Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Am The Bread Of Life, Whoever Comes To Me Will Never Be Hungry.

Today’s First Reading is about the persecution that broke out in Jerusalem after the death of Stephen, which caused the disciples there to scatter throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. The disciples who had been scattered went from town to town, preaching the good news. The focus is on Philip, whose miracles of healing and of exorcism caught the attention of the citizens of Samaria, bringing “great joy to that city”.

The same theme is heard in the Psalm Response: Let all the earth cry out to God with joy! The verses of the Psalm invite us to “Come and see the works of God, his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam.”

Where do you see the wondrous deeds of the Lord today? Today’s gospel brings us a reminder of one of the greatest of his gifts: the bread of life.

Several lines in today’s gospel hit home to me.
I am the bread of life. Whoever believes in me will never be hungry.
Whoever has faith in me will never be thirsty.
I did not come down from Heaven to do what I please, but to do the will of the one who sent me.
It is the will of the one who sent me that I lose none of those he has given me.
It is my Father’s will that everyone who sees me and believes in me will have eternal life. And I will raise them up on the last day.
But I’ve saved the best for last:

Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, I will not reject anyone who comes to me.

It doesn't matter how long you've been gone, or where you went, or what you did while you were wondering.  Jesus has two words for you:  

Monday, April 27, 2009

Love Is All You Need!

When I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, Catholic school children were trained to follow the rules. The girls carried chapel veils in their pockets or purses so they would have their heads covered, and the boys were warned to behave like young gentlemen whenever we went to church. A boy in my class was rapped on the knuckles in front of the class by Sister Rigida for crossing his ankles at the communion rail. The grownups had their own rules and regulations. I stayed at my Aunt Mary’s for a few days when my sister Nan was born. I remember her lifting the little piece of salt pork out of the baked beans that Friday before serving supper.

Looking back, the grownups of my parents’ generation behaved a lot like the members of the Synagogue of Freedmen in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. They had come to Jerusalem from North Africa, from Alexandra in Egypt, and Cyrene, which is now in Libya. They argued with Stephen the Deacon, but couldn’t win the arguments, since Stephen was inspired by the Holy Spirit. So they had him arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, and charged that he was plotting to destroy the temple in Jerusalem. For which he was stoned to death. Compared to that, wearing a Kleenex on your head when you forget your chapel veil, or getting your knuckles rapped for crossing your legs at the Communion rail isn’t half bad.

On the other hand, the problem isn’t about whether the offense is serious or trivial. The problem is that religion is not measured by the number of times we avoid the Don’ts, because the list of Don’ts is interminable. Our relationship with God (that’s what the word ‘religion’ means, by the way) is gauged by the attitude with which we accomplish the Do’s. Let me rephrase that, because there is only one DO: LOVE, and it has only two parts: LOVE God with all your heart, and mind and might; and LOVE your neighbor as you want God to love you.

Today’s readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John remind us that our religion is not gauged by the number of times we avoid the DO NOTs, or accomplish the DOs. (By the way, there’s an interminable list of DO NOTs, for the Pharisees of Stephen’s era and those of our own – There are so many rules, you’re bound to break one, probably one you’ve never heard of!) And it’s not about believing in Jesus because we’ve seen signs and wonders, since most of us aren’t going to see any. Our religion is not a matter of do’s and don’ts, of rules and regulations. Our relationship with God [that’s what religion means] is a matter of attitude, an attitude that can be described, defined and totally encompassed by a single word: LOVE. The Father so loves us that He gave his only-begotten Son ; the Son so loves us that He gave his life to save us from the punishment we deserve for our sins; the two of them so love us that they sent their Holy Spirit to inspire us to love God will all our heart, and mind and might; and to love one another as God has loved us. John, Paul, Mark and Luke were theologians who wrote gospels and epistles. John, Paul, George and Ringo were musicians who wrote pop songs. But the message of the first quartet can be summarized in the words of the second quartet: ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why Are You Afraid? Touch Me, and See That I Am Really Alive.

The people who call themselves Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota, and together comprise the Sioux Nation, have a saying, “After they die, the first question people ask is this: ‘Why was I so frightened?’”

They would not have been as surprised as many folks of European ancestry were when psychiatrist, Doctor Elizabeth Kubler-Ross published On Death and Dying forty years ago this year. Her book was based on interviews with people who had been declared clinically dead, and then revived. “The most common denominator of all these people is that, when they come back, many of them resent our desperate attempts to bring them back to life. None of the patients who had a death experience and returned are ever afraid to die again.”

With Doctor Kubler-Ross as background, let us look more closely at this Gospel of the Resurrection.

On the third day after the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus, the disciples of Jesus are gathered in the Upper Room where they had celebrated the Seder with Jesus, afraid for their own lives. Two of them had gone to Emmaus, but now they return and tell the others that they have seen Jesus, that he is alive, and they knew him in the breaking of the bread. Suddenly, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you!” Yet they feel no peace, in fact, you might say that they are “scared half to death!” Jesus asks, “Why are you frightened? Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” He asks them to look at him, and to touch him. “Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones”, he says, “I do!” Then, to make the point perfectly clear, he asks, “Do you have something to eat?” and then shares a meal of baked fish with them. Luke doesn’t mention tartar sauce or French fries, which are not a custom of that place and time.

In the Gospel, Luke, himself a physician, wants to reassure us that the Risen Lord is truly alive in the flesh. Remember what he says the following Sunday to Thomas, who wasn’t there the week before. “You want to put your fingers in the nail marks, and your hand in the place of the lance? Go ahead! Don’t be an unbeliever, but believe!”

The conclusion of Luke’s gospel, taken together with the opening chapters of the second volume of his masterwork, the Acts of the Apostles, marks the transition between Easter and Pentecost, between the age of the Messiah in the Flesh, and the age of the Holy Spirit.

In today’s first reading, we can see the effect upon Peter of knowing that Jesus is as truly alive now as he was at the Last Supper, on the night before he died. Now, he and the other disciples are no longer paralyzed by fear, but speak boldly, confidently, joyfully to the people of Jerusalem: The Holy and Righteous One you put to death has been raised from the dead by God, and we are his witnesses. But we know, and God knows, that you acted out of ignorance, and so did your leaders, so that God could fulfill the promise he made through the prophets, that the Messiah would suffer and die in order to redeem God’s people. The message is this: You have no reason to be afraid of being punished for your sins. Repent, be converted, and your sins will be wiped away. Follow the path on which you are led by the Holy Spirit, and you will live forever.

In his epistle, Saint John brings that same to you and me: we can be sure that the living Christ will abide in our hearts if we keep his commandments and his commandment is this: Love one another as He has loved us. Do this, and you will live – forever!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Go, preach the good news to the whole world.

Today is the feast of Saint Mark the evangelist, the writer of the earliest and shortest of the four gospels. Mark is first mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, when he set out on a missionary journey with his uncle Barnabas, who was a companion of Saint Paul. But, after a while, Mark quite and returned home (Acts 13:13). Some time later, Mark is a companion of Peter in Rome, and is mentioned in Peter’s first Letter, which is today’s first reading.

Today’s gospel, in keeping with the season, is Mark’s account of Jesus’ commission to the Eleven, the last time he spoke to them before he returned to the Father:

Go, preach the good news to the whole world. Everyone who believes in me and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe in me will be condemned. Whoever believes in me will be able to work wonders: In my name, they will drive out demons, and they will speak new languages. They will heal sick people by placing their hands on them.

After the Lord Jesus had said these things to his disciples, he was taken up into heaven where he took his place at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went forth and preached everywhere. The Lord worked with them and confirmed his promise through the miracles they performed.

Almighty God, who by the hand of Mark the evangelist have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Friday, April 24, 2009

One Does Not Live On Bread Alone!

There are four versions of the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, one in each of the gospels. Each narrative has a somewhat different perspective on the event than do the other three. In John’s version, which we read today, Jesus is not concerned about how he will feed the crowd who had followed him from the shores of the Lake to the top of the hill, because the theme of John’s gospel is the signs Jesus performs, and the feeding a crowd of five thousand with five pita breads and a couple of fish is one of the gospel’s great signs of Jesus’ divine power. But the disciples were clearly concerned, worried about what the crowd might do if they were turned away hungry.

There are some scripture scholars who focus on the detail that the people were reclining to eat, a posture usually reserved for privileged people in those times. On the other hand, what better position is there to share a picnic spread than stretching out on the grass?

I would like to share a few lessons drawn from one of the sources I consulted before composing this reflection. The focus is on the twelve wicker baskets, each holding about a bushel of leftover fragments. Here are a few thoughts on the meaning of this miracle, this “sign and wonder”:

• Live in the confidence that Jesus will provide the bread of life for his disciples, not only in the Good News and in the Eucharist, but at the kitchen table – and even at the holiday feasts.

• On the other hand, don’t be wasteful of food or other natural resources.

• Trust in the goodness and generosity of others; be generous if you have the wherewithal, and be grateful for other people’s willingness to share when times are tough.

When people saw the sign that Jesus had performed, they had an insight into who he truly is. “This must be the prophet, who is to come into the world! Jesus knew that they were going to try and carry him off to make him their king. So he went back up the mountain, all by himself. The narrative of the multiplication of loaves is in chapter six of John’s gospel. The time had not yet come for him to climb another mountain, this one in Jerusalem, and be identified is “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews”. But his throne was not of gold encrusted marble, but of wood stained with the blood flowing from his hands and feet. His crown was not one of jewel encrusted gold, but of woven branches of a thorn bush. Yet, all of what He does and says is an example for us.

Let us conclude with the prayer of the man on his right, at Calvary: “Remember me, Lord, when you come into your kingdom.”

Thursday, April 23, 2009

We Must Obey God, Not Other People!

When the court officers brought the apostles before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in the name of Jesus. But you have been preaching and teaching all over the city of Jerusalem, and you are blaming us for this man’s death.”

Peter and the apostles replied:

We must obey God, not other people. You killed Jesus by nailing him to a cross. But the God of our ancestors raised him to life and made him our leader and savior. Then God gave him a place at his right side, so that the people of Israel might turn to him, repent, and be forgiven. We are witnesses of these events, and so is the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to everyone who chooses to obey God’s will.

When the council members heard this, they became so angry that they wanted to put the apostles to death.

(Acts 5:27-33)

Look at those apostles. They break out of jail, with the help of an angel, and when arrested by the Sanhedrin. What was their offense? It was preaching the love of God in Jesus Christ. How did they answer the charge against them? We have to obey God, not other people.

Obey is a very interesting word. It means to follow orders, or to abide by the advice of someone else. Its Latin root word consists of two parts, a root word, the verb audire, meaning to hear; and the prefix ob, which is an intensive modifier of the verb. In brief, to obey is to listen closely, or to pay attention.

So, the apostles were paying attention to Jesus’ command to “Go and teach all nations”. Beginning in Jerusalem, and going from there to Athens, to Rome, to Macedonia, and eventually to the whole world, the apostles and disciples of Jesus and their successors have been obedient to the mission they have been given. And the message they preach and teach is a simple one: God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might have everlasting life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved. How can you, a disciple of Jesus in today’s world, be obedient to the mission you have been given? Simple: Love God will all your heart, and mind and might; and love your neighbor as yourself.

God’s will is an invitation to love. Remember the promise, “Whoever believes in the Son has live eternal”. Eternal life begins here and now, by loving one another. And loving one another begins by loving ourselves as Jesus does – because if Jesus thinks you’re worth dying for, who are you to say you’re not worth loving yourself.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

God So Loved The World!

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved.

Whoever believes in Him is not condemned; but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God. (John 3:16-21)

It has always been easier to complain about what’s wrong with the world that to do something that would make the world a better place. I often receive snail mail from folks who are complaining about something or other: the commencement speaker at a Catholic college in the Midwest, the interrogation techniques approved by a president who calls himself a Christian. Or, at the opposite end of the scale, the religious education director who won’t let the teenager be confirmed because she hasn’t fulfilled all of the prerequisites. Finally, I learned how to deal with such messages. A friend who works at the Bulk Mail center in town told me: Instead of writing “Return to sender” on the envelope, write “Refused”. That way, the sender has to pay the return postage!

It has always been easier to curse the darkness than to light a candle. Saint John of the Cross wrote, “In the evening of life, you will be examined on love.” What terrible things you condemned won’t even be on the examination paper. Hatred is not on the curriculum. Saint John – the Evangelist, not the Carmelite mystic – wrote “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned”, but he would be surprised at some of the ways we use the word today. He would not understand the expression, “I believe in God but I don’t need to go to Church.” For John, there were no “believing, not practicing” Christians. They believed; they practiced; and they witnessed to their faith, sometimes with their lives. The Greek word for “witness” is “martyr”.

“But we don’t use Greek in the liturgy, or even Latin, any more”, you say. Then let’s look at the English word, “believe”, instead. The root word “lief” is Anglo-Saxon, a language akin to German. Some of you might know the classical romantic song, “Ich liebe dich” – it means I love you. There cannot be real belief without genuine love. If the Evangelist were to come back, he might say to us, “Don’t tell me what you believe; tell me who you love.” And your answer should be, “I love God, with all my heart, and my neighbor as myself.” And who, pray tell, is your neighbor? My neighbor is everyone who is not myself.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

From Each According To Their Abilities; To Each According To Their Needs

Today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us a glimpse into the life of the earliest Christian community. Not only were they of one mind and heart, they also shared a community of property and possession.  They were watchful and concerned for the needs of others, especially the less fortunate members of the community.  Their social philosophy is expressed in a few simple words:  From each according to their abilities; to each according to their needs. 

This unity of believers, this community of hearts and minds, seems like a pipe dream in today's world -- and even in today's Church.  Disputes over issues of politics, social justice, spirituality, have created chasms that divide us, and no one seems ready to listen, much less to seek common ground or build bridges.  How often have we criticized someon without our own Catholic community because they don't practice or believe in precisely the same way that we do.  Waterboarding enemy captives  or  using embryonic stemcells for research -- which will produce the greater good? 

Deeper than the ideological divide is the real division of the material realm.  In today's first reading, we see that there was no needy or poor person within the community.  There was no individual gain or profit, only the common good.  The common good is not an unknown concept within the Catholic Church; in fact, the communal concern for one another is the core of Catholic social teaching.  It was the attitude of Christ, and it was the principle that guided the early Christian communities.

Unfortunenately, it seems to be an attitude that may have been buried within the culture of consumerism.  Some of our cities with the highest proportion of Catholics have the greatest numbers of poor and needy people, people who are our own sisters and brothers in Christ.  Why is there such a gap between what we know Christ is calling us to do, and what we actually do, in our own daily, material world?

As we move forward in the joy of Easter and the Resurrection, let us keep in mind that Christ did not come only to save, but to teach us to love, to give of ourselves and our possessions in imitation of him.  Christ rejected his own authority and power as Son of God through the Incarnation, in order to ensure that our spiritual need would be met;  should we not do likewise for our brothers and sisters, to help them meet their material needs?   Let us pray that the Holy Spirit may show us how to restore our Church to the communal love and unity of that early Christian community.  

inspired by a reflection by Miriam Thorn, a Junior Theology Major at Creighton University. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

How Can Someone Who Is All Grown Up Be Born Again?

Nicodemus was a good man, a seeker of the truth, which is why he comes to Jesus. He is also a Pharisee, a leader of the people, which is why he comes to Jesus in the dark of night. Like Thomas in yesterday’s gospel, he’s not about to move from his “comfort zone” even when it starts to get uncomfortable, unless and until he is convinced in his own mind and heart that he is moving to a better place. Nicodemus is a man formed by his own circumstances: his faith in the God of Abraham; his training in the Law of Moses; his status as a Pharisee and a Leader of the People. Even if the boat is floundering, Nick isn’t about to jump ship unless he’s sure he’ll be better off in the water.

Jesus tries his best to get Nicodemus to move on, to the next level of faith. But when he speaks of being born again, Nicodemus, typically, relies on what he already knows. “I’m an old man! It’s a little late to go back inside my mother at this point.” Clearly, even though he knows what he’s talking about, he hasn’t the slightest idea who he’s talking to!

Let’s move this dialogue a bit further along in John’s gospel.  Nicodemus: How can that happen? Jesus: You are a teacher in Israel and you don’t understand?

Nicodemus doesn’t understand because his beliefs, his education, his prejudices have blinded him to other possibilities. Jesus seems to be prodding Nicodemus to open his eyes, his mind, and his heart to the real truth: God can’t be limited by my beliefs, my customs, my rituals, my rules. God is too big to be contained. And, unlike the little dog in the commercial, you can’t just get a bigger box! So, it’s time to put down the box you’ve been stuck in, and stop trying to get God to stay in there with you.

Be born again! You started a new life when you got your first full time job. How many new lives have you begun since that one? Many, perhaps most, of you started a new life when you got married; and a few of you started a new life when that marriage ended, whether by separation and divorce or by the passing of your spouse to the new life which is the subject of this reflection – life in God’s presence forever.

I don’t know what sort of day tomorrow will be compared to today, either for me or for you. Sometimes I hope it will be at least as good; sometimes I would prefer that it be better. But, as the song goes, “Que sera, sera! -- Whatever will be will be! The future is not ours to see. Que sera, sera!”

That is really what today’s gospel is all about. Today is a day to be born again, of water and the spirit. You don’t need to be baptized again, but you can recall your baptism as you begin your daily ritual – which, I presume, involves water, children of the Father. Let go! Let God!

Be born again!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Do Not Be Unbelieving, But Believe!

John 20:19-31 On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained."

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord."
But he said to them,
"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe."

Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.


In all three years of the liturgical cycle, this is the gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter, and "Doubting Thomas" is the focus of the story.

Is there anything positive to be said about doubt?  Of course there is!   It's a good thing to be able to question yourself -- your thoughts, your feelings, your plans, your motives.   Just don't it become addictive, so that you can't move at all, because you can't decide which direction to move in.

That attitude is really not doubt at all, but fear.  The real obstacle to faith is not doubt, but fear.  It is fear that makes us run away from danger.  It is fear -- terror, actually -- that causes some folks to curl up under the blankets, head buried beneath the pillow, and never get out of bed.   Faith, on the other hand, encourages us to take chances, to accept risks, to challenge obstacles, to overcome difficulties. 

Thomas, called "the Twin", was not fearful.  When he heard Jesus say that he was going up to Jerusalem, and that he would be put to death there, Thomas said to his fellow disciples, "Let's go up to Jerusalem, and die with him!"  (John 11:16)

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the nailmarks, and my hand into his side, I'm not ready to believe!"  It's not that Thomas lacked faith,  it's just that he wasn't going to take anyone else's word, he wanted to see for himself.   When Jesus appeared, and invited him to put his finger in the place of the nails, and his hand in the wound in his side,  Thomas didn't have to do that: He saw, and he believed. 

The writer of this gospel, John the evangelist, "the disciple whom Jesus loved", expresses a similar attitude in the introduction to his first Letter:   "What we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have observed, and touched with our own hands, that is our topic." (1 John 1:1)  We mustn't blame Thomas for wanting to experience the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus through his own experience.  That is what every disciple of Jesus needs to do!

Thomas was not a doubter, but a thinker.  He needed to figure things out and understand them.  Once, Jesus was talking about going away, and said, "You know the way to where I'm going."  Thomas cut in, boldly, "Lord, we don't even know where you're going, so how could we know the way?"  (John 14:4-5) It was a very sensible comment; Thomas was puzzled, he wasn't doubtful.  We ought not to call him "Doubting Thomas"; we should rather call him "Thinking Thomas."

There is no area of human experience more subject to delusion than religion.  That is why the institution which started out on the day of Pentecost as the One True Church, is now a pot-pourri of sects which alter to suit the preferences of the members.   There is a church for folks who believe that Jesus is truly present in the bread and wine.  In fact, there are several: some consider that Jesus is present, and the bread and wine have been transformed into his body and blood; some consider that Jesus is present, and the bread and wine are still present; some consider that the bread and wine are present, as symbols of the presence of Jesus in the church.    Theologically, the three theories cannot all be true.  That's not logical, Captain! 

Every one of us has had questions, and still have questions.  All too often, we accept answers that don't really make sense to us.  Or worse, we stop asking questions because no one on earth can give us satisfactory answers. At the end of the day, it's not a matter of knowledge -no one except God can know God completely.  It's a matter of faith.  Still we need to share in the inquisitiveness of Thomas, and keep on asking Jesus and the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, until we are comfortable with our understanding of the truths of faith.   And, on this Mercy Sunday, we should be especially grateful that one of the greatest of God's gifts to his children is his willingness to forgive our sins.    As a theologian who was both a doubter and a sinner himself once wrote,  "Why did God create us?  He created us in order to forgive us." 
(St. Augustine of Hippo) 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Go Out Into The Whole World, And Proclaim The Good News!

In today’s gospel, we read that the Eleven have heard the testimony of Mary Magdalene, and that of the two disciples who saw Jesus on the road to Emmaus and shared a meal of fish and bread with him. But the Eleven, gathered in the Upper Room for fear of the Jews, do not accept the word of any one of the three witnesses.

In today’s first reading, we see Peter and John speaking with confidence to the Sanhedrin (the priests, elders and scribes) as the Council investigates the healing of the crippled man. But, rather than put faith in the testimony of the apostles, and believe in the healing power of Christ within them, they began to plot against these two, and all of the disciples of Jesus.

Both of these accounts hinge on the mission of witness. In the gospel, Jesus asks to go out and bear witness to the world of his message. In Acts, the Sanhedrin, even though they recognize the authenticity of the healing, seek to silence Peter and John.

Jesus does not rebuke his disciples for being ineffectual witnesses; he invites them to be open to the Spirit who is yet to come – and the readings from Acts reveal how much more effective they are after Pentecost. Now, it is the hearers who are rebuked for not paying heed to the good news of salvation.

There is a third element to this liturgy of the word, one that is involved with our own lives. Like the Eleven, and the disciples we have a mission of witness to our world. Like them, we start out weak and inept, even sinful. Like them, we can be transformed into effective witnesses to the power of resurrection. If you have not been given the gift of eloquence, don’t be concerned. Saint Ignatius Loyola reminds us: Love is demonstrated more clearly in action than in words. We all have the gift of good example. And for some, the repentance of Peter is a more eloquent example than the eloquence of John.

Friday, April 17, 2009

None Of Them Dared Ask Who He Was; They Knew It Was The Lord.

Jesus appeared to the disciples once again at the Sea of Tiberias. Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus (the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, and two other disciples were there. Peter said, "I'm going out fishing." The others said, "We'll come too."

They stayed out all night long, but they didn't catch anything. When they returned, at daybreak, Jesus was standing on the shore, but they didn't recognize him. He called out, "Boys, have you caught anything worth eating?" They answered, "No!" He said, "Cast the net on the starboard side, and you'll find something." So they did, and the net filled so quickly with such a great number of fish, that they weren't able to pull it into the boat.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, "Look, it's the Lord!" When Peter heard that, he tucked in his tunic, jumped into the water, and swam for shore. The others came in the boat, dragging the net filled with fish. When they climbed out of the boat, they saw a charcoal fire with fish and bread on it.

Jesus said, "Bring some of that fish you just caught." Peter went and dragged the net ashore. There were one hundred and fifty three fish in the net, but the net was not torn. Jesus said, "Come, have some breakfast." None of the disciples dared to ask who it was, knowing it was the Lord. Jesus took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

This was the third time Jesus revealed himself to his discples after being raised from the dead.
John 21:1-14

Simon Peter is clearly a central figure in this episode from John's gospel . Hearing that Jesus was on the shore, he jumped into the water with his clothes on, and swam to him, whilst the other disciples stayed in the boat. When he got to the shore, Jesus said, "Bring some of the fish you've just caught. Peter didn't just pick up a few of the fish, but dragged the net filled with 153 fish to the shore all by himself.

Once upon a time, a student asked me, "Why 153 fish? Why not 150, a more even number?" I didn't know the answer then, but I learned recently: The philosopher-scientists of those times, posited that there were one hundred fifty three varieties of fish in the Sea of Galilee. So, John in the gospel used that number to illustrate the perfection of the relationship between God and nature represented by the Resurrection of Jesus. It's as good a speculation as any.

The other question often raised about this gospel is this: "Did the disciples recognize Jesus, or didn't they?" Another theological conundrum. The answer is Both. In their eyes, ruled by their brains, they failed to recognized the risen Lord. But in their heart of hearts, ruled by their soul, they "just knew" it was the risen Lord, although they could not yet put their faith into words. That gift of tongues would not come till Pentecost.

Saint Gregory the Great, in a sermon on this passage of John's gospel, puts it thusly:

Since our Redeemer had already passed beyond his perishable body, after his resurrection he stood on the shore as if he were speaking to his disciples by his actions, of the mystery of the resurrection: "I am not appearing to you on the sea, because I am not with you in waves of confusion." It is for the same reason that in another place, he says, "These are the words I spoke to you when I was still with you." It is not that he wasn't with them when he appeared to them in bodily form; he said that he wasn't present with them because in his immortal body, he was apart from their mortal bodies.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

“It is written that the Messiah must suffer, and three days later he will rise from the dead. You are witnesses of these things.

The disciples from Emmaus told the others gathered in the Upper Room what had happened on the road, and how they know it was the Lord when he broke the bread and gave it to them.

While they were talking about what had happened Jesus stood among them and greeted them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, thinking that they were seeing a ghost.

Jesus asked them, “Why are you afraid? Why do questions arise in your hearts? Come, look at my hands and feet, and see for yourselves. Touch me and find out that I am real. A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you can see that I have.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. The disciples were joyful, but so amazed that they couldn’t believe their own eyes. Then Jesus asked them, “Do you have something to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish, which he took and ate as they watched.

Jesus said to them, “While I was with you, I told you that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Books of the Prophets and the Psalms had to be fulfilled.” Then he helped them to understand the Scriptures.

He told them: “It is written that the Messiah must suffer, and three days later he will rise from the dead. They also say that repentance and forgiveness of sins must be told in my name to the people of every nation, starting in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of all these things.”

(Luke 24:35-48)

“He stood among them”, Luke writes. John says, in his account of the first appearance of the risen Christ to his disciples (John 20:19) that they were huddled together, with the doors barred, because they were afraid of the Jews. The he uses the same expression as Luke: “He stood among them.” Jesus didn’t knock at the door, or call out to them. He knew that they would ignore the knock or the call, and not open the door, lest it be the Roman soldiers come to arrest them and do to them what they had done to Jesus. He simply appeared, standing in their midst.

Eleven of the twelve had deserted him, only John stood at the foot of the cross with his mother and Magdalene. But he stood among them, and greeted them with peace. Everything in Luke’s account is written from the objective and scientific perspective of the physician. He appears suddenly in the locked room, and they think they are seeing a ghost. He eats some fish, to prove that he is very much alive in the flesh. In Luke’s account, there is no mention of the wounds in his hands and his side, much less are they invited to put their fingers in the wounds. Jesus intention is to demonstrate that he not a figment of their imagination, nor an other-worldly apparition, but a real person, made up of flesh and bones. The expression “flesh and bones” echoes the language of Hebrew Scripture, as Adam describes the newly created Eve as “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh (Genesis 2:23).

Flesh and bones are the material of resurrection, for Jesus, the first fruits, and for you and me, who will be part of a later harvest, and none of us knows when the reaper will come for us. Once again, the theme of this Lenten season is echoed after Easter: Live this day as if it were the first, the last, the only day of your life. One of these days, it will be!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

They Recognized Him In The Breaking Of The Bread

Later that Sunday moning, two of Jesus' disciples, Cleophas and a companion, were going up to Emmaus, a village on the opposite side of the Kedron valley, about seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked, they were discussing the events that had occurred in Jerusalem that weekend. A man they didn't recognize came along, and started walking with them.

"What have you been talking about?" he asked.

They stopped, and lowered their eyes, mournfully. Cleophas then asked, "Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn't heard what has been happening there over the past few days?"

What things?

The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth. What he said and did showed people that he was a powerful prophet, pleasing to God and to the people. But the chief priests and the leaders had him arrested and sentenced to death by crucifixion. We were hoping that he would be the one to set Israel free.

Early this morning, some women in our group went to the tomb, but his body was gone. They came back and told us they had seen angels who said he was alive. Then a few of the men went to the tomb, and found it just as the women said. They didn't see Jesus, either.

What don't you understand? How can you be so slow to believe what the prophets have said? Didn't you know that the Messiah would have to suffer before entering into his glory?" He went on to explain everything written in the Scriptures about the Messiah, starting with the Law and the Prophets.

Arriving at Emmaus, the stranger gave the impression he was going farther, but Cleophas asked him to stay and share a meal with them. "It's late, and the sun is going down." He agreed, and went into the house with them.

When they sat down at table, the stranger took a round of bread, blessed it, and broke it. Then he gave it to each of them. Now, they realized that it was Jesus, but he had vanished. "While he was talking with us about the Scriptures, didn't that warm our hearts?"

They got right up and went back to Jerusalem, where they found the eleven apostles and other disciples gathered together. They were told that they Lord was truly alive, and that he had appeared to Peter. Then the Emmaus disciples told the others what had happened on the road, and how they recognized the Lord in the breaking of the bread.


Two men with heavy hearts are walking away from Jerusalem, headed in the wrong direction. Jesus appears and walks with them, explaining the Scriptures concerning the Messiah. But they don't see who he is.

This incident on the road to Emmaus reminds me of how some folks read the Scriptures. They are able to quote chapter and verses, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, and everything in between. But they don't find Jesus in the words.

There is a better way to read God's holy word. It begins by being aware that Jesus is present as we are reading, and that he has a particular message for us, if we simply pay attention.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Whom Are You Looking For? Why Are You Weeping? What Are We To Do?

The meeting of Mary Magdalene and Jesus is one of the most poignant scenes in the gospels. After she first met Jesus she became one of the women who travelled in Jesus’ company. She was very different from the rest of them, all of whom were from Galilee, and were relatives of Jesus and his disciples.

At the time of Jesus’ passion and death, Mary his mother and these other women followed him through the terrible events that led from the Last Supper to Calvary. They stood with Mary at the foot of the cross as He suffered and died. After the burial of Jesus, Magdalene and the others came with spices and perfumed oils to anoint the body of Jesus.

We can easily understand and sympathize with Magdalene who is distraught at finding that the body of Jesus is not in the tomb. To the man she believes to be the gardener, she expresses her concern to find the body so that she can clean it and prepare it for a proper burial. She is resolute in completing this mission, because of her great love for Jesus.

Then comes the poignant moment when “the gardener” speaks her name. “Mary!” Did he speak aloud? Did he whisper? Was it the tone, or the inflection? Something about that voice, saying her name reached into the depths of her being, and she knows that it is Jesus, who was dead and is alive again, as he had promised. Then she does something any of us would do, whether family member or friend, woman or man, grownup or child: She wraps her arms around him and holds on for dear life!

Jesus gently tells her to let go. But then he gives her a most significant task: “Go tell my brothers that I am going to God my Father, who is God your Father.” She is “the Apostle to the Apostles”, the bearers of good news to the bearers of good news, who will preach the good news to the whole world.

Today’s first reading brings us fifty days forward from the events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven upon the apostles and other disciples gathered in the Upper Room where they had celebrated the Passover with Jesus.

Peter went out into the Temple Square and said to the people gathered there for the great harvest festival of Shavuot, seven weeks after Passover (which is why the Greeks call it Pentcost, which simply means “Fifty”).
 “Everyone in Israel should know for sure that God has made Jesus Lord and Messiah, even though you put him to death on a cross.
 “Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and your sins will be forgiven. Then you will receive the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you, for your children, and for everyone whom the Lord our God will call.” On that day, about 3000 people heard and believed his message, and were baptized.

This is an amazing event. Peter is speaking to the people of Jerusalem, and Jewish people from the entire world gathered for the festival. (You can find the list in Acts 2:8-12). And all of them heard in their own languages. But we will talk more about that when the time comes.
Now, let us remember that among the people Peter is addressing are people whose leaders sought to silence Jesus by having him crucified, killed and buried. He announces that the person they helped to execute was the Lord, and they are moved to shame. They ask him, “What are we going to do now?” and he answers simply: “Say that you’re sorry, and mean it.” Ask forgiveness, and God will grant it, and you will receive the Holy Spirit. The promise made to your ancestors, to you, and to your offspring, and for everyone throughout the world whom the Lord will call shall be fulfilled.

The underlying message here is best phrased as a question, “How do we treat those who mistreat us?” Pilate asked “I’ve freed Barabbas. What shall I do with Jesus?” The crowd answered, “Crucify him!” God forgave them, and Peter welcomed them into the Church. What would you say if you met someone who had a hand in crucifying Jesus? I’m willing to wager that your first thought would not be of forgiveness and love. Remember that, the next time you look in a mirror. For the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, to be effective, we must accept God’s forgiveness, offer that forgiveness to others, especially when that is difficult – and the most difficult is to forgive ourselves for not living up to our own ideals. The preacher of Pentecost is depicted in classical painting as having two deep ridges running down his cheeks from his eyes to the corners of his mouth. They represent the tears he shed in sorrow for having denied the Lord three times in Pilate’s courtyard. Forgive, as the Lord has forgiven you.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Go Tell My Brothers To Go To Galilee, And They Will See Me There.

Mt 28:8-15
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb,
fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce the news to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.
They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid.
Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee,
and there they will see me."
While they were going, some of the guard went into the city
and told the chief priests all that had happened.
The chief priests assembled with the elders and took counsel;
then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers,
telling them, "You are to say,
'His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.'
And if this gets to the ears of the governor,
we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble."
The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.
And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present.

Today, we read about Mary Magdalen and “the other Mary” the wife of Cleophas and mother of James , a story told only in the Gospel of Matthew. One commentator, John Reilly by name, suggests that Matthew included this episode to justify the truth of the empty tomb against the rumors that raced about the city of Jerusalem early in the week following the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus.

Still, the story raises more questions than it resolves. Why would both Pilate, the Roman Governor accept the story that the disciples of Jesus broke the seal, moved the stone, and removed the body of Jesus while the guards were all asleep? A military prison guard, then and now, would be court-martialed for sleeping on duty. If the prisoner escaped while they were all asleep, they would be subject to capital punishment: in our day, a firing squad; in those days, beheading, for the officers; crucifixion, for the troopers.

And another question: In the culture of those times, in that place, the testimony of women was not accepted as valid. Yet in all four gospels, that Magdalene woman is met at the tomb by an angel who announces to her that Jesus has been raised, and in three of these accounts, Jesus appears and speaks to her one-on-one. It is she who goes into the city and tells the disciples, hiding out in the upper room, that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and wants to meet them in Galilee. Whereupon they all decide to remain safely where they’re at, until Jesus visits them and brings them back to Galilee, where he had found them in the first place.

It won’t be until a month and a half from now, after the Holy Spirit has come, that Peter and the other apostles will have the gumption to stand in the public square and preach to the people of Jerusalem, as we see in today’s First Reading.

Acts 2:14, 22-33
On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up with the Eleven,
raised his voice, and proclaimed:
"You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem.
Let this be known to you, and listen to my words.
"You who are children of Israel, hear these words.
Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God
with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs,
which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.
This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God,
you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.
But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death,
because it was impossible for him to be held by it.
For David says of him:
I saw the Lord ever before me,
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted;
my flesh, too, will dwell in hope,
because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world,
nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence. (Psalm 16)

My brothers, one can confidently say to you
about the patriarch David that he died and was buried,
and his tomb is in our midst to this day.
But since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn an oath to him
that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne,
he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ,
that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld
nor did his flesh see corruption.
God raised this Jesus;
of this we are all witnesses.
Exalted at the right hand of God,
he poured forth the promise of the Holy Spirit
that he received from the Father, as you both see and hear."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

We have been chosen to bear witness to the Resurrection of Jesus.

John 20:1-9
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where the body of Jesus had been placed. When she saw that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance, she came running to Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They’ve taken the Lord from the tomb! We don’t know where they’ve put him!

Peter and the other disciple started running to the tomb. But the other disciple ran faster than Peter, and got there first. He looked inside, and saw the strips of linen cloth laying there, but he did not enter the tomb.

When Peter got there, he went in first, and saw the strips of linen, and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face, rolled up in a place by itself. Then the disciple who got there first went into the tomb; when he saw it, he believed. Until then, both Peter and the other disciple failed to understand the meaning of the Scripture that said that Jesus must rise from death to life.

Acts 10:34, 37-43
Peter spoke to Cornelius and his household: You must have heard what has happened in Judea. It all started in Galilee, after John told everyone to be baptized. God filled Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and healing everyone who had fallen under the power of the devil.

Now I, and those who were with me can testify to what Jesus did, both in the countryside of Judea and in the city of Jerusalem. Then Jesus was put to death on a cross; but three days later, God raised him to life, and let him be seen. But not everyone saw him. He was seen only by those of us who ate and drank with him after he had been raised from the dead. We are now witnesses, chosen by God to tell His people that Jesus is the one chosen to judge the living and the dead. It is to him that all of the prophets bear witness, that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven in his name.

Colossians 3:1-4
You have been raised to true life with Christ. Now set your heart on what is in heaven, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Keep your thoughts focused on heaven, not on what is here on earth. In baptism you have died with Christ, which means that your life is now hidden with Christ in God. It is Christ who gives meaning to our life, and when he comes again, we will appear with him in glory.

Today’s Scriptures remind us that we are witnesses to all that Jesus did and said, just as Peter was when he spoke to Cornelius and his household. Easter is not like Memorial Day, or Veterans Day, or even Independence Day, merely a holiday commemorating something that happened a long time ago, but a present reality for you and me, who have been baptized into Christ Jesus. We died with Christ in baptism, so that we can live with him in newness of life through the Holy Spirit. We have been chosen to bear witness to him, not merely by our words, but by the example of our lives, not by our own power, but by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

When We Were Baptized Into Christ Jesus, We Were Baptized Into His Death.

The first time I attended an Easter Vigil was in the first year Pope Pius XII decreed that this solemn liturgical celebration should not be held on Holy Saturday morning, but on the following evening, at midnight, or at least, after dark. I was 20 years old, a member of the choir at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Holyoke, Mass. Gilles, the choir director, asked me to chant the Exultet, the hymn of praise that followed the blessing of the Paschal Candle.

I cannot count how many Easter Vigils I have attended since that night, as a choir member, then as a seminarian, and later, as a priest. I am sure that many of you who attend the Vigil have a similar sense of awe and wonder in beholding the Easter candle’s flame, and watching the light spread from one candle to the next, until the darkness has been banished by the Light of Christ. There are no spectators at the Vigil, only participants, who share in the wonderful light, the fullness of life that is Jesus risen from the dead, as the first fruits of all who will rise again.

Saint Paul, in his letter to the Romans, boldly states the truth of this wondrous event. The Resurrection is not merely something that happened to someone else, even if that someone is Jesus Christ our Lord. It is something that has happened to me, and to you. For most of us, it happened very early in our life, shortly after we were born. For many others, it happened much later, by our own choice, when we accepted the call to become members of Christ’s church, and were baptized.

When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. In other words, we entered the tomb with him, joining him in death, so that just as He was raised from death by the Father’s glory, we too might live an new life.

We must be aware that our old self has been crucified with Jesus, so that the sinfulness of our body may be destroyed, so that we will no longer be slaves of sin. I remember one young person who said to me, when we were talking about this passage from Romans, one spring day long ago: “Father, that might have worked when I was a little girl; but now that I’m a teen, I am beginning to believe that my baptism did not kill the sin in me.” She made a very good point. Paul, in this passage from Romans, continues the same thought: “It will only be when a person dies that he [or she] will be finished with sin.” That doesn’t mean that every one of us will continue to be sinful until the day we die. Mary, the mother of Jesus was not sinful from the day she was conceived until the day she died. John the Baptist was freed from sin when Mary visited his mother, Elizabeth, months before he was born. But John, and Mary, and even Jesus himself, were not free from temptation until the day they died. And if that’s true for them, it is also true for us.

We need to remember the last part of this passage from Romans: Having died with Christ in baptism, we will return to life with him. We know that Jesus, having been raised from the dead will never die again, for death has no more power over him. You also – and I – must consider ourselves to be dead to sin, and alive for God in Christ Jesus.

When you are tempted, remember that you are already dead to sin, through your baptism. Praise the Father for sending his only-begotten Son to redeem you, personally, from the power of sin. Praise the Son for sending the Holy Spirit to inspire you with the faith, and the courage, to do what God calls you to do. Praise the Holy Spirit for granting you the grace, at every difficult moment in life, to resist temptation, to avoid sin, one day at a time.

Don’t strive to be perfect! Try to be more cooperative with grace tomorrow than you were yesterday. And if it should happen that your aren’t as cooperative with grace today as you were yesterday, try to do better tomorrow than you were today. One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that’s all He’s asking of you.

Friday, April 10, 2009

He Was Pierced For Our Faults, Crushed For Our Wrongdoing. By His Wounds, We Are Healed.

The LORD God speaks: My servant will prosper. He will be uplifted and exalted. He will rise to great heights.

But, when the crowd looked up at him, they were appalled at what they saw. He was so badly disfigured that he hardly seemed human. There was no majesty, no beauty to attract the eye. A pitiful sight he was, so despicable in appearance that people had to turn their faces away.

But the sufferings which he endured, the sorrows he felt, were not a penalty he deserved. . He was pierced for our faults, crushed for our wrongdoing. He has taken upon himself our punishment, leaving us at peace; he has offered himself as a sin offering in atonement for our sins. His suffering brings us peace; by his wounds, we are healed.

We were wandering like sheep, each one going a different way, but all getting lost. But the LORD laid our burden upon his shoulders, and he bore it humbly, never opening his mouth to complain. He was like a lamb being led to the slaughterhouse, like a sheep standing before its shearers, which never even opens its mouth.

When it was all over and done with, they laid him not in a pauper’s grave, but in a rich man’s tomb, as if he had done no wrong, and was innocent of the crimes for which he was put to death. He will be greatly rewarded, for surrendering himself to death, and allowing himself to be taken for a sinner. While, all along, he was atoning for the faults of many others, and praying constantly for sinners. (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12)

In Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme high priest who has been raised to the highest heaven. It is for that reason that we must never let go of the faith which we have professed. It is not as if we had a high priest who was unable to feel our weakness; instead, we have one who has been tempted in every way we can be tempted, although he never committed sin. We should be confident, then, in approaching God’s throne of grace, for Jesus will be there, to grant us mercy, and from him we will receive grace when we are in need of support for our weakness.

During his lifetime, Jesus offered prayers and petitions, at times in a loud voice, and at times with silent tears, to the One who had the power to deliver him from death. Although he was the Son, he learned obedience through suffering; and, having been perfected he has become for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation. (Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9)

Sisters and brothers, today let us direct our gaze toward Christ. Let us pause to contemplate his cross.

After having lived together the passion of Jesus, let us allow his sacrifice on the cross to question us. Let us allow him to challenge what we take for granted. Let us open our hearts to him. He is the truth that makes us free to love. Let us not be fearful: by his death, our Lord destroyed sin and redeemed sinners, that is, all of us. The Apostle Peter writes, “He bore our sins in his body on the cross so that, freed from sin, we might live in righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). This is the truth of Good Friday. On the cross, our Redeemer has made us adoptive sons and daughters of God whom he created in his own image and likeness. Let us, then, remain in adoration before his cross.

Lord Jesus, give us the peace we seek, the happiness we long for, the love that fills our hearts, so thirsty for the fullness of truth. This is our prayer for today: Jesus, Son of God, who died on the cross for us, and was resurrected on the third day. Amen.
A Sermon of Pope Benedict XVI

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A New Commandment I Give You: Love One Another As I Have Loved You

At sunset, Jesus came with the twelve to the upper room, and they gathered around the table. John, being the youngest, asked the question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Jesus told the story of the first Passover, and then they ate the meal described in today’s First Reading: a year old male lamb, slaughtered and roasted, served with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. They ate the meal reclining, not like their ancestors who ate standing up, so that they could leave quickly to escape from slavery in Egypt.

At the end of the meal, Jesus took a round of unleavened bread, broke it into pieces, and said, “This is my body that is given for you. Do this in memory of me.” Then he filled a fifth cup, after the four prescribed in the ritual, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. As often as you drink it, do it in memory of me.” These words are not found in the gospels, but in the first Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Paul concludes, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.”

In his gospel, John does not mention that Jesus gave us his body and blood during the Seder meal on the night before he died. When the supper was ended, he took off his outer garment, tied a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and began to wash his disciples’ feet. When it was Peter’s turn, he said, to Jesus, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus answered, “Unless I do, you will have no part in my inheritance.” Then Peter said, “Then, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!”

This episode, which is found only in John’s gospel, teaches us several lessons. It’s not easy to wash our own feet. When they get dirty they smell bad. It takes effort to raise one foot to the opposite knee so we can reach it. It’s even more difficult to wash someone else’s feet, even someone we love, who can not do it alone.

In today’s gospel, John reminds us that Jesus was aware that the time had come for him to leave this world and return to the Father. Satan had already persuaded Judas to hand him over. Jesus loved his disciples, and now he would show him the full extent of his love.

When Peter stubbornly refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet, he was putting Jesus on a pedestal. It’s one thing to put a statue on a pedestal; that is a sign of respect for the person represented by the statue. But it’s something altogether different when we put a real person on a pedestal. For one thing, it creates distance between us, allowing us to admire them from a distance, rather than following their example. By washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus was giving them an example of humble service; by allowing Jesus to wash his feet, Peter was not only allowing Jesus to exercise humility, but he was allowing himself to learn from Jesus’ example.

When the Lord of the world comes and undertakes the slave’s task of foot-washing, we have a totally different picture. God does not want to trample on us, but kneels down before us so as to exalt us. The mystery of the greatness of God is seen precisely in the fact that he can be small. … Only when power is changed from the inside, and we accept Jesus and his way of life, whose whole self is there in the action of foot-washing, only then can the world be healed and the people be able to live at peace with one another.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My Appointed Time Draws Near. I Want To Celebrate The Passover With You.

Today’s First Reading echoes Isaiah’s meditation on the gifts he has received from the LORD. He has learned to speak words that pierce through people’s boredom. He has learned to keep his inner ear attuned to the promptings of God’s voice. He has learned patience in the face of suffering, when his own face is slapped and spat upon. He has learned that the LORD God is with him, and that he has nothing to fear. That is why he has “set [his] face like stone”, trusting that he will not be put to shame. Today’s reading adds a challenge from the Prophet to his opponents: “Who is my accuser? Let him meet me face to face! The LORD is on my side; who can condemn me?”

This day is traditionally known as “Spy Wednesday”, a reminder of the central theme of today’s gospel: Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. He went to the Sanhedrin and asked them “How much are you willing to give me if I hand him over?” They answered “Thirty shekels.” Silver coins, called “shekels of Tyre” were the only money accepted at the Temple in Jerusalem. They were just about equivalent to the silver dollar, in the days when silver dollars were common coinage, and the wages of the average worker were $100 a week, before taxes.

The covenant between Judas and the Chief Priests took place on the afternoon before the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the first day of Passover, which began at sundown. At the same time, other disciples approached Jesus and asked him where he wanted them to make arrangements for the Seder meal. He told them to go to a man in the city that had a banquet hall he rented out for special occasions. They were to say, "The Rabbi says, 'My appointed time draws near; I want to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house." They did what Jesus asked, and made preparations for the Seder supper.

That evening, while they were at table, Jesus said, “One of you is going to hand me over.” They were stunned, and started to ask him, one after the other, “It’s not me, is it, Rabbi?”

Jesus told hem, “The one who dips his piece of matzo into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. The Son of Man is beginning a journey that has been well-marked by the Scriptures. As for the man who turns him in – better for him if he’d never been born!” Then Judas, who betrayed him, asked, “Surely not me, Rabbi?” "You’re the one who says so", Jesus answered.

Judas is neither a master of evil nor an image of the satanic power of darkness. Rather, he is a sycophant (a servile, self-serving flatterer – Merriam-Webster), who bows down before the anonymous power of changing moods and current fashions. But it is precisely this anonymous power that crucified Jesus, for it was anonymous voices that cried, out, “Away with him! Crucify him!” (Pope Benedict XVI)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Peter: Rock? Or Stumbling Block?

While he was at the table with his disciples, Jesus became visibly upset, and told them what was troubling him: “One of you is about to betray me.”

The disciples looked around at each other, wondering what he meant. One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was leaning against him, his head on Jesus’ shoulder. Peter motioned to him to find out who Jesus was talking about. So, being so close, he whispered, “Master, who is it?” Jesus answered, “The one I give the morsel of matzo to after I’ve dipped it.” Then he dipped the morsel, and gave it to Judas. At that moment, Satan entered into him.

“Go, do what you have to do,” Jesus said. “Do it, and do it quickly!”

No one at the supper table knew why he had said that to Judas. Some of them thought that, because he held the money bag, Jesus was sending out to buy what was needed for the Feast, or that he might be offering something to the poor. Judas took the morsel, consumed it, and left at once. By now, the night was dark.

After Judas left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is to be glorified, and God is glorified in him. Boys, I won’t be with you for very much longer. You are going to look high and low for me, but, as I told the Jews, I’m telling you “Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Simon Peter asked, "Master, just where are you going?"

Jesus answered, "You can't now follow me where I'm going. You will follow later."

"Master," said Peter, "why can't I follow now? I'll lay down my life for you!"

“Is that so? You'll lay down your life for me? The truth is that before the rooster crows, you'll deny me three times." (John 13: 21-33, 36-38)

“We have grown accustomed to making a clear distinction between Peter the Rock, and Peter the one who denied Christ. The denier of Christ is Peter before Easter; the Rock is Peter after Pentecost. That is the singularly idealistic picture we have constructed of Peter. But, in reality, he was at times both of these.

“Has it not been this way throughout the history of the Church, that the Pope, the successor of Peter, has been at one Petra and Scandalon – the rock, and the stumbling block? In fact, the faithful will always have to reckon with this paradox of the divine dispensation that shames their pride again and again.”  (Pope Benedict XVI)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why Was This Oil Not Sold And The Money Given To the Poor?

In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah proclaims, in typically poetic language, the manner in which the Messiah will arrive. He won’t shout, he won’t raise his voice in the street. (This echoes his simple but triumphant entry into Jerusalem yesterday.) He is coming, the prophet tells us, to establish a new covenant, to open the eyes of the blind and free captives from confinement, and release those who sit in dark dungeons. We, his disciples of the present age, are aware of what would be the cost paid for that ransom.

The disciples of Jesus were surely not thinking of confinement in dark dungeons as they gathered at the table prepared for them by Martha, the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the tomb. They must have been surprised when Martha’s sister Mary came to the table, knelt at the feet of Jesus, and began to massage his feet with genuine aromatic nard. One of their number was particularly disturbed, Judas Iscariot, who held the common purse.

”That perfumed oil must have been worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold and the proceeds given to the poor?” John, the evangelist, comments: “It wasn’t because he was concerned for the needy that he said that. It was because he carried the cash, and used to steal from the money bag. Jesus said, “Let her be. Let her keep the oil for the day of my burial.” There will always be poor and needy people among you. But I won’t always be with you.”

The people of Bethany found out that Jesus was there, and gathered in front of the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. They didn’t come to listen to Jesus’ teaching, though; they wanted to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

The chief priests had not only put a price on Jesus’ head, but they wanted to kill Lazarus as well, because so many people were becoming believers in Jesus because of him. In that light, Mary’s gesture of anointing Jesus’ feet is revealing. The question Judas raises is a good one, in spite of his ulterior motives: Would it not have been good to sell the perfumed oil and use the proceeds to help the poor? Of course it would. But Jesus himself affirms that what Mary did was even better. Why did he say that, since he had such great concern for the poor and the needy?

My sense is that Jesus calls us to imitate him in his offering. He certainly did not lack concern for the material welfare of the poorest members of society. But he also made it clear that the gift he sought from his disciples was not a gift of material wherewithal, but a gift of self. The perfumed oil, the coins in the money bag, are not what Jesus is looking for from us. The gift he seeks from each of us it nothing more or less than the gift of self. For it is giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And, in the gift, and in the forgiveness, it is in dying to our self-centeredness that we are born to eternal life.

There is only one anointing strong enough to meet death, and that is the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the love of God.  There is something both exemplary and lasting in Mary's anointing of Jesus at Bethany.  It was above all a concern to keep Christ alive in this world, and to oppose the powers that aimed to silence and kill him.  It was an act of faith and of love.  Every such act can have the same effect."  (Pope Benedict XVI)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachtani? - My God, My God, Why Have You Abandoned Me?

Today’s First Reading, from Isaiah (50:4-7) praises the LORD for having given the Prophet “a well-trained tongue to awaken the weary (or, in more contemporary language, a way with words that can pierce through their boredom. On the other hand, the Prophet acknowledges that not everyone who is aroused responds positively. Some of them behave like children who don’t want to get up for school. But he does not rebel, does not turn back. He sets his face like stone, like the Old Man of the White Mountains, knowing that God is with him, and he will never be put to shame in God’s sight.

The Responsorial is Psalm 22, a prophecy of the agony of Jesus, so accurate in its detail that Jesus cried out, in a loud voice, a line from Verse 2: Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? (My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?) It is well-worth printing out in full, and meditating upon it today and during the coming week.

Response: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

Everyone who sees me mocks me.
They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
Is this the one who relies on the LORD?
Then let the LORD save him!
If the LORD loves him so much,
let the LORD rescue him!”  R/

My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
an evil gang closes in on me.
They have pierced my hands and feet.
I can count all my bones. R/

They divide my garments among themselves
and throw dice for my clothing.
O LORD, do not stay far away!
You are my strength, come quickly to my aid! R/

 I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.
I will praise you among your assembled people.
Praise the LORD, all you who fear him!
Honor him, all you descendants of Jacob!
Show him reverence, all you descendants of Israel!

Response: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

In today’s Gospel, as reflected in the Psalm, we do not hear Jesus rebelling, or turning back, in spite of the genuine human feeling of abandonment which is expressed in the first line of the Psalm, which He cried out in a loud voice, according to the Evangelist’s account. (Medical authorities wonder how, after being scourged within an inch of his life, and forced to walk from Pilate’s palace to Golgotha, he found the breath and lung power -- A meditation for another time, perhaps).

The major theme of these readings, then, is the gentleness of Jesus contrasted with the resistance of human nature to truth and to innocence.

The root meaning of the word “innocence” is well represented by the motto of the physician, in that time, and in our own: Primum, non nocere -- First, do no harm. This is the lens through which we ought to observe Jesus while listening to the Gospels of Holy Week, not only the Passion, which we hear today and again on Good Friday, but the narrative of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, as he give us His Body and Blood to sustain us and strength us on our spiritual journey. Jesus lived and died doing no harm, and, even more pertinently, he did what he tells us is the greatest goal of the life of the Master, and of the disciple: Greater love than this has no one, except to give one’s life for a friend. You are my friends, if you keep my commandment. And my commandment is this: Love one another as I have loved you.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

It is better for one man to die than for the entire nation to be destroyed.

First Reading
Ezekiel 37:21-28

Thus says the LORD: I will gather the people of Israel from all of the places where they have been scattered, and bring them home to their own land. I will make them one nation, with one ruler. Never again will they be divided into two nations, or two kingdoms. No longer will they defile themselves with idols. I will cleanse them from their transgressions. Then, they will be my people, and I will be their God.

My servant David will be their king, and there will only be one shepherd. They will obey my statues, and observe my decrees. They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where their forefathers lived. I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. I will place my Temple among them forever. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, who makes Israel holy.

Responsorial Psalm
Jeremiah 31

R/ The LORD will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.

Hear the word of the LORD, you nations of the world;
Proclaim it in distant coastlands.
He who scattered his people with gather them together,
And guard them as a shepherd guards his flock. R/

For the LORD shall ransom Jacob,
And redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
They will come home rejoicing,
Singing songs of joy on the heights of Zion.
They will be radiant with the LORD’s blessings,
Abundant crops of grain, wine and olive oil
Healthy flocks and herds. R/

Then the young women will dance for joy,
The young men and old will join the celebration.
For I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console them, and exchange their sorrow for joy. R/

John 11:45-56

Many of those who had come to Mary believed in Jesus when they saw him raise Lazarus from his tomb. But some went to the Pharisees, and told them what Jesus had done. The chief priests and the Pharisees then called the Sanhedrin together.

“What are we going to do?” they asked themselves. “This man is performing many miraculous signs. If we allow this to continue, everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy our Temple and our nation.”

Caiphas, who was high priest that year, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! Don’t you realize that it’s better for one man to die for the people, than for the entire nation to be destroyed?” He did not say that on his own. Because he was high priest at the time, he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the nation. But not only for that nation, but to gather together and unite the people of God scattered around the world.

Beginning then, the Jewish leaders began to plot the death of Jesus. So Jesus stopped walking about in public among the people, and left Jerusalem. He went to the village of Ephraim, in the desert, and remained there with his disciples.

It was nearly time for the Passover celebration, and people from all over the country came up to Jerusalem early, so they could go through the purification ceremony before the Festival began. They kept looking for Jesus, but as they walked in the Temple precincts, they asked one another, “What do you think? He’s not coming here for the Feast, is he?”

This reading from Ezekiel and the psalm of Jeremiah tell of God’s promise to gather the scattered remnants of Israel from around the world, and bring them home to the Holy City. The raising of Lazarus from the tomb is the seventh and last of the “signs” in John’s gospel of the coming of the Savior.

Consider the effect the raising of Lazarus upon the witnesses. Some believe in him, others go and report the event to the Priests and Pharisees, who have decreed that “anyone who acknowledges Jesus to be the Messiah is to be expelled from the synagogue (John 9:22). Reflect on the true meaning of Caiaphas’ comment, which John interprets as prophecy: “It is better for one man to die than for the entire nation to be destroyed.” Ironically, the Priests and the Pharisees, the religious authorities of God’s chosen people, decide to silence this obstreperous street preacher from Galilee by having him arrested and put to death. And by his death and resurrection, Jesus will open the gates of Heaven to all who have died in God’s favor, from the beginning of time, until the day He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

John composed his gospel well after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. I imagine there might have been a wry smile on his face as he penned these words.