PRE-NOTE: Lyle May is on death row in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Recently, through short telephone conversations from the prison, he
spoke to a class at Ohio University about criminal justice and the
death penalty. We have posted his talk on our webpage. Go to:
and click on "Justice Preaching."
What characterized the disciples from the time of Jesus’ arrest
in the garden, right up to today’s gospel account? Fear… Fear of the
Jewish authorities who collaborated with the Romans to have Jesus
executed. Peter made a bold assertion at the Last Supper: "Lord, at
your side, I am prepared to face imprisonment and death itself."
(Luke 22:33) That very night Peter denied knowing Jesus (Luke
So, what happened to make the difference? What enabled the
apostles to open the doors where they were huddled in fear and go
out into the threatening world to proclaim the resurrection? What
caused Peter and John to resist the Sanhedrin’s orders to stop
preaching Christ among the people (Acts 3:11-4:22)? Certainly this
complete change did not come about because the apostles braced
themselves, gave each other a pep talk and then launched out to the
world beyond their locked doors.
John tells us quite clearly today that it wasn’t a "What" that
emboldened the timid community of Jesus’ followers – but a "Who."
Before his death Jesus had promised to send an "Advocate" to teach
the disciples the truth, set them free and send them out to
Jerusalem and beyond. Today Jesus keeps his word and breathes his
Spirit upon his followers. We know what the disciples were like
during Jesus’ ministry, right up to his death. They showed early
signs of ambition and rivalry, hoping Jesus was the promised Messiah
who would give them positions of power in the new kingdom he was
proclaiming. When their world fell apart and Jesus was arrested and
killed, they fled in fear. That’s where we find them in today’s
gospel – behind locked doors in fear. Again, what changed them?
Jesus breathed the Spirit on them.
John’s Gospel has frequent allusions to the creation story in
Genesis. Remember the opening verses of Genesis which describe the
earth as "a formless void, and there was darkness over the deep..."
(1:1-2)? What brought light and order to the darkness and "formless
void?" Genesis tells us immediately, "God’s Spirit hovered over the
water." Then God began the work of creation.
Jesus first greeted the disciples, "Peace be with you." They
needed to know that, despite their previous fears and betrayals,
they were reconciled with Christ and one another. That reassurance
would have released them from their previous betrayal. And then
what? They might have remained a peaceable little community of
Jesus’ followers – meeting regularly to recall the "old days" with
Jesus. But Jesus breathes the creative Spirit upon them. (This
moment has been described as the "Johannine Pentecost.") John is
suggesting that the work of creation, begun in Genesis, is
continuing. Through Jesus, God’s gift of light has entered the world
afresh and enables the disciples to go out into the "formless void,"
the dark world, to bring forgiveness and reconciliation among
peoples – to be a "light to the nations," as Jesus was. Through
Jesus’ Spirit, now given to the community of believers, the
disciples will no longer be afraid and can begin their ministry
But a pause here. What could – "whose sins you retain are
retained" – mean? Why hold back forgiveness? Possibly, the community
was not to allow entrance to new members who did not accept the
gospel message. Or, maybe the church has the authority to "retain,"
i.e. withhold membership, to those seeking membership who refuse to
reform. It is quite clear, the church is not just a social club of
people who like each other. Acceptance of the gospel and a changed
life is expected.
Today’s passage instructs that the primary ministry of the
church, and that includes all believers, is to preach and act as
Christ’s messengers of peace and forgiveness. It is Jesus’ gift of
his Spirit that gives the power to disciples to overcome their
fears, prejudices, and doubts and become powerful witnesses and
preachers of God’s love and forgiveness. Each of us baptized has
that same power, the Spirit, that urges us to move out from our
comfortable places into a world that sorely needs the good news –
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. That’s who we are; that’s our
job description as disciples inspired by the Spirit of Jesus.
An important theme in John’s Gospel is that Jesus was sent into
the world to reveal the Father. In his appearance to the disciples
in the locked room, as he prepares to return to the Father, Jesus
commissions his disciples to continue his ministry: "As the Father
has sent me, so I send you." They will proclaim forgiveness of sins,
not by their own powers, or determination, but from the power the
Spirit gives them.
It is hard to ignore the second event in the story: Jesus’
appearance and invitation to Thomas to touch his wounds and so to
believe. What Thomas says in response, "My Lord and my God," is the
heart of our creed. Thomas and we encounter the presence of God in
the risen Christ. In a beatitude Christ affirms the faith of all who
come to believe. "Blessed are those who have not seen and come to
believe." That faith puts us on the same level with God as the
original disciples had.
Some people have a personal encounter with the risen Christ, as
did the disciples. The rest of us come to experience his forgiveness
and new life through the witnesses he has sent to us. Who are they
in your life? We give thanks at this Eucharist for those witnesses
who have been the source of the living faith we have in Jesus
Christ, risen from the dead and in our midst now.
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
"I have a desire to do something in return. To do
things. To give thanks. Give things. Give thoughts. Give
love. So gratitude becomes the gift, creating a cycle of
giving and receiving, the endless waterfall. Filling up
and spilling over… perhaps not even to the river but to
someone else, to whoever crosses one’s path . It is the
simple passing on of the gift."
– Elizabeth Bartlett
mercy endures forever."
How appropriate that on Divine Mercy Sunday all the readings call
us to open our eyes and experience the many ways that God’s mercy
touches us. Not only are we to experience God’s mercy but we have
also received the mandate that God’s mercy be shared with others
through our actions. A simple sharing of the gift of peace with
someone who is expressing doubt about God’s love and mercy by your
presence and words of reassurance is a great way to start.
From there take the time to learn of the great suffering that so
many fellow Christians and others are enduring in war-torn areas.
Think about all those who are fleeing violence in order to protect
their families. Meditate on how racism permeates our culture as a
systemic problem. Contemplate the cry of Mother Earth as her
resources are being consumed with abandon and other species are
being decimated. We are the ones who must be and act mercifully. We
will never have peace without mercy and justice for those who suffer
and for suffering creation.
Learn more about Catholic peacemaking efforts, such as Pax
Expand your knowledge of suffering in the world by exploring the
work of Catholic Relief Services:
Practice mercy by joining the work being done by Catholic Bishops
through Justice for Immigrants:
or join with our local efforts by contacting Luisi Martin-Price
For a comprehensive reflection on the racial divide in the USA,
read Bishop Edward Braxton’s pastoral letter from 2015 especially
Spend time in nature and then take action together with other
Catholics at the Catholic Climate Covenant:
and consider becoming part of the HNOJ Care for Creation Board at
Practice being merciful in every aspect of your life. May you
bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and the
oppressed, and restore sight to the blind.
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
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:
said to Thomas, "Have you come to believe
because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
How can we "prove" to others that Christ is risen from the dead?
Our nourishment for that task comes from the Scriptures, preaching,
teaching, personal witness, liturgical celebrations etc. – ways we
can help a modern doubter like Thomas come to know Christ. Today’s
passage affirms that people come to believe in the Risen Christ
through their experience of the believing community, people like us.
So we ask ourselves:
- How does my life reflect the risen Christ?
- What and who help me grow in my role as a witness to the
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
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."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Timothy Richardson #0492102 (On death row since 6/1/95)
- Richard Cagle #0061528 (6/16/95)
- William Herring #0180479 (7/22/95)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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