The great Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a series of reflections on the Sermon on the Mount entitled The Cost of Discipleship. In them he maintained that discipleship requires that we make a fundamental decision to follow Jesus and accept the consequences of that decision. The ultimate 'cost of discipleship' was exacted of Bonhoeffer himself when, on April 9, 1945, he was hanged by the Nazis for his participation in the German resistance and his involvement in attempts to assassinate Hitler. While discipleship might force some people to decide between life and death, few of us will be asked to pay that ultimate price. However, genuine discipleship does call us to live in a way that, at times, may require a certain degree of heroism.
Arriving at church a few Sundays ago was a family all bedecked in their very finest, carrying a tiny infant, engulfed in a long white gown, a miniature version of the white robe given to newly baptized adults at the Easter Vigil. The symbolism of the gown was perfect: the child who was "putting on Christ" was completely covered with the flowing fabric. It was even impossible to distinguish whether the child was a boy or a girl.
This Sunday's gospel reading is one of the most beautiful and provocative stories found in Luke's Gospel. Luke's story of the anointing of Jesus has echoes of the anointing stories in Matthew, Mark and John which take place in Bethany on the eve of Jesus' death, but this story in Luke has a very different setting and carries its own special impact.
One of the prominent themes in Catholic Social Teaching is the preferential option for the poor. The readings we are given to hear on this Sunday reveal God's own care for the poor, in the story of two widows, one in the reading from 1 Kings and one in the Gospel from Luke. These women certainly are among the poor.
Recently I visited a friend's mother who is receiving hospice care because of cancer. Although she looked frail and weary, her spirit remained positive and cheerful. I visited her many times in the past and always went away nourished both in body and spirit. This time it was no different. Her generosity overwhelmed me. She literally took whatever she had, blessed it, and gave it to me. Her acts of kindness and generous sharing are truly sacramental manifestations of God's love and generosity. Her actions exemplify the message of today's Scripture readings and the significance of today's celebration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
When I was a child, I often wondered how far up Jesus had to ascend before he got to heaven. Then as an adult, I was dumbfounded when I read that one of the early astronauts made a comment about not seeing any traces up in space of the ascended Jesus. It is not that I have a clearer understanding of this mystery than I had as a child or than the astronaut seems to have had. I simply ask different questions now. I don't wonder where he went or where is he now. Instead, I wonder what it all means.
The lectionary readings in the period after Easter are particularly beautiful and exuberant and that is the case for this fifth Sunday after Easter. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear about the results of Paul and Barnabas' first missionary journey. They had set out from Antioch, the great Roman city located on the present day border between Turkey and Syria. Antioch had become Paul's home base and there, under the tutelage of Barnabas - one of the great leaders and unsung heroes of the early Church - he would be prepared for his later mission. Their first missi