Bible Diary for May 22nd – 28th

May 22nd

St. Rita of Cascia
6th Sunday of Easter

1st Reading: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29:
Some persons, who had come from Judea to Antioch, were teaching the brothers in this way, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Because of this, there was trouble; and Paul and Barnabas had fierce arguments with them. For Paul told the people to remain as they were, when they became believers. Finally, those who had come from Jerusalem suggested that Paul and Barnabas and some others go up to Jerusalem, to discuss the matter with the apostles and elders.

Then the apostles and elders, together with the whole Church, decided to choose representatives from among them, to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. These were Judas, known as Barsabbas, and Silas, both leading men among the brothers. They took with them the following letter: “Greetings from the apostles and elders, your brothers, to the believers of non-Jewish birth in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. We have heard, that some persons from among us have worried you with their discussions, and troubled your peace of mind.

“They were not appointed by us. But now, it has seemed right to us, in an assembly, to choose representatives, and to send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have dedicated their lives to the service of our Lord Jesus Christ. We send you, then, Judas and Silas, who, themselves, will give you these instructions by word of mouth. We, with the Holy Spirit, have decided not to put any other burden on you except what is necessary: You are to abstain from blood; from the meat of strangled animals; and from prohibited marriages. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

2nd Reading: Rev 21:10-14, 22-23:
He took me up, in a spiritual vision, to a very high mountain, and he showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, from God. It shines with the glory of God, like a precious jewel, with the color of crystal-clear jasper. Its wall, large and high, has twelve gates; stationed at them are twelve angels. Over the gates are written the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. Three gates face the east; three gates face the north; three gates face the south and three face the west.

The city wall stands on twelve foundation stones, on which are written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God, Master of the universe, and the Lamb, are themselves its temple. The city has no need of the light of the sun or the moon, since God’s glory is its light and the Lamb is its lamp.

Gospel: Jn 14:23-29:
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him; and we will come to him and live with him. But if anyone does not love me, he will not keep my words; and these words that you hear are not mine, but the Father’s who sent me. I told you all this while I am still with you. From now on the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I have told you.

Peace be with you! My peace I give to you; not as the world gives peace do I give it to you. Do not be troubled! Do not be afraid! You heard me say, ‘I am going away, but I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you this now before it takes place, so that when it does happen you may believe.

Most large groups have three kinds of members: at the left are the liberals, who tend to be lax and permissive when interpreting the rules and regulations of the group; at the right are the conservatives, who are strict in their interpretation of the rules; and at the center are the moderates, who try to steer a middle course between strictness and laxity. The Catholic Church has always had these three basic groups. At the time of the apostles the conservatives wanted pagan converts to submit to all the mosaic laws (circumcision, laws on food restrictions, on liturgical offerings, on ritual cleanness, etc.), whereas Paul, Barnabas and others (who formed the liberal wing of the Church) opposed all this strenuously.

The ultimate solution adopted by the leadership of the Church, as we find it proposed in today’s first reading, is a compromise solution which proved acceptable to all concerned. And this solution is presented as being suggested by the Holy Spirit…Many conflicts within the Church could be resolved with a bit more openness to other people’s opinion and a bit more flexibility. Are we capable of working out healthy compromises with our opponents? Let us ask the Spirit to help us resolve our differences in a peaceful manner. Are we ready to work out a healthy compromise with our opponents?

May 23rd

1st Reading: Acts 16:11-15:
So, we put out to sea from Troas and sailed straight across to Samothrace Island; and the next day, to Neapolis. From there, we went inland to Philippi, the leading city of the district of Macedonia, and a Roman colony. We spent some days in that city. On the Sabbath, we went outside the city gate, to the bank of the river, where we thought the Jews would gather to pray.

We sat down and began speaking to the women who were gathering there. One of them was a God-fearing woman, named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in purple cloth. As she listened, the Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying. After she had been baptized, together with her household, she invited us to her house, “If you think I am faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us to accept her invitation.

Gospel: Jn 15:26–16:4a:
From the Father, I will send you the Spirit of truth. When this Helper has come from the Father, he will be my witness, and you, too, will be my witnesses, for you have been with me from the beginning. I tell you all this to keep you from stumbling and falling away. They will put you out of the synagogue. Still more, the hour is coming, when anyone who kills you will claim to be serving God; they will do this, because they have not known the Father or me. I tell you all these things now so that, when the time comes, you may remember that I told you about them. I did not tell you about this in the beginning, because I was with you.

In these modern times contaminated by much religious terrorism, it is easier to understand Jesus’s words that say those who engage in violence would claim to be doing so as a service to God. A noble goal, but utterly sinful act. Thomas Aquinas once observed: “Every time someone sins, they are sinning under the guise of good.” They do so, because, as Jesus tells us today, they have not known the Father or Christ. “No ruler of this world ever knew this [wisdom]; otherwise they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Cor 2:8).

That is why Jesus prays for them at his death: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Jesus informs his disciple about such ignorance so that when the time of their persecution comes, they would remember and find it in their hearts to forgive them, as he himself did. And we know that the martyrs of the Church have invariably remembered it and prayed for their persecutors, starting with Stephen, the deacon (Acts 7:60). Let us pray for the grace to do the same at the moment of our death.

May 24th

1st Reading: Acts 16:22–34:
So they set the crowd against them and the officials tore the clothes off Paul and Silas and ordered them to be flogged. And after inflicting many blows on them, they threw them into prison, charging the jailer to guard them safely. Upon receiving these instructions, he threw them into the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly a severe earthquake shook the place, rocking the prison to its foundations. Immediately all the doors flew open and the chains of all the prisoners fell off. The jailer woke up to see the prison gates wide open.

Thinking that the prisoners had escaped, he drew his sword to kill himself, but Paul shouted to him, “Do not harm yourself! We are all still here.” The jailer asked for a light, then rushed in, and fell at the feet of Paul and Silas. After he had secured the other prisoners, he led them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you and your household will be saved.” Then they spoke the word of God to him and to all his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer took care of them and washed their wounds; and he and his whole household were baptized at once. He led them to his house, spread a meal before them and joyfully celebrated with his whole household his newfound faith in God.

Gospel: Jn 16:5–11:
Jesus said to his disciples, “But now I am going to the One who sent me and none of you asks me where I am going; instead you are overcome with grief because of what I have said. Indeed believe me: It is better for you that I go away, because as long as I do not leave, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go away, it is to send him to you, and when he comes, he will vindicate the truth in face of the world with regard to sin, to the way of righteousness, and to the Judgment. What has been the sin? They did not believe in me. What is the way of righteousness? I am on the way to the Father, meanwhile you will not see me. What Judgment? The Ruler of this world has himself been condemned.”

It is hard to believe that Jesus’s going away is a better option for me than his staying put. But Jesus is pretty clear on it. If he goes away, then he will send the Holy Spirit, the Helper, whose gifts and fruit(s) will help the disciples to mature in faith and witness to Christ. It is not unlike the wise parents who know when to withdraw their physical presence, yet offer spiritual support to their children so that they will grow into maturity and rely on their inner convictions more than on external nurturing. In our lives, when we are confronted by a seeming absence of Christ beside us, let us not panic. It is better that he remains hidden so that we will learn to rely on his Spirit, and mature in faith.

May 25th

St. Bede the Venerable
St. Gregory VII
St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

1st Reading: Acts 17:15, 22–18:1:
Paul was taken as far as Athens by his escort, who then returned to Beroea with instructions for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible. Then Paul stood up in the Areopagus hall and said, “Athenian citizens, I note that, in every way, you are very religious. As I walked around, looking at your shrines, I even discovered an altar with this inscription: To an unknown God. Now, what you worship as unknown, I intend to make known to you. God, who made the world and all that is in it, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, being as he is Lord of heaven and earth. Nor does his worship depend on anything made by human hands, as if he were in need.

“Rather, it is he who gives life and breath and everything else, to everyone. From one stock he created the whole human race, to live throughout all the earth, and he fixed the time and the boundaries of each nation. He wanted them to seek him by themselves, even if it was only by groping for him, that they succeed in finding him. Yet, he is not far from any one of us. For, in him, we live and move, and have our being; as some of your poets have said: for we, too, are his offspring. If we are indeed God’s offspring, we ought not to think of divinity as something like a statue of gold or silver or stone, a product of human art and imagination.

“But now, God prefers to overlook this time of ignorance; and he calls on all people to change their ways. He has already set a day, on which he will judge the world with justice through a man he has appointed. And, so that all may believe it, he has just given a sign, by raising this man from the dead.” When they heard Paul speak of a resurrection from death, some made fun of him, while others said, “We must hear you on this topic some other time.” At that point Paul left. But a few did join him, and believed. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus court, a woman named Damaris, and some others. After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.

Gospel: Jn 16:12-15:
I still have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now. When he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into the whole truth. For he will not speak of his own authority, but will speak what he hears, and he will tell you about the things which are to come. He will take what is mine and make it known to you; in doing this, he will glorify me. All that the Father has is mine; for this reason, I told you that the Spirit will take what is mine, and make it known to you.

The spiritual life of a seriously committed Christian involves a lot of prayer. In fact, prayer is practically the indispensable means to grow in intimacy with God (along with the daily practice of charity in action, word, and thought). At the beginning of our spiritual journey, God encourages us by sending us pleasant feelings in prayer. However, he gradually withdraws these consolations so that we can seek him in pure faith. This is a long and painful process extending normally over decades.

But if we are faithful to prayer and charity, our faith becomes as solid as rock, and we do not need consolations any more. But faith alone is a harsh discipline. However, if we remain faithful to prayer and charity, there comes a day when we become aware (this is not like a mere feeling, which comes and goes, it is a once-and-for-all knowledge) that, as Paul says in today’s first reading “in him (God) we live and move and have our being.” This awareness is the beginning of ordinary mystical life. All Christians are called to it. Those who are blessed with this awareness never again experience loneliness.

May 26th

Ascension Thursday
St. Philip Neri

1st Reading: Acts 18:1-8:
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, following a decree of the Emperor Claudius, which ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to visit them, and then stayed and worked with them, because they shared the same trade of tent making. Every Sabbath, he held discussions in the synagogue, trying to convince both Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was able to give himself wholly to preaching, and proving to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.

One day, when they opposed him and insulted him, he shook the dust from his clothes in protest, saying, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. I am not to blame if, from now on, I go to the non-Jews.” So Paul left there and went to the house of a Godfearing man named Titus Justus, who lived next door to the synagogue. A leading man of the synagogue, Crispus, along with his whole household, believed in the Lord. On hearing Paul, many more Corinthians believed and were baptized.

Gospel: Jn 16:16-20:
“A little while, and you will see me no more; and then a little while, and you will see me.” Some of the disciples wondered, “What does he mean by, ‘A little while, and you will not see me; and then a little while, and you will see me’? And why did he say, ‘I go to the Father’?” And they said to one another, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.” Jesus knew that they wanted to question him; so he said to them, “You are puzzled because I told you that in a little while you will see me no more, and then a little while later you will see me. Truly, I say to you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.

Among Christians, it is usually the case that one of the two spouses is more interested in religious matters than the other. But when both spouses are deeply interested in living out their Christian faith, the result is something beautiful to behold. The couple mentioned in today’s first reading seems to have been completely dedicated to the spread of the Christian faith. This couple, Aquila and Prisca or Priscilla, is named four times in the New Testament. Paul is their guest in Corinth, and together they undertake to complete the religious formation of the famous preacher Apollos, who did not know of the existence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 18:26), and they had groups of Christians meeting regularly in their house (1 Cor 16:19).

Of this couple Paul writes the following glowing praise: “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I am grateful, but also all the churches of the Gentiles” (Rom 16:3-4). Incidentally, Prisca is named before her husband most of the time in these various passages, which suggests that she had a strong personality. Committed Christian couples are always a great blessing to the Church.

May 27th

St. Augustine of Canterbury

1st Reading: Acts 18:9-18:
One night, in a vision, the Lord said to Paul, “Do not be afraid, but continue speaking and do not be silent, for many people in this city are mine. I am with you, so no one will harm you.” So Paul stayed a year and a half in that place, teaching the word of God among them. When Gallio was governor of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the court. And they accused him, “This man tries to persuade us to worship God in ways that are against the law.”

Paul was about to speak in his own defense when Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of a misdeed or vicious crime, I would have to consider your complaint. But since this is a quarrel about teachings and divine names that are proper to your own law, see to it yourselves: I refuse to judge such matters.” And he sent them out of the court. Then the people seized Sosthenes, a leading man of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal; but Gallio paid no attention to it. Paul stayed on with the disciples in Corinth for many days; he then left them and sailed off with Priscilla and Aquila for Syria. And as he was no longer under a vow he had taken, he shaved his head before sailing from Cenchreae.

Gospel: Jn 16:20-23:
Truly, I say to you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. A woman in childbirth is in distress because her time is at hand. But after the child is born, she no longer remembers her suffering because of her great joy: a human being is born into the world. You feel sorrowful now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice; and no one will take your joy from you. When that day comes you will not ask me anything. Truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you.

Today’s first reading begins with the account of a nocturnal vision given to Paul and in which the Lord Jesus says two striking things to Paul. The first one is the following: “Many people in this city are mine.” This is a mysterious statement because the population of Corinth is as yet mostly pagan, the work of evangelization having barely begun. Yet Jesus says that many of these pagans are already his. His in what sense? Presumably in the sense that they have the basic honesty and moral habits (i.e. natural virtues) which predispose them to receive the Gospel favorably.

These good people are “attuned” to the things of God. When the Shepherd calls to them through the preaching of Paul, they will recognize his voice (Jn 10:4) and follow him. The second striking statement of Jesus to Paul is this one: “I am with you.” Now throughout the Bible, when God sends someone on a mission he reassures that someone by telling him or her: “I am / I will be with you.” (Gen 26:3; Ex 3:12; Dt 31:23; Jos 1:5; 6:12, 16; etc.). Genuine Christians know that Christ is always with them. This certainty is their strength and their consolation.

May 28th

1st Reading: Acts 18:23-28:
After spending some time there, he left and traveled from place to place through Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples. A certain Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, arrived at Ephesus. He was an eloquent speaker and an authority on the Scriptures, and he had some knowledge of the way of the Lord. With great enthusiasm he preached, and taught correctly, about Jesus, although he knew only of John’s baptism.

As he began to speak boldly in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila heard him; so they took him home with them and explained to him the way more accurately. As Apollos wished to go to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly strengthened those who, by God’s grace, had become believers, for he vigorously refuted the Jews, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah.

Gospel: Jn 16:23b-28:
Truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. So far you have not asked for anything in my name; ask, and receive, that your joy may be full. I have taught you all these things in veiled language, but the time is coming when I shall no longer speak in veiled language, but will speak to you plainly about the Father. When that day comes, you will ask in my name; and it will not be necessary for me to ask the Father for you, for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and you believed that I came from the Father. As I came from the Father, and have come into the world, so I am leaving the world, and going to the Father.”

We all have what ophthalmolgists call a “blind spot,” namely, an area of our retina in which vision is not experienced. But many of us have other, non-ocular, blind spots. These are topics about which we are either ignorant or prejudiced. Apollos, the man mentioned in today’s first reading, was “an eloquent speaker and an authority on the Scriptures,” yet he had a blind spot in his faith: he knew only of John the Baptist’s baptism and not about Jesus’ baptism in the Holy Spirit. This was his Christian blind spot. Fortunately for him, the kind couple Priscilla and Aquila helped him overcome his blind spot. In this connection we can only admire the manner in which these two interacted with Apollos.

First of all they abstained from correcting him openly in public, even though his ignorance was about a point of such central importance. They invited Apollos to their home and, presumably over a tasty meal, very tactfully and gently pointed out his blind spot. This worked perfectly, as we can deduce from the rest of the story. Tact and gentleness are indispensable when correcting somebody. This is an area in which we should all examine ourselves. Are our corrections acts of love?