Why would believers die for their faith? The answer is clear; faith is more than an intellectual matter. Faith is not an ideology which one can change within a short time. When we speak of ideology, we are speaking of one’s mindset. Intellectual convictions can change when one is enlightened further on a particular issue. That is why the word “Faith” implies beliefs that are not simply doctrinal but which concerns the heart. Necessarily, faith is a relationship. Faith, just like love, is not reducible to logical reasoning alone. Why do we love someone? This cannot be explained rationally. We always say that love is a gift, a mystery and an election. Relationships cut across and overcome all intellectual barriers. Truly, although we are all called to act rationally, yet it is the heart that drives us to act most of the time.
This is not to say that faith is irrational. On the contrary, there is some content to faith, as in a relationship, although that content cannot be so easily formulated in concrete terms. If faith is without content, that would be illusion and that can be said to be fanaticism. But when doctrines and experience coincide, then faith is firmly established. Hence, when doctrines are weak, faith and experience will also be weak. Conversely, when experience is weak, doctrines will also be weak.
Truly, love and truth, which always go together, will determine the way a person lives and relates. Love and truth change a person. Love will reveal the truth and the truth will reveal the authenticity of love. So, when one has a faith relationship with God, his or her faith will determine how he or she will conduct his or her life. Since faith in God is to surrender to the ultimate, then, necessarily, a person’s life will be in accordance with what or who he or she believes in.
This also explains why mixed marriages have its difficulties. Some people say, it does not matter whether the couple is of the same faith or not. The truth is that marriage affects one’s whole life. We are very much influenced by faith beliefs, which will also affect our values. And what is relationship if not a question of sharing common values, convictions and interests which would include our relationship with God, since this affects us to the core of our being? How could two persons in a marriage be truly united in mind and heart outside their relationship with God? So one’s faith will impact one’s relationship with each other.
At any rate, many disagreements in marriage or in relationships boil down to the question of values. If we cannot agree on values, on truth, then we will not be able to find a common stand. However, if a couple shares the same truth, which is to do what is right and good, they will always be able to accommodate each other. We can disagree on means but we cannot disagree on the objective. So if both partners strive to uphold values based on the truth in accordance with the faith in God, the chances of unity will be much higher and easier as well.
How then can we strengthen our faith so that our beliefs can ground our human relationships? Today, we have two persons who can inspire us in this path to truth and love. They are of course, St Paul and St Peter.
In the case of St Paul, it was the conversion of the heart before that of the head. But this does not mean that St Paul knew nothing about Christ at all. He was a learned man, a rabbi and certainly before he began to persecute the Jews, he would have studied something about the Jesus movement. But it was only after being touched by the Lord that his view about Jesus changed. And from the perspective of love, he began to see the inner truth of the little that he knew about Jesus. Since love brings about greater openness, through further study, his faith in Jesus grew.
In the case of Peter, it was also similar but yet different. He was listening to Jesus’ teaching but it was only when he encountered the miraculous catch of fish and the mercy of God that he surrendered himself to Jesus wholeheartedly. Yet, his allegiance remained weak throughout the earthly life of Jesus. Much as he wanted to follow his master, he was not yet completely healed. As a consequence, he fell into sin and that led him to deny Jesus. Jesus knew that Peter would need more than simply one conversion experience. In today’s gospel we see the ultimate conversion of Peter when Jesus healed him from the core by having him affirm his love for Him. Jesus invited Peter to express his remorse, which he did not have a chance to do so earlier, except to himself. Peter still needed to be reconciled with Jesus.
What are the implications for us who want to grow in personal faith? It is clear that many of us, especially nominal Catholics, are to some extent like St Paul. We know something about the faith even though it is not much, although many of us think we know a lot until challenged. A genuine interest and desire to grow in knowledge of the faith or even to understand the faith from within is not possible without a genuine personal relationship with the Lord. Otherwise, our understanding of our faith will remain purely on the intellectual and external level. What we need besides deepening our knowledge of the faith is a conversion of heart, such as that experienced by St Paul. The booster we need is a real experience and encounter of our Lord in our lives.
Once that takes place, then the intellectual process of coming to understand the faith will become much easier because we will have come to understand the truth of what we have already experienced. In this sense, this is the approach of St Augustine, the way of love. As he said, “love and you will understand.” Without which, the process would be difficult, for it is mere intellectual grasping, since one cannot verify the truth personally from one’s own experience. Such intellectual conviction can help a person to be more open to the grace of God, but ideology and beliefs can change only when it is founded in the heart.
Perhaps, some of us are more like St Peter. These are the born-again Christians who need a renewal. Indeed, some of us have already experienced the Lord in some ways and in different degrees. We have been touched by the Lord and yet find ourselves still lacking conversion in our personal life. What is the reason? We need more healing in our lives. Therefore like St Peter, we need the Lord to affirm us in love again as he did for St Peter. Like St Peter, we need God to renew His love for us and our love for Him.
The consequence of being healed is of course mission. It is clear that mission is the clearest manifestation of having been healed. If you claim healing, and yet there is no enthusiasm for mission, you might not really have been healed. We are not even considering holiness or the charisms one receives on account of being touched by the Lord. The measure of faith is mission. This explains why before Peter was given the mission of shepherding the flock of Christ, he was asked to confirm his faith and love for Jesus.
Yes, the Lord is asking us today, “do you love me more than these others do?” Do you love me more than you love your loved ones? Do you love me more than all the material things you have? Do you love me enough to defend me against the false presentations about me? Do you love me enough to be concerned about those lambs of mine, those good and devout Catholics who still need to grow in their faith? Do you love me enough to think of those sheep of mine, those nominal Catholics, strayed Catholics and even non-Catholics who are lost and confused in their faith and life? Because if you love me, then reach out to them, invite them, speak to them and bring them to me so that I can heal and show them my love.
Truly, as we are at the threshold of Pentecost, let us earnestly pray for a fresh outpouring of the love of Christ. The Holy Spirit who is the love of God in person will fill us with His personal presence and love. He will help us to encounter Christ in person. He will enlighten us in the truth and heal our wounded hearts. Let us avail ourselves to His love and truth. Let us invite Catholics and non-Catholics to come to experience His love at Pentecost. In this way, all can follow Christ and find fullness of life and green pastures.
Tags: Acts 25:13b-21, by his death he glorified God, By his pain and suffering and death he glorified God, by what kind of death he would glorify God, Feed my lambs, Henri Nouwen, humiliation, in the service of others, Jn 21:15-19, May 13 2016, Only the Holy Spirit can heal our hearts, outpouring of the Spirit, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 103, service to others, stay close to him and walk his Way, Tend my sheep, The Holy Spirit who is the love and truth of God will illuminate our minds and heal our hearts, The peace we seek is available if we put ourselves into Jesus’ hands, Wounded Healer