Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion

INTRODUCING FR. FREDDIE'S GOSPEL REFLECTIONS

for Multi-purpose

1. These reflections are not written like an essay, but in six precise steps. Choose what you like.

2. They are not meant only for preaching homilies, but for a multi-purpose: for teaching, prayer (either personal or common), reflections and socio-pastoral guidance.

3. They can be used outside the liturgical celebrations also on any other occasions for preaching (by using the same text), private and common prayers, Bible Vigil, Adoration, Prayer Service, Gospel Sharing, conferences, talks, etc.

4. Only the Gospel text prescribed for the Sunday Liturgy in the Catholic Church is used for these reflections, and not the First and Second Readings. The latter are quoted only for reference. Those who want to include them, have to find their own applications.

5. These reflections are written from a pastoral and spiritual perspective, and not from academic or exegetical.

6. The preachers have an option to develop only the focus-statements given in Step 2 on their own into a full-fledged homily. If they want to make their homily shorter, they need not include all the points/thoughts written by the author; instead can select what they like, and (if they want) add their own stories/ anecdotes/ examples.

7. The title, “Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion” indicates the author’s intention to highlight the life-sustaining or life-saving issues in our world and society in the midst of anti-life forces.

8. Though much of the material presented in these reflections is author's, no claim is made for the originality of all the thoughts and ideas. They are adopted from various authors.

9. Reproduction of these reflections in any form needs prior permission.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter (B)


Fourth Sunday of Easter B [Jn 10:11-18]
22 April 2018
Jesus the Good Shepherd
Readings: (1) Acts 4:8-12 (2) 1 Jn 3:1-12
1.  Theme in brief:
Care, protection and self-sacrifice of Jesus our Good Shepherd
2.   Focus Statement
The Risen Christ is our Good Shepherd who knows us intimately, takes care of us, protects us and lays down his life willingly out of love for us, in contrast to the hired man who abandons the sheep when they are attacked by the wild animals.
3.   Explanation of the text
Today’s gospel passage has its background in the OT, in which the leaders of Israel, especially the kings are called shepherds. Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel pronounce God’s condemnation of the evil rulers (wicked kings) of Israel who are called false shepherds (Jer 23:1-2; Ez 34:1-10). Ezekiel strongly accuses the false shepherds of Israel who had been feeding themselves instead of feeding the sheep; who clothed themselves with their wool and slaughtered them for food, but never bothered to care for them (34:1-6). In contrast to those greedy leaders of Israel, he portrays God as an ideal or noble shepherd who genuinely cares for his ‘sheep’ (that is, Israel, Ez 34:11-16). In the context of the failure of many Jewish leaders, Jeremiah proclaims God’s promise to appoint faithful shepherds to tend his flock after his own heart (Jer 3:15), and Ezekiel announces that God himself will be their shepherd par excellence (Ez 34:15).
In today’s text, Jesus claims that Ezekiel’s prophecy of God himself becoming the true or ideal shepherd of his people (34:15) is fulfilled through his ministry. Therefore, he claims to be not just any shepherd but the Good Shepherd, meaning true/ ideal/ noble or model shepherd of his flock (that is, community of believers). Though in the OT, the wicked kings are called false shepherds, in today’s gospel Jesus depicts false teachers and misleading guides as hired hands or hired men and ‘wolves’ (10:12-13). He may be referring both to evil leaders of Judaism (especially the Pharisees) and false teachers of the future Church. He points out how his self-sacrifice (on the cross) for his sheep stands out in stark contrast to the selfish, greedy and harassing religious leaders of Israel. He proves to be the Good Shepherd because, unlike the hireling, he lovingly, willingly and voluntarily sacrifices his life in order to save or in defence of his sheep (10:15,18).
Jesus likens his role to that of a model shepherd – not only his role of taking care of the sheep but also defending/ protecting/ guarding them against any possible attack from wolves (10:12). This image of ‘wolves’ most probably refers to the false teachers either in Jewish society or in the Early Church. A hired hand tends the sheep for money, while the shepherd does it out of love. He is not merely doing a job but is committed to the sheep, since he owns them. The hired man works only for selfish motives, that is, only for money or wages. He does not take his job as a divinely ordained call but only as a means to earn money. He is not concerned about the welfare of the sheep but only about his pay. He has no sense of responsibility, because he neither owns the sheep nor cares for them (10:12-13). He has no other interest in the sheep, and is not ready to put his life at risk when the wolf comes to attack the sheep. When danger approaches he leaves the sheep and simply runs away to save his own life allowing the sheep to be snatched and eaten up by the wolf (10:12). It happens because genuine love for the sheep is not the motivation of the hired man.
Jesus willingly lays down his life (in sovereign freedom) to save his sheep. For Jesus, his role as the Good Shepherd is  not a profession but an option which he freely and voluntarily chooses of his own accord; it is in no way forced on him (10:18).  His deepest love for the sheep motivates him to sacrifice his life to save and give life to them. He lays down our life freely in order to regain or take it up again more abundantly – an obvious reference to his resurrection (10:17-18).
Jesus compares his intimate relationship with or knowledge of the sheep to the intimacy he shares with his Father (10:14-15). He says that he knows his sheep very intimately and the sheep whom he calls “my own” also know him (10:14). This word “to know" is used throughout the Scripture not for knowing something intellectually or theoretically or for knowing someone as an acquaintance, but to describe the most intimate, personal and experiential relationship that one can have.
The other sheep that do not belong to Jesus’ fold’ certainly refer to the Gentiles (10:16). He will bring them also, of course, not directly but through the missionary efforts of his disciples. One day they will listen to his voice and both the Jews and the Gentiles will become one flock (community) under one Shepherd (that is, under him).
4.  Application to life                     
One of the most prominent, ancient and common pictures of Jesus in Christian art is that of the shepherd tending his sheep or carrying it in his arms or on shoulders. Today’s gospel text, given in the context of Easter Season, poses this question for us: Who is Risen Lord for us and what does he do for us? The Risen Lord is our Good Shepherd who knows us, takes care of us, protects us and even today lays down or sacrifices his life for us (in the Eucharist). As our Good Shepherd, the Risen Christ protects us from so many ‘wolves’ such as evil, sin, worldly or ungodly ways, bad companions, misleading guides, false teachers and unbecoming and unworthy leaders. Hence, this gospel text invites us to experience the shepherding role of the Risen Lord, which consists in constantly saving us by protecting and defending us from all these ‘wild animals.’
Is there any shepherd or herdsman among us who would not mind purposely getting devoured by a wild animal in the forest rather than letting one of his domestic animals be snatched by it? Hardly any. Though we love our domestic animals, normally we consider our life more precious than theirs and do not risk it wilfully. It is quite the opposite with Jesus our Good Shepherd. He willingly sacrificed his life for us (his sheep) on the cross in order to save us from the ‘wild animals’ such as sin or evil and make us partakers of his divine life. Again, if ever a worldly shepherd gets killed by a wild animal while defending his sheep, it is because he could not escape from the clutches of that animal. On the contrary, Jesus freely and willingly lays down his life of his own accord out of love for us. Further, unlike the worldly shepherds, Jesus continues to protect and defend us against our spiritual enemies even after his death because he laid down his life in order to take it up again (10:17), that is, rise from the dead and remain with us to defend us till the end of our lives.
There is no dearth of false shepherds or ‘hired workers’ around us such as misguides, bad companions, fake gurus and godmen, dishonest and corrupt leaders. They may sometimes promise the moon. But heart of hearts they seek their own material benefits, rights, security and wellbeing and are least bothered whether the sheep enjoy anything of this sort. They are least concerned when the sheep go astray, get lost or become victims of ‘wild animals.’ They are least interested to protect the rights and dignity of the weaker sheep.
If we want to protect ourselves from these false shepherds and come under our Good Shepherd’s banner or standard, we need to know him intimately as he knows us personally and intimately and be familiar with his voice. Knowing him also means to be in constant communion with him. This is possible only through a depth-level communication with him in prayer, meditation on the Word of God and recognition of him in all situations and among the needy and the suffering. As the sheep of Christ, we are constantly in danger of falling prey to misleading guides, false propaganda, corruption, addictions like drugs and alcoholism, marital unfaithfulness and betrayal in priestly or religious life. The Risen Lord is ready to protect us from these ‘wild animals’ (evils or evil powers) if we listen to his voice and submit ourselves to his care. He cares for us by protecting us and nourishing us through the Eucharist.
The next question is: How can we be good or ideal shepherds to others after the model of Christ? An honest answer to this question should prompt all leaders of families, civil society, religious or consecrated life and the Church to self-examine whether they are good shepherds or bad, whether  they behave like hired workers and tend the ‘sheep’ merely for money/ material benefits/ power, or out of love for them and genuine interest in their welfare. They need to question themselves whether they have assumed leadership roles merely for money, perks, power and position, or are committed to the sheep; whether they work only to fill their own pockets or for the welfare of the ‘sheep’ (people entrusted to their care); whether they consider their position merely as a job, or a divinely ordained call to serve the community with its people’s concerns in mind; and whether they sacrifice a little bit of their self-interest/ time/ energy/ talents for those who are neglected, underprivileged and marginalized. They need to examine whether they have a sense of responsibility for the ‘sheep’ and genuinely care for them. They need to ask themselves how they behave or react when the ‘wolves’ (that is, those who exploit, do injustice and steal human dignity) come to attack the ‘sheep’. When the sheep face such a danger, do they leave the sheep and simply run away to save their own life letting the sheep suffer their fate, or protect them and try to liberate them from the clutches of exploiters and oppressors?
Though we are more familiar with the traditional application of the shepherd’s imagery to the shepherding role of the Church leaders, such as bishops and priests, we can broadly apply it to all those who are in a position of leadership in families, society and the Church. Persons who hold any position of leading/ guiding/ directing others are like shepherds to the people under their care. Those who hold such positions should ask this question: How can I become a good shepherd in my family, society and the Church? Today’s good shepherd is a father in the family who spends some time with his children to guide and direct them in spite of his busy schedule; a mother who nurses, cares and supports a sick/ disobedient/ mischievous child; a teacher who teaches human, moral and spiritual values and character to students besides regular lessons, or spends extra time to teach dull students; a student who visits his/her sick classmate, though not a friend; a doctor who treats a life-threatening illness of a poor patient for a lower fees; a parish council member who visits a member who does not attend meetings; an officer who stands for the rights of the poor; a friend who protects his/her friend from danger and evil habits, etc. Let us ask ourselves whether we are shepherds after God’s own heart, or false shepherds/ hirelings who do nothing to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strayed, seek after the lost, or to prevent our people getting scattered and becoming a prey to ‘wild animals’ such as bad companions, criminals and corrupt forces (Ez 34:4-6).
5.   Response to God's Word
As a pastor/ consecrated person/ parent/ teacher/ civil or Church leader/ medical practitioner/ administrator/ council or committee member, am I a good or ideal shepherd after the model of Christ, or merely a ‘hireling’? Do I imitate or follow our Good Shepherd’s model, or only the bad example of other shepherds of the world (such as opinion polls, T.V. ads, latest fads, misleading or bad companions, false teachers, other pressure groups, etc.)? Which standards dominate my way of thinking and acting: the Good Shepherd’s or the world’s and its false shepherds’? Who or what snatches me away from Jesus’ fold? In what way can I lay down my life freely by making self-sacrifices to save and protect or defend the ‘sheep’ under my care? Please think of the ways you can become a ‘good shepherd’ at home, in workplace, in the neighbourhood and in the local Church, and avoid becoming merely a ‘hired labourer,’ or worst still a ‘wolf.’
6.   A prayer
O Good Shepherd, thank you for seeking me when I was lost, bringing me back when I strayed, binding my wound when I was injured, strengthening me when I was weak, protecting me from evil, nourishing me with the Word and the Eucharist and laying down your life in sacrificial love for me. Remain as my ideal Shepherd and motivate me to be a true shepherd after your own heart. With you as my Shepherd I shall not want anything.  Amen.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Third Sunday of Easter (B)


Third Sunday of Easter B [Lk 24:35-48]
15 April 2018
The Risen Christ Opens their Minds to Understand the Scriptures
Readings: (1) Acts 3:13-15.17-19 (2) 1 Jn 2:1-5
1. Theme in brief:
     Light to understand the inevitability of the cross
2.   Focus Statement:
The Risen Christ opens our minds to understand the truth that as per God’s plan of salvation and the testimony of the Scriptures, glory can come only through suffering, cross and death.
3.  Explanation of the text
When the travellers to Emmaus were talking to the eleven disciples of Jesus and their companions about their experience with the Risen Lord (24:33), suddenly he stood among them with his message, “Peace be with you” (24:36). Normally we understand by peace to mean quietness, tranquillity, mental calmness, freedom from disturbance and absence of war or fight. It means more than that: wholeness of body, mind and soul; abundant blessings of God and his salvation; an all-round wellbeing, harmony and building up of human relationships.
Further, today’s gospel text emphasizes on three points about the resurrection of Christ and its consequences for a believer:
(1) The truth or reality of the resurrection (24:37-43): It is neither a hallucination nor a figment of the disciples’ imagination. The Risen Lord tries to prove his identity by convincing them that he is not a ghost but really the same Jesus of Nazareth, but now glorified and transformed. They can touch him since he has flesh and bones which ghosts do not have (24:39); they carefully observe the scars of nails on his body as he shows his hands and feet to them (24:39-40); and he can eat broiled fish like any other living persons (24:42).
(2) The necessity and inevitability of the cross in order to attain the glory of the resurrection (24:46): The cross was not something like a last resort employed by Jesus when nothing else worked. It was not only the greatest proof of God’s love for sinners but also was a part of God’s plan from all eternity. He opens their minds to understand the truth that glory could come only through suffering and death (24:45). He enlightens their minds to realize how God willed that sinful humans be saved precisely in this manner and not in some other way. Passion-cross-resurrection (now called paschal mystery) is the fulfilment of the whole of OT – the Law, the prophets and the Psalms (24:44). Earlier also on the road to Emmaus Jesus had scolded two fellow-travellers for not understanding the fact that suffering of the Messiah was planned by God as testified by the Scriptures (Lk 24:27). Now he invites all the eleven and their companions (including women, though not mentioned explicitly) – who had gathered in an undisclosed location in Jerusalem (Lk 24:33) – to a deeper faith.  He explains that suffering was (is) necessary not only for the Messiah to enter into his glory, but now for his disciples also. Thus he is not only the fulfilment of the Scriptures but also its interpreter (24:45-46).
(3) The responsibility and urgency of continuing his mission that includes the following elements (24:47-48): (a) proclamation of his message; (b) calling people to repentance; (c) offering God’s forgiveness – now available because of Christ’s resurrection (victory over sin) – to those who repent for their sins; (d) preaching and forgiving with the authority that comes from his name; (e) proclaiming his message to all nations (including the Gentiles), beginning from Jerusalem (the centre of Jewish faith and worship); and (f) becoming witnesses to his teaching and interpretation of the Scriptures (24:48). In simple terms, their message is this: “Because Jesus has risen, he has won a victory over sin. Now God offers an unconditional forgiveness to all those who believe in Jesus and repent for their sins. All that you have to do is to repent and accept his offer of salvation.”
4.  Application to life                     
In the context of our faith in the Risen Christ, what exactly does his Easter greeting of peace mean for us? (1) It is an invitation for us not to allow our real and imaginary fears to take control of us, since we believe that God is in control of our lives.  On the cross, it seemed as if God was out of control and could not save his Son. The resurrection proved that God does vindicate the just. The Risen Lord assures us, because he lives, he is present with us even when we feel his absence. When we entrust our entire life into his hands and allow him to do what he wants with us, where is the place for over-anxiety and hyper-tension? The peace that comes from this type of self-surrender brings us inner security just like a child feeling secure in its mother’s lap without any fetters, in contrast to outer security that comes from elaborate security-checks in our world. (2) Peace is also a greeting of God’s abundant blessings and promise of wholeness and wellbeing of body, mind and soul. Wellbeing and inner joy are experienced when we burn with zeal or enthusiasm for a cause. (3) Peace is also a challenge to become witnesses to his peace (Lk 24:48). Only when we share peace with those who are not so good to us or when we become peacemakers and refrain from becoming peace breakers, we become his witnesses.
As we read or listen to today’s gospel text we wonder at the Risen Lord’s symbolic invitation to his disciples to carefully observe the scars of wounds on his body by showing them his hands and feet (24:39-40). He might have shown them his nail-marks to remind them that redemption is brought about at a great price – through humiliation, pain, sorrow, suffering and a supreme sacrifice. It is a reminder for us that neither personal change nor social change can be attained without paying this price. Repentance – turning away from sin and turning to God in faith with a change in the direction of our life – cannot be achieved if we bypass the cross. We who have experienced God’s forgiveness in and through Jesus Christ cannot but heal the wounds caused by our broken relationships by forgiving those who have hurt us. Our world too, with so many wounds of divisions and conflicts, “stands in need of liberation” and a “healing touch” (as we sing in one of our hymns). We can become credible witnesses or signs of the presence of Risen Lord in our world by carrying forward his mission of reconciliation and liberation of the world from poverty, ignorance, violence, sin and evil.  
Just as Jesus opened the minds of his disciples, today also he opens our minds to understand the centrality and the necessity of the cross in our life. Cross was an integral part of Jesus’ life and will remain so in the life of his disciples. It is no wonder that the shadow of the cross – in the form of sacrifices and self-denials to be made; suffering, opposition, rejection, humiliation and persecution to be endured – always follows those who faithfully continue the prophetic mission of Christ. It is inevitable that anyone who works for God with total commitment and speaks for him or stands for his cause will face the same ordeal. These crosses are essential to bring about new life and transformation. God always vindicates the path of righteousness chosen by his prophets and sees to it that the truth they proclaim or uphold will finally win. Yes, the shadow of the resurrection and the hope it generates is mingled with the shadow of the cross, if only one has faith to see such a hope.
Tell me, where on earth can we totally escape from the shadow of the cross? Cross is both necessary and inevitable for any of the following matters: (1) for a personal conversion, because we need to go through the pain of dying to our selfishness/egotism or renouncing our sinful attitudes; (2) for social change and progress, because we may have to abandon some of our deep-rooted and age-old social structures/ customs/ traditions and give up evil practices that block such a change; (3) for maintaining an atmosphere of love and unity in our families, because we need to give up our own self-interests and sacrifice our time for genuine relationships; (4) for fighting or protesting against social evils, injustice, crimes, discrimination, etc., because we may have to face opposition, criticism intimidation and threats for doing it ; (5) for bringing peace and reconciliation, because it demands the pain of sacrificing our self-interests and the humiliation of forgiving a wrongdoer; etc.
When we go through the valley of darkness, it is very difficult to understand that the crosses in our life are signs of God’s love and plan, and that he wants to bring something good out of them. This is what Jesus was trying to explain both to the Emmaus wayfarers and to the eleven apostles and their companions as per today’s gospel. A question haunts the minds of every virtuous person even today, just as it might have haunted the disciples at his crucifixion: “Why should this particular tragedy/ misfortune/ terminal illness/ fatal accident/ injustice/ nightmare/ trauma happen to me? Do I deserve this ordeal? What wrong have I done?” Just as Jesus said that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer the agony of the cross in order to attain glory, can we turn back to our past life and say about a tragic/ sorrowful event or a bitter experience we had gone through, “It was necessary for me; it was for my good; I learned a lot from it; today I am what I am because of it?” Taken in this spirit, even our fault turns out to be a “happy fault” as the Easter Proclamation (called ‘Exultet’) says. It proclaims that Adam’s sin was truly necessary, because it earned for us so great a Redeemer.
I wonder whether I would have become a priest at all and would have shared this kind of Gospel Reflections with you if my father would not have died when I was two years old. My mother told me that he wanted me (his youngest son) to do higher (secular) studies to bring honour to his family and take care of it financially. I used to wonder why God took away my father at such a tender age because my mother and all of us had to undergo a lot of hardships in the absence of the head of our family. . God had a different plan for me. Now I understand that my father’s death was necessary to realize God’s plan for me. He wanted to make me a priest and send me as a missionary to Odisha. After my father’s death, my mother inspired me to become a priest against my father’s wish. Of course, it has taken me so many years and so much faith to realize this. We need to take a great leap of faith to understand that whatever God does is for our good, if not at the moment of a personal tragedy, much later when our emotions get settled down. It is the Risen Lord who enlightens our minds to understand the meaning of suffering and its redemptive value. He assures us that we shall see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Like the disciples, we too have quite a few doubts and fears. We doubt whether our present condition will improve; whether a particular and acute problem will be solved; whether all our efforts will be fruitful; whether our plans will succeed; whether God will take care of our needs; whether there is a God who allows the just to suffer and why does he allow it; whether we shall see a corruption-free State; whether the terrorist activities and the rate of violence/crime will come down in the world; whether global warming and climate change will be contained; etc. When we are attuned to the voice of the living Lord coming to us through his Word, we get his invitation to move from doubt to faith in him. Just as he told his disciples as per today’s text, he tells us also: “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts” (24:38)? Then he invites us to experience his powerful presence in the Eucharist with all the tenderness: “Touch me and see” (24:39).
5.  Response to God's Word
Do we allow our fears to control our lives instead of entrusting our life to a caring and providential God?  When doubts, trials and sufferings come, do we entrust our life into God’s hands in such a way that we allow him to do what he wants with us, instead of getting drowned in over-anxiety and hyper-tensions? Do we actively promote peace around us and refrain from becoming peace breakers at all cost? What are the wounds of divisions and conflicts in our neighbourhood or society that need a “healing touch?” How can we carry forward Christ’s mission of reconciliation and liberation in a world wounded by poverty, ignorance, violence, wars, sin and evil?  What are the crosses that we think are inevitable and necessary to work out a personal and social change? When we reflect on tragic/ sorrowful events or a bitter experience in the past, are we able to say, “It was necessary for me?” What is our response to the Risen Lord’s question: “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”
6.  A prayer
Risen Lord Jesus, open my mind to understand the place of crosses and suffering in my life as per your plan. Fill me with your power so that I become a bold witness of change and reform, forgiveness and reconciliation to all the people. Touch me and heal me so that I may heal the broken world. Amen.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Second Sunday of Easter (B)


Second Sunday of Easter [Jn 20:19-31]
08 April 2018
The Risen Lord Appears to the Disciples
Readings: (1) Acts 4:32-35 (2) 1 Jn 5:1-6
1.  Theme in brief:
To overcome fears and doubts and carry forward Christ’s mission
2.   Focus Statement:
Faith in the Risen Lord gives us the power to overcome our fears and doubts, and empowers us with his Spirit to carry forward his mission of peace and reconciliation.
3.   Explanation of the text
The sudden appearance of the Risen Lord in the midst of disciples on the evening of “the first day of the week” (Sunday) in spite of locked doors (“for fear of the Jews,” 20:19) and barriers of walls, shows that now he has transcended all the barriers and blocks established by humans.
This appearance has a double significance:
(1) He is now having a spiritual or resurrected body endowed with all the divine glory; hence he can pass through the walls and locked doors (20:19); he is not bound by space and time any more. (2) He is in close solidarity with humanity, offering them something they long for; that is, peace and joy (20:19-21). The scars of wounds on his hands and his side confirm that he is the same Jesus. The joy of the disciples when they see him is only a fulfilment of the promise he made at the Last Supper: “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy from you” (16:22).
According to today’s gospel, as the Risen Lord appears to his disciples, he imparts four precious gifts to them:   
(1) Peace, with his twice repeated words: “Peace be with you” (20:19, 21). In biblical language peace involves all-round well-being, harmony and building up of human relationships (20:19, 21). In the OT, peace is closely associated with the blessing of God and salvation to be brought by the Messiah. This peace restores them to inner security and fearlessness.
(2) Holy Spirit, with the words: “Receive the Holy Spirit” and with the gesture of breathing on them (20:22). Since breath symbolizes life, it is clear that the Holy Spirit is the Risen Lord’s own breath or life. Just as God had breathed into the nostrils of the first man (Adam) the breath of life, and he had become a living being (Gen 2:7), so also Jesus breathes on his disciples in a similar fashion. By giving them the Holy Spirit he makes them a new creation or imparts new life into them leading to the birth of a new community, the Church. Breathing on them may also refer to prophet Ezekiel’s prophecy to the dry bones (37:1-14). The apostles are now like dry bones – lifeless and full of fear. Like the prophet, Jesus causes his breath or life (that is, the Holy Spirit) to enter into their dry bones and they begin to live (Ez 37:9, 14). The Holy Spirit regenerates or rejuvenates them in such a way that they emerge from their hideouts to become courageous witnesses of the Lord. 
(3) Mission mandate, with the words: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (20:21). He sends them into the world to continue the mission for which his Father had sent him. This mission should be understood in terms of John’s main themes – to share God’s (divine) life, light and truth with others; to dispel darkness of sin and death and to lay down their life in humble and sacrificial service for others. 
(4) Power to forgive or retain the sins of any (20:23). He gives them a share in his power to forgive sins so that they may proclaim the forgiving love of God and carry forward his own earthly ministry of reconciliation.
Though we come to know from the synoptic gospels also that many of Jesus’ disciples had doubted about his resurrection (cf. Mt 28:17), here in John’s gospel Thomas is singled out as a representative of all believers, who sometimes doubt in God’s work and demand physical proofs or spectacular miracles (20:25). The Risen Lord makes use of this episode of the doubting Thomas to point out the necessity of putting our faith in him without seeking for miracles or firsthand experience of the resurrection. He declares people who arrive at such faith based on the testimony of the firsthand witnesses as equally “blessed” (20:29).
4.  Application to life                     
The Risen Lord’s sudden appearance in the midst of disciples even when the doors were locked for fear of “the Jews” (that is, Jewish authorities), symbolizes his power: (1) to cross the limits of space and time; (2) to liberate us from our fears due to which we are shut in; and (3) to reassure us in our doubts of faith. By passing through the walls and locked doors of the house where the disciples had met, the Risen Lord makes it clear that now he is present in any situation and place if only we can ‘see’ his presence with the eyes of faith. He has transcended all the barriers and blocks established by human nature or culture such as distinctions of nationality, race, ethnicity, caste, class, kinship, group, party and religion. He can unlock the doors or break the walls erected by our prejudices, narrow-mindedness and selfishness.
In our social conversation normally we speak in these terms: “we" men and “they” women; “we" Christians and “they” non-Christians; “we" nationals and “they” foreigners; “we" locals and “they” outsiders; “we” tribals and “they” non-tribals; “we" lay people and “they” clergy/religious; etc. There is nothing wrong in these expressions as long as they are mere terms of reference. But we need to examine whether they go beyond normalcy and border on racism, casteism, tribalism, groupism, ethnic conflicts, prejudices or hatred or labeling of “those people there”, etc.
Worse still, if segregation/ discrimination/ ill-treatment based on these factors is practiced within Christian community which is composed of various ethnicities, races, castes, cultures and languages, we narrow down the Risen Christ’s presence to a limited place, group, culture or situation. This is equal to not believing that Christ is really risen from the dead. Let our attitude be like this: the Risen Lord is not “here alone” (that is in my kinship circles, ethnic community, caste, tribe or group alone) but equally present in all peoples, cultures and situations. If we really believe that Christ is risen from the dead, we cannot keep him confined to only our group/ tribe/ caste/ race or restrict him to one situation only. Secondly, if we believe so we begin to ‘see’ the presence of the Risen Lord not only in pleasant and joyful situations but also in sorrowful and painful ones. When sorrow comes, where is he? Can we say: “He is here in our sorrows because he is risen from the dead.”
Today’s gospel text highlights two important aspects of any believer’s life, namely, fears and doubts of faith. First, the text says that the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jewish authorities (20:19). Like the apostles, we are often tempted to lock our ‘doors’ out of so many fears in us – both real and imaginary. Just imagine the conscious and subconscious fears haunting the minds of many of us – fear of failure in an examination, of losing in a game or match, of being robbed, of being attacked by an enemy, of remaining unemployed, of losing a job, of being killed in a bomb blast or accident, of ridicule/ criticism/ negative remarks by others, of darkness, of public speaking, of dreadful sicknesses like cancer and heart attack, of being left alone in old age, of losing one’s dignity and reputation, of breakage of relationships, of our children getting into deviant or criminal behaviour, of natural or man-made calamities (like accidents, floods, earthquakes, cyclones), of untimely or unprepared death, etc. There are also fears of what others may think of us or say to us, especially when we try to behave a little different from the general trends in our society. Then of course, there is a fear of the unknown future.
When these fears (whether real or imaginary) take control of us and rule over our minds, they keep us chained and locked within the narrow space of our own souls. Instead of the Lord directing our lives, these fears become an independent force driving us where we may not like to go. The imaginary or unrealistic (baseless) fears are our worst masters who control or drive us to wrong directions such as depression, disappointment, meaninglessness, emptiness, etc. Robin Sharma rightly says: "We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when an adult is afraid of the light.” Quite often we are afraid of saying and doing what is right. The light of the Risen Lord can free us from the chains of fears (especially, imaginary or baseless ones), if we really believe in the power of his resurrection. If the Risen Lord is with us and for us, who or what can be against us (Rom 8:31-39)?
Armed with this firm faith, we need to admit our powerlessness to change the things we cannot, and surrender our lives into the hands of the living Lord. Our outer security may come from walled compounds, grill-gates, locks, bodyguards, bullet-proof vests, protective parents and companions; but our inner security comes from the power of the Risen Lord and his gift of peace – inner harmony. With his power we can overcome fear of hardship, distress, danger, persecution, peril and death. Let us place the bundle of fears before the Risen Lord and ask him to liberate us from all imaginary fears and give us the grace to face real fears with courage.
Secondly, after fears, come our doubts, epitomized by ‘doubting’ Thomas’ case in today’s gospel. They too are a part of every believer’s life. Like Thomas, we doubt whether all our efforts will be fruitful; whether our plans will succeed; whether there is a God who allows the just to suffer; and why does he allow it? We think, if God could prove his almighty powers through spectacular miracles and visions, all people of the earth could easily believe in him. Today’s gospel tells us that seeing extraordinary signs and miracles is not a guarantee of faith. When Thomas demanded such a proof from Jesus by showing the marks of nails in his hands and allow him to touch his wounds, Jesus gave him a chance to do so with another appearance (20:26-27). Today’s gospel does not tell us whether Thomas really touched Jesus’ wounds. Without arriving at a deeper level of faith, even if he had touched, he could have said that it was a ghost or just a hallucination. Unlike the apostles, our faith usually doesn’t come from direct encounter with the Risen Lord, but from the testimony of others. The action of the Risen Lord on our life is so mysterious that it cannot be seen. When unexpected, surprising and extraordinary things or events happen in our life, some believe in God’s mighty intervention and others do not. Faith in the Risen Lord leads us to a total surrender or submission to his plans and designs by acclaiming like Thomas: “You alone are the Lord of my life; you alone are my Higher Power. I bow down to you in total submission” (cf.20:28).
At baptism, the Lord had already breathed his Spirit into us and made us a new creation. In spite of that we become like dry bones lacking zeal in Christian commitment. In this Easter Season we must open our hearts to the Risen Lord and beg him to breathe his Spirit into us and renew/re-create us. With the empowerment of his Spirit, the Lord continues to send us even today with his mission – to share his peace where it is broken, to reconcile where there is disharmony, to breathe a fresh life where there is no life or where people sit in the shadow of death, to dispel the darkness of sin and to lay down their life in humble service for others. He opens the doors of forgiveness for us, so that we too can become agents of reconciliation. Let us ask ourselves whether in our families, neighbourhood and communities we are known as peacemakers or peace-breakers. Sometimes for the sake of peace and harmony we have to humble ourselves and accept our mistakes and renounce our views. Do we do it? If we do so, the winds of new life and joy, harmony and reconciliation – the breath of the Spirit of the Risen Lord - will blow over our families and communities. 
5.  Response to God's Word
What are our real or imaginary fears at present? For the sake of peace and harmony, do we humble ourselves to accept our mistakes and bad behaviour? Are we known as peacemakers or peace-breakers? Does our faith in the Risen Lord enable us to recognize his universal presence in people outside our ethnic group/race/religion and accept the truth from any person of good will? If we nurse strong prejudices and misconceptions about others’ religion, race, caste, ethnic background, past mistakes and bad record, what will be the consequence? How does it go against our faith in the universal presence of the Risen Lord? Do our occasional doubts of faith finally lead us to a faith-surrender to accept Jesus as our Lord and God? What makes us look like dry bones, lacking vitality?
6.  A prayer
Jesus, my Lord and my God, I offer you all my real and imaginary fears and doubts of faith. Be my driving force when I am plagued with fear of the unknown. I believe that in all my fears, doubts and perils I am more than a conqueror through you who loves me. Give us the grace to transcend all tendencies towards racism, ethnocentrism, groupism, and religious prejudices or hatred. Breathe into me the fresh breath of the Holy Spirit and send me with his empowerment to continue your mission of service as well as building up peace, harmony and reconciliation. Amen.