Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Memorial of Saint Justin, martyr

(Acts 17:15.22-18:1; John 16:12-15)

Although there were exceptions, Christianity at first attracted mostly slaves and women – people from the lower echelons of society. These women and men were hardly unintelligent; indeed, they were sharp enough to recognize their innate inability to overcome base desires and demonic powers. Of the exceptions Justin was among the most notable. He had studied all the philosophies known in the Mediterranean region during the second century. Then one day on a seashore he met an old Christian who told him how Jesus had fulfilled the words of the prophets. His search for truth was satisfied. There was more truth to be uncovered, but Justin now knew where to dig.

St. Paul uses a different tack in addressing the Athenians in the first reading. Rather than proceed from the Scriptures, he gives them a lesson in natural religion. He first speaks of creation, then the Creator, and finally alludes to Jesus. The strategy falls on its face. The crowd in the Areopagus is not prepared to digest the idea that someone could be raised from the dead. Paul learns that all the reasoning in the world cannot move the masses to accept Christ. Rather the Christian has to proclaim with deeds of charity as much as words of wisdom that Jesus Christ provides the bread for a more abundant life.

We do well to follow both Justin and Paul. There is value in explaining how faith in Christ does not contradict reason but rather confirms most all of its conclusions. Yet we should realize that our logic will crumble if the goodness of our lives does not testify to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Romans 12:9-16; Luke 1:39-56)

Titian and Tintoretto are two celebrated Venetian Renaissance painters. Their comparative styles have been demonstrated in their depictions of Mary’s Annunciation. Titian portrays a reflective woman in a well-pointed apartment. Tintoretto’s “Annunciation,” on the other hand, shows a common girl in a rundown house utterly surprised by good news.

In character with Tintoretto’s virgin, Mary hastens to visit Elizabeth who is having a much unexpected pregnancy. In doing so, she does more than offer services to an elderly matron. She quite spontaneously responds to the word of God. In both ways, Mary models discipleship. We too should act on God’s word by offering a helping hand to the needy.

But Mary’s greatness goes further. She proclaims the goodness of God with words as well as deeds. She offers her own experience as a testimony of God’s special love for the poor. We likewise should not hesitate to tell others how God has blessed us.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 16:11-15; John 15:26-16:4a)

Since its recent turnover of government, Egypt has been added to the list of “countries of particular concern” published by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Other nations with the doleful distinction include Burma, China, Iran and Iraq. Most of these rights-violating countries are either Muslim or Communist led, but Christian nations have often shown intolerance. In the gospel today Jesus foresees his followers being persecuted. No doubt he would have wept if he saw religious intolerance carried out in his name.

Jesus goes on to promise his disciples the “Spirit of truth” so that, among other testimony, they may bear witness to his patience with people who hold different viewpoints. As he deplores the persecution of those who proclaim him as Lord, he does not intend that belief in him be forced upon anyone.

Today the United States remembers its war dead. Although our country has often mixed good and questionable motives for engaging in war, we say with grateful pride that our soldiers have typically given their lives for the cause of freedom. Here it should be emphasized that the practice of one’s religion without harassment constitutes the most basic freedom.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:22-31; John 15:12-17)

There is no inherent contradiction in being both Christ’s slaves and his friends. A slave can win the confidence of his or her master to be treated as a friend and even as a relative. Bishop Edward Braxton once wrote an article about a slave in Georgia who labored for a Catholic family. There was such mutual love between her and her masters that the woman chose to stay with the family after Emancipation and was eventually buried in the family plot.

Being slaves to Christ means that we follow his directives implicitly. When he tells us to love those who hurt us, we get past our outrage and at least pray for them. But there is no need to dwell long on our slavery. Jesus has set us free so that in following him, we do so willingly and meritoriously.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, priest

(Acts 15:7-21; John 15:9-11)

Although no one should describe Jesus as happy-go-lucky, the gospels do portray him as enjoying food and drink as well as conversations with people. Simply put, he was a person of a wide range of sympathies who could, in the words of St. Paul, “rejoice with those who rejoiced and weep with those who weep.” In today’s gospel we hear him promise his disciples that their joy will be complete. Today also the Church honors a saint who emulated Jesus’ sympathy.

Philip Neri became a missionary to, of all places, Rome, Italy. He arrived in the city around 1533 after it had been plundered by the German and Spanish armies. At the time the Church was controlled more by the leading families of the day than by men renowned for sanctity and prudence. Through personal holiness, study, and a penchant to engage people in conversation, Philip played a significant part in restoring the spirit of the city and proper order to the Church. He founded a unique congregation, the Oratorians, dedicated to giving space for spiritual guidance and discussion. He was famous for his sense of humor and looked for disciples who were patently happy.
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:1-6; John 15:1-8)

Jesus uses the parable of a grapevine to describe his relationship with his followers. Just as branches need to stay connected to the vine if they are to receive nourishment so Jesus’ disciples must remain close to him if they are to prosper. Most critically we stay close to Jesus through the Church which guides our behavior and fortifies us with his Body and Blood.

The bishops of England and Wales have just decided to reinstate the Friday abstinence from meat in their jurisdiction. It will mean more inconvenience than sacrifice, but the bishops evidently believe it will bring their faithful closer to the Lord. It should remind believers of Jesus’ death for their sake. Also, it will unite them to Jesus, the preacher. By testifying to their faith when they publicly refuse meat on Fridays they will raise the issue of living for a purpose beyond what is here and now gratifying.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 14:19-28; John 14:27-31a)

Cape Bojador on the western coast of Saharan Africa is so treacherous a sea passage that for years it served as the southern boundary for European sailors. Until the fifteenth century sea expeditions in the Atlantic always maintained sight of land lest the terrors of the ocean engulf them. But at Cape Bojador, the shallow depths and high winds always led to shipwreck. Then in 1434 a Portuguese sailor, using data obtained from different physical measurements, charted a course beyond sight of the coast that led to a successful passage. In the gospel Jesus tells his disciples that he likewise is charting a new passage around similarly troubled waters.

Jesus tells his disciples that he is leaving them to go to the Father. On the journey he will face all the power and fury that evil incarnate can muster. But, he says, he will overcome these obstacles and return to fetch his disciples. They then will be empowered to overcome evil temptations.

We, also Jesus’ disciples, are heirs to the graces that overcome evil. For some the challenge is maintaining faith in Jesus in a world so taken up with the wonders of technology. His wisdom does not glitter like instantaneous communication around the world, but its following has an infinitely richer reward. For others the evil that lurks is accepting aging with tranquility. To experience the loss of memory and mobility is trying but possible if we entrust ourselves to the Lord. The process culminates in the surrender of death where one experiences the everlasting gentleness of divine love.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 14:5-8; John 14:21-26)

Although we expect strict justice in civil courts, we can be rudely disappointed. The Church today, for example, is expending large sums of money on legal counsel to prevent the dissipation of all its resources in court settlements. The counsel prepares Church witnesses to answer claims of sexual abuse succinctly, directly, and insightfully so that the court will have an accurate idea of ministerial responsibility.

In the gospel Jesus promises to send counsel to his disciples as they proclaim his message to the world. He knows that however fair-sounding his teaching seems, just as reality in civil courts it can become distorted. Proclaimed with the assistance of wise counsel, however, it will overcome cynicism and even malevolence. The counsel is given different names in the Gospel of John and is translated by different words – Advocate, Counsellor, and Paraclete. But as St. Paul says in the First Letter to the Corinthians, “It is the same (Holy) Spirit.”

The Spirit is present to us today as we give witness to Christ’s truth. When children come to us confused because what the world claims conflicts with the values learned in church, we need to respond with earnestness. Being in touch with the Spirit through prayer and study will assure that we meet their needs.

Friday. May 20, 2011

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 13:26-33; John 14:1-6)

The Philippines will long remember Douglas MacArthur for the words he spoke at his forced departure from the country at the beginning of World War II. He promised the people, “I shall return,” and he did. No doubt, some Filipinos joined the resistance to the Japanese invaders on the strength of MacArthur’s promise. In the gospel today Jesus means to instill such confidence with a similar promise.

The passage is taken from the beginning of the second half of John’s gospel, the so-called Book of Glory. Jesus is making a farewell speech. He assures his disciples that he is not abandoning them but will be back. Thomas, like a child who cannot tolerate his parents leaving home, worries that something may happen. Jesus consoles him that all will be well because he is “the way and the truth and the life.” That is, Jesus is himself the way that leads to the Father because he is the only true image of the Father bestowing the Father’s life.

We sometimes find ourselves in bleak situations. Perhaps we face job termination, mortgage foreclosure, or an iffy diagnosis. We wonder if we will be all right. Jesus tells us, just as he assures Thomas, not to fret. He will return to assist us for he has established un in his Father’s family.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 13:13-25; John 13:16-20)

In John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost the great angel Lucifer takes a definitive stand against God. “I will not serve,” he says. To punctuate the point, he adds that it is “better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.” Off he goes to bring havoc to the world, not least terribly by distorting our notion of service.

Service seems to call into question the exalted idea we have of ourselves. It apparently shows to the world and to ourselves that we are not the force that sets the universe in motion but a small cog in the order of things. Yet Jesus served -- very visibly the night he took off his tunic to wash the feet of his disciples. Service then does not demean our stature; quite the contrary it conforms us to the Lord. When we serve faithfully and well, we prove ourselves worthy of a place in God’s house, a seat at His table.

The reference to Judas in the gospel reading today points to a man who, like Lucifer, refuses to serve. It is opined – perhaps because he was the treasurer of the community -- that Judas rivaled Peter as head disciple. In the reading Jesus implies that Judas’ difficulty is that he cannot see himself taking off his tunic, much less giving his life in faithful service. Thus, he too takes a definitive stand against the Lord.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:19-26; John 12:44-50)

Last week President Obama gave a speech in El Paso, Texas, regarding immigration reform. Much in accord with Catholic bishops he called for ways to legitimize the presence of millions of undocumented workers and their families in the United States. The president’s speaking so near the border to Mexico may be called a media event. That is, the speech was staged not so much for his immediate audience but as a sign to listeners far and wide of the importance of the issue to him. It might be said that Jesus’ message in today’s gospel comprises a similar media event.

Jesus’ words conclude the first half of John’s gospel sometimes called by scholars the “Book of Signs.” They do not contain any new teaching but rather nicely summarize all that Jesus has revealed of himself so far. Of course, Jesus’ primary message has been that he is sent by God the Father to save the world. The signs or miracles, which punctuate the teachings in the first half of the gospel, testify to the legitimacy of Jesus’ mission.

As this passage marks the midpoint of the gospel so today we come to the midpoint of the Easter season. The celebration so far should have been uplifting, but will anyone say that it is “awesome” or “exciting,” especially those who have already lived through many Easter seasons? This latter group has learned that living Jesus’ resurrected life does not bring many mountaintop experiences. Rather it reassures us that the love which we radiate and find reflected back on us is worth any effort on our part. As much as anything else, this truth will sustain us to the fullness of life promised as our journey ends.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:19-26; John 10:22-30)

The archives of the Archdiocese of St. Louis justly speak of Cardinal Joseph Ritter as a man of “courage and decency.” When he arrived in the city as archbishop, the face of the local Church was marred by racism. In his first year of tenure he ordered all pastors to end discrimination against African-Americans in parochial schools. The reaction, as might have been expected, was strong. But ending segregation was the right thing to do.

In the first reading we see the early Church going through a crisis every bit as traumatic as that of the Church of St. Louis in the time of Cardinal Ritter. The Church began in Jerusalem as a sect of Judaism following Jesus’ teaching. Forced to spread, it encountered non-Jews in places like Antioch. Were they going to be accepted into Jesus’ flock directly or did they have to be transitioned through Judaism? In Antioch, at least, a positive answer to accepting directly non-Jews into the Church was given. Barnabas, like Ritter “a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith,” affirmed the direct assimilation.

Today Catholics face a similar challenge in relating to members of Protestant communities. Some of these communities have been openly hostile to the Church in the past. Others have assented to doctrines that wander hopelessly from the Christian tradition. But these should not be reasons for rejecting ongoing prayer, cooperative charitable services, and dialogue. Protestants must be treated as sisters and brothers called and baptized into the large flock of the one shepherd.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:1-18; John 10:1-10)

The word good comes from an Old English root meaning fitting or apt. Jesus calls himself “the Good Shepherd” in the gospel today because he always does what is right for his followers. He protects them from the wolves of passions that might devour their souls. He leads them to the green pastures of wisdom that nourish them to the fullness of life. Yet he does nothing for his own gain. Indeed, he gives his life so that they may flourish.

What makes Jesus not just the Good Shepherd but the best shepherd is that he has power to ward off any threat. He says in the passage today that no one can take his life from him. He gives it for the benefit of his flock but, like the man who amputated his own gangrenous arm a few years ago, remains entirely in control of the situation.

Young men and women graduating college worry about finding a job. Retirees wonder if their pension plans will see them through old age. The middle-aged face new challenges in a dizzyingly changing world. All of us need to trust in Jesus. Rich or poor, enthralled or bored, we will find fullness in Jesus’ fold.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima

(Acts 9:1-20; John 52-59)

In 1917 three Portuguese youth had visions of the Virgin Mary near the town of Fatima. They claimed that the Virgin revealed to them three “secrets.” The substance of the last of those revelations has created untold speculation in the Church for almost seventy years.

The first two secrets were related in a document written by one of the three children, Lucia Santos, in 1941. Lucia, who had become a Carmelite nun, responded to a request made by a Portuguese bishop to write down the matters. The contents of her message were sealed in an envelope that was opened only in 1960. The first secret is a vision of hell worthy of the Book of Revelation. The second secret chronicles the time in which it was written down. It tells of a second world war and the threat of Communist Russia.

Sr. Lucia was hesitant to tell of the final secret, but evidently the same bishop insisted so that it would not be lost in the case of her death. In 1944, acting under obedience, Sr. Lucia wrote of the third secret on four sheets of paper that were sealed in an envelope. The envelope was sent to Rome in 1957, evidently opened in 1960, but its secret was not made public until 2000. The text reads like another vision from the Apocalypse. It exhorts penance among the people and foresees the pope being killed by a group of soldiers. The latter prediction was understood as a reference to Pope John Paul II’s being shot in 1981. As the contents only demand greater devotion and contain a half-fulfilled prophecy, various critics have claimed that the Vatican was not completely forthcoming in publishing the contents. None other than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, however, has verified that the publication of the contents was complete and that the nature of the secret was, as sometimes said, more prescriptive than descriptive.

What does the Fatima story tell us today? For one thing it warns us of speculating about the future. As a popular song once put it, “Que serĂ¡, serĂ¡” (what will be, will be). Ours is not to know the future but to prepare for it. We do this best, as Jesus says in today’s gospel, by regularly partaking of his body and blood at the Eucharist.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 8:26-40; John 6:44-51)

Food writer Michael Pollan criticizes the agricultural-industrial complex for polluting the American diet with corn-based products. He readily rolls out statistics to show that corn has long outdistanced wheat as America’s dietary mainstay. Pollan’s analysis raises the question whether Jesus, if he were to preach today, would say, “I am the bread of life.”

Do not doubt that he would. Whatever the universality of corn, well-made bread is still nutritious and delectable. Jesus further challenges contemporary assumptions like “the more, the better” and “what is convenient is also preferable.” He makes himself bread to be eaten in the Eucharist, but this food differs from what we put on the dinner table both in kind and quality. The Eucharist does not nourish us because it is bread for the body but because it is life for the soul. Its primarily spiritual substance lifts our minds and hearts to the divine love which they impart. Similarly, the word of God -- the Scriptures --provides rich spiritual nourishment.

Because they become the most life-giving of all food, quality bread and wine should be obtained for the Eucharist. As important, the Scriptures used in liturgies should be read from an attractive volume. For a while parishes used to make their own bread for the altar, but that practice seems to have proven impractical in the long run. Nevertheless, hosts of an appreciable size with the appearance, texture of well-made bread should be purchased whenever possible for their sign value. Likewise, a hearty, mellow wine should be obtained for consecration. Finally, reading the Scriptures from an I-Phone or missalette, although they still give life, does not indicate their preeminence in the order of knowledge and wisdom.

Wednesday, May 11, 2020

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 8:1b-8; John 6:35-40)

Although the Acts of the Apostles provides only a summary history of the early Church, several conclusions may be drawn from it. Today’s passage, for example, gives three keys to understanding the initial missionary activity of the Church. First, the fact that the missions resulted from the persecution of the Church in Jerusalem tells us that they were not planned in advance. Rather, they were the work of the Holy Spirit prompting Christians to work for the good in any situation. Second, the comment on how the Apostles and, presumably, other Hebrew Christians stayed behind in Jerusalem indicates that the missions were a venture of Greek-speaking Christians. These non-Jerusalemites probably downplayed the importance of the Temple as Stephen had done in his diatribe before being stoned. Finally, the missionaries did not feel restricted to preach their message to Jews but could address pagans as well since the latter not only spoke their language but also had no interest whatsoever in Temple worship.

As recent popes constantly remind us, Catholics today must take up the mission of evangelization. We can draw on the conclusions from Acts to respond to the summons. The Spirit puts us in situations where our lives and words give testimony to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In the beginning, at least, our purpose will not be to bring people to Church with us but to show them how the universal love that Jesus taught leads to a more fulfilling life. Still we do not refrain from speaking of our personal relationship with Jesus to religious skeptics. The righteousness of our lives will be the surest sign to these people of the validity of our message. But unless we are clear about who guides us, they will never know the full story.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 7:51-8:1a; John 6:30-35)

A few years ago Clint Eastwood made a movie in which the protagonist dies in Christ-like fashion. In “The Grand Turino” Eastwood plays a retired auto worker who undergoes a conversion. Originally openly hostile to minorities, the man changes his outlook when he experiences the integrity of a Hmong family who move into his neighborhood. In the movie’s last scene the hero willingly walks into a death trap in order to redeem the life of a young Hmong. And as he is riddled with bullets, he outstretches his arms like Christ on the cross.

In the first reading we see Stephen also dying like Jesus. As Jesus was unjustly executed so is Stephen. As Jesus was taken past the walls of Jerusalem for crucifixion, Stephen is stoned outside the city. Stephen’s last words are paraphrases of Jesus’. First, he petitions Jesus, as Jesus the Father, to “…receive my spirit.” Then, like Jesus, he asks forgiveness for his executioners.

Since death is an inevitability of life, we should prepare ourselves so that we too might die like Jesus. By rehearsing “into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit” before bed every night, we will have these words on our lips with our dying breath. By daily praying for those who have offended us, well, we are not likely to have any enemies when we die. But if one remains, we will easily remember to pray for him or her as we go to God.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 6:8-15; John 6:22-29)

A new discount supermarket chain started selling milk for ninety-nine cents a gallon. Of course, the chain lost money on the milk, but it could tolerate the setback. Its purpose was to use the low price of milk as a sign to shoppers of the real savings that they could obtain if they always shopped in its stores. Jesus explains in the gospel today that his feeding of the five thousand had a similar sign value.

Jesus tells the people that the bread he multiplied was more than physical food. Plentiful and helpful, it served as a sign of the spiritual food which he provides. In other words, the bread that fed five thousand points to the abundant life that Jesus’ words and works nourish. They, and not lobster or rib-eye, give life to the full.

When we take Jesus’ body and blood at Mass, we should realize that we are opting for him and not the luxuries of this world. It is to say that his truth and his love are what we most relish and what we are willing to die for.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:34-42; John 6:1-15)

A writer from San Antonio recalls an old Jewish doctor who took care of many Mexican, African, and white Americans in her barrio before World War II. Doc Stein was everyone’s friend and everyone’s healer. If someone worried about paying him back, he would say, “You should worry to pay me? You think maybe I want to become a millionaire? Pay me when you can.” He treated the soul as well as the body. “Just think only about getting well, and believe in ‘Gott’ and pray for health,” he would admonish his patients.

We might think of Gamaliel in the reading from Acts today as a Doc Stein kind of person. His unshakeable faith in God allows him to tolerate a budding competitor to his beloved Judaism without fluster. “…if it (Christianity) comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them,” he tells his fellow Jews. Perhaps as St. Paul’s teacher Gamaliel imparted the acumen and love for God that made his pupil the most efficacious of Christian apostles.

Gamaliel and Doc Stein together remind us that religious toleration may not go far enough. We are wise to learn what other religions teach and how they are practiced. As results of these efforts we are likely to sharpen our understanding of Catholic doctrine and to entertain deeper insights into prayer and virtuous living.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:27-33; John 3:31-36)

We should note who the speaker of today’s gospel passage is. He sounds like much like Jesus in yesterday’s reading saying to Nicodemus, “’God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” A supermarket shelf comparison will note just about everything the same except the pedigree when today’s speaker proclaims, “’Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life...’” That speaker, however, is not Jesus but John, whom we (and not the text) call “the Baptist.”

The reading does not give us the context of John’s testimony, but we can easily find it by referring to the whole gospel. Jesus has left Jerusalem and gone into the country of Judea where John is baptizing. The text shows Jesus baptizing many people and John’s disciples worried that he is encroaching on John’s turf. But John -- the true prophet that he is – does not protest but submits. “He (Jesus) must increase;” John famously says, “I must decrease.”

Today’s gospel bids us to question the meaning of eternal life. How does it compare to the many ways we gratify ourselves? Is it more wonderful a vacation cruise or more comfortable than central air and heating? Perhaps more to the point, can we be assured of eternal life as much as many modern comforts are affordable to most of us? Our celebration of Easter emboldens us to respond to these questions with both good sense and conviction. Eternal life is companionship with the risen one. It far exceeds anything the world has to offer because it provides a joy not limited to time and space. Just as surely as Jesus rose from the dead, we will experience eternal life when we, like John, submit to him.

Wedneday, May 4, 2011

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:17-26; John 3:16-21)

The gospel today begins with one of the most famous verses in the entire Bible. In fact, John 3:16 has been called “the Gospel in miniature.” It boldly proclaims God’s love and tells of the eternal destiny for all who care to be formed by that Gospel.

The passage reads that Jesus is not here to condemn humans but to offer them a choice. They can either receive him, the light of the world, in order to live in charity. Or they can remain in the darkness of sinful desires. It is instructive that Nicodemus, whom Jesus is addressing here, first comes to Jesus “at night” indicating his complexity in sin. However, he makes a final appearance in broad daylight after the crucifixion to bury Jesus. With this most charitable of acts he has definitively opted for the light of the world.

We may ask if it is possible to receive Jesus and still maintain some sinful desire. Perhaps we enjoy gossip or maybe a pornographic Internet channel. No, the light of the world will not admit any darkness although he does listen to our prayers for mercy. If we sincerely petition and duly follow, he will enable us to walk the way of eternal life.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Feast of Saints Philip and James, apostles

I Corinthians 15:1-8; John 14:6-14)

St. Veronica is the legendary woman whose name is associated with a famous maneuver in bullfighting. She is always portrayed as holding with both hands the cloth with which she wiped the face of Jesus and on which his image remains. In bullfighting when the matador swipes the cape held with both hands before the charging bull, he has performed a veronica. The name Veronica actually means true image, but in the gospel the true image does not refer to Veronica or her cloth, but to Jesus himself who is the perfect representation of God the Father.

The apostle Philip has trouble understanding Jesus when he says that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father. “Show us the Father,” Philip requests, not out of defiance but from confusion. It is the same difficulty that Dan Brown and many others have in imagining that Jesus really is God. “He was a remarkable man,” the skeptics says and then ask, “but how could he be the creator of the ever-expanding universe?” It is this awesome wonder that makes the Incarnation one of the two core beliefs of Christianity.

Jesus invites us to believe in him by promising to empower us to work mighty deeds. What does he have in mind – to turn water into wine? No, one expert says, Jesus is not referring here to “the petty things of life.” Rather he means overcoming the physical tendency to sin by lust, greed, or pride. Even more, he is promising to enable us to love the poor who repel us or the enemy who would harm us and so find a place with him in glory.