Thursday, May 1, 2014

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

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

Political correctness requires that everyone accepts “homosexual marriage.”  Proponents of the issue claim that it will facilitate social inclusion for a group which has been ostracized or belittled throughout history.  They pass over the reality that “homosexual marriage” distorts the perennial understanding of the term marriage and will likely result in a number of negative consequences.  Among these are the devaluation of the institution of marriage, the reduction of births and resultant diminution of culture, and manifold social pathologies.  In the first reading today the apostles are admonished for refusing to conform to a similar demand of political correctness.

Jewish leadership would not mind the disciples of Jesus praying to their Lord silently.  What bothers them is the open proclamation of Jesus’ name because they executed him.  Intimidating them has not succeeded. Now, according to the text, the Jewish leaders want to kill the disciples.  As we will hear tomorrow, a wise man in their midst will convince the leaders not to act rashly.

Followers of Christ need to develop a sensor for political correctness.  We should be wary of those who would forsake the truth out of a desire for power.  But we should also remember that following Christ we speak the truth in love.  Proponents of causes such as “homosexual marriage” often are well-intentioned and possessive of wisdom.  To benefit all concerned we must engage them in intelligent and respectful dialogue.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

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

An elderly man carries a large magnifying glass wherever he goes.  He admits, however, that the glass does not do much good without sufficient light.  In fact, he says, good lighting is more helpful for reading than the magnifying glass.  In today’s gospel Jesus is presented as the transformative light which turns good motives into virtuous acts.

The text emphasizes that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it.  People may get the former idea because Jesus could not but make some demands and prohibit some actions.  After all, human tendencies since Adam have been rather predominantly selfish.  But any sternness about Jesus is more than compensated by his graciousness.  The light he beams should be understood as the glow of the early morning which stirs followers to a just way of living.

It is time to be hopeful. The Lord’s resurrection has become our destiny.  We have both reason and direction to live lives of virtue.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena, virgin

(Acts 2:32-37; John 3:7b-15)

Mother Teresa is an icon of charity.  She is known for her work among the poor.  But those who had the opportunity to hear Mother Teresa speak realize that she her good works was matched by a rare ability to articulate the truth.  St. Catherine of Siena embodied these same virtues of love and truth.

It is said that Catherine was hardly literate.  Yet she dictated her Dialogues (with the Lord) which has become a spiritual classic.  She was also known to have advised popes and princes.  But she spent much time caring for the sick and visiting the imprisoned.  For good reason the little apartment which she used in Rome is preserved as a shrine, and she has been named patroness of both Italy and Europe.

As with all saints, we are to both ask Catherine’s intercession and to imitate her zeal.  Coming from a humble background, her accomplishments should encourage our persistence and trust in God.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 4:23-31; John 3:1-8)

In Leonard Bernstein’s epic musical Mass, the epistle is sung as a tribute to the “Word of the Lord.”  Addressed to “men of power,” the song exalts what the Acts of the Apostles teaches about the indomitableness of God’s message.  Over the long run, the song says, God’s message of love will conquer the pride, ambition, and contempt of the powerful.

In today’s passage from Acts, Peter and John have just returned from being told by the Jewish Sanhedrin never to speak the name of Jesus again.  The apostles, having openly defied the order, now pray with the Christian community for strength.  Their stance is confirmed as the room shakes with the approval of the people moved by the Holy Spirit.

Although apparently harmless, the Word of God can threaten the selfish interests of the privileged because it speaks with truth to the heart.  We must study it, understand it, and preach it as God’s humble servants called to do His will in a too often careless world. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 4:1-12; John 21:1-14)

In every regular mass this week - actually from Sunday to Sunday - the gospel provides an appearance of the risen Christ.  Although these accounts bear some marks of editorial expansion, they assure readers of the resurrection as an historical fact.  But the nature of the resurrection is transhistorical, which means that it has never been duplicated in history.  Still reliable witnesses testify that they have seen the risen Lord.  Their stories provide an explanation of the empty tomb, the circumstancial evidence for the resurrection.

Today's gospel appearance takes place at the Sea of Tiberias.  It seems strange  that Jesus' disciples would return to their former occupatioon after being commissioned to go forth with the Holy Spirit and forgive sins.  Yet many people who have had profound religious experiences can become almost indifferent to what happened to them.  Jesus, true to his promise during the Last Supper, does not abandon his disciples but comes again to reissue the mandate to preach forgiveness.  This is expressed symbolically as he says, "'Cast your net over the right side...'"

Some still dismiss the resurrection appearances as psychological experiences.  They challenge believers to prove that they happened in reality.  We should respond in two ways.  First, we need to study the accounts with the help of faithful commentators so that we may provide a reasonable explanation of all the details.  Second, and perhaps more decisively, we want to testify to their veracity by showing how they have made our lives more holy.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thursday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 3:11-26; Luke 24:35-48)

During the Easter season the Church does not use the Old Testament in its liturgies other than the Psalms.  Evidently it wants to emphasize how Jesus’ resurrection makes everything new.  But this does not mean that the Old Testament is entirely silent.  So inextricable is it to the Christian message that the Old Testament is continually found in passages such as the first reading today.

In his sermon after healing the lame man at the Portico of Solomon St. Peter tells the people that Jesus was the prophet whom Moses anticipated in the Book of Deuteronomy.   This prophet would speak God’s definitive word such that all who do not heed him will be cut off from God’s people. 

The Jews to this day have never converted en masse to Christ.  Does that mean that they have forsaken their heritage as God’s chosen people?  At Vatican II the bishops taught that God, always faithful to his promise, will never withdraw his favor for Israel.  We pray that the Jews will be faithful to the Covenant made to Moses and so help us to understand Jesus better.  He came to redeem all humanity, even those who do not acknowledge him as their savior.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wednesday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 3:1-10; Luke 24:13-35)

In the novel A Day with a Perfect Stranger a woman is seated between two men on an airplane.  One of the two begins to moralize with her.  The other allows her to use the armrest.  Which of the men do you suppose to be Jesus?

On the road to Emmaus the disciples find in Jesus the perfect companion.  He engages and inquires, lets them express themselves and then explains to the point of inspiring.  The shock comes at the end of the journey when they discover in breaking bread with their supposedly new-found friend that Jesus is their gracious companion.

We may wonder what the risen Christ looked like.  The gospels do not offer much of a portrait.  He evidently could be easily mistaken as with Mary Magdalene in yesterday’s passage or even unnoticed as with the two disciples today.  Yet his presence becomes evident in the breaking of the bread.  All this is to say that Jesus reveals himself in the Eucharist where we may meet him daily. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2:36-41; John 20:11-18)

The word “heartbleed” sounds like the description of a romantic but actually is used to name a defect in Internet operations.  The recently discovered defect compromises the security of passwords which everyone uses to identify her or himself in Internet transactions.  As critical as passwords are for computer use, the first reading shows the apostle Peter proposing a new identification – a new password – even more important for the people of Jerusalem.

Peter is speaking on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Christ’s resurrection.  He boldly tells the people of their responsibility for the unjust crucifixion of Jesus.  He also offers them a way to forgiveness for the crime.  He urges them to be baptized in the name of the same Jesus Christ.  More than exonerating the Jews, baptism in Jesus’ name promises them the Holy Spirit.  This gratuitous gift will enable them to live in holy, loving ways that secure them on the road to eternal life.

We who call ourselves “Christians” should not betray the name that has been handed on to us.  It indicates not just a preference but a faith in the incarnation and resurrection of the Son of God.  It promises us as well the Holy Spirit who is lifting us out of the messy world of sin into the higher realm of virtue and grace.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2: 14.22-33; Matthew 28:8-15)

The behavior of the chief priests in the gospel of Matthew might make a saint anti-clerical.  They pay to arrange Jesus’ arrest.  They seek false testimony to condemn him.  They show no compassion for Judas as he struggles with a guilty conscious and much less for Jesus as they ridicule him on the cross.  After Jesus’ death, they ask Pilate for a guard to prevent the abduction of Jesus’ body.  And, in today’s gospel, they bribe the same guard to lie about what took place.  Perhaps some of these incidents may be attributed to the animosity between the Jews and the Christians when Matthew wrote; nevertheless, they indicate some trut,hs about Jesus’ resurrection.

The assertions that the chief priests asked for soldiers to guard Jesus’ tomb and then bribed them to be quiet when the tomb was found empty point to one of the reasons Christians believe in the resurrection.  His tomb, which is marked in a definite place by all four gospel accounts, was found to be empty that Sunday morning, again in all gospel narratives.  Unless the body was stolen as the Jews in Matthew’s account allege, there is no other explanation for its disappearance than the resurrection.

However, our faith in the resurrection is not based on circumstantial evidence alone.  Jesus also appeared to many people after his body was found missing from the tomb.  Today’s gospel speaks of the first appearance to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.  St. Paul will give us a list of his appearances: Peter, the Twelve, five hundred Christian brothers, and, of course, to Paul himself.  Based on their testimony, the empty tomb, and our own experience of the power of Christ acting in our lives, we do not hesitate to affirm that, yes, he rose from the dead to save us from sin and death.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord

(Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42)

We tend to think of lambs as vulnerable animals.  Do you remember watching cartoons in which the wolf seeing a lamb imagines lamb chops?  But there is at least one instance when the lamb is strong enough to protect all his subjects from harm.  In the Book of Revelation the Lamb of God sits on the throne surrounded by those he has saved.  The Passion of St. John which we just heard features this same lamb in a subtle but telling way.

At the beginning of the Gospel John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29).”  He has in mind, of course, Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross to atone for human sin.  The Passion account does not speak directly of Jesus as the lamb but gives at least three hints that he is the Passover lamb of the Old Testament tradition that needed to be sacrificed for human freedom from the bondage of sin.  In the first place, Jesus is said to be crucified at noon on the preparation day for the Passover, the exact time when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple (19:14).  Then while Jesus is hanging on the cross, the people “put a sponge soaked in wine on a spring of hyssop…up to (Jesus’) mouth (19:29).”  The hyssop is a slender plant that could not possibly bear the weight of a soaked sponge.  It is used here to remind the reader of the hyssop that the Israelites used to sprinkle their doorposts with the blood of the Passover lamb.  The blood saved them from the Angel of Death who destroyed the first-born of the Egyptians when the Israelites were fleeing captivity (Ex 12:22).  The last hint of Jesus as the Lamb of God comes as Jesus dies on the cross.  A soldier comes to break his legs so that he can no longer support breathing.  The text says that the soldier, seeing that Jesus had died, sticks a lance in his side perhaps to save himself the trouble of breaking a large bone (19:36).  In any case, no bone of the Passover lamb was to be broken (Ex 12:46). 

Was it necessary for Jesus to be sacrificed as a lamb to free us from sin? we may want to ask.  And, could God have forgiven us our sins without the cross?  No, it was not absolutely necessary and, yes, God might have forgiven our sins without Jesus’ bloody death.  However, without knowing the terrible price that Jesus had to pay for our salvation, we would be less inclined to follow his ways.  Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross gives us both courage and example to give of ourselves for the love of God and the good of others.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper

(Exodus 12:1-8.11-14; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15)

It has been noted that the Eucharist celebrated today has no ending.  Rather, after Communion, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for continuing reflection.  Similarly, the service conducted tomorrow does not begin with an introduction, nor does it end with the usual blessing and sending forth.  And then on Saturday, there is likewise no greeting as the liturgy gets underway; there is only an exhortation about participating reverently.  The Church deliberately designs the services in this way to teach that Christ’s Eucharistic meal, his passion and death, and his resurrection are but one saving event for all to partake in.

At the heart of today’s gospel Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.  It is a symbolic action to be emulated not just by the priest once a year but, much more to the point, by all Christians every day.  It is accomplished by ordinary service like ministers of Holy Communion visiting shut-ins or volunteers driving an elderly person to his or her doctor.  People will regularly do these things for loved ones, but Jesus has in mind rendering similar service to virtual strangers.  As his love extended to every person, so his disciples’ love cannot be limited by prejudice or convenience.

We can take advantage of the time before the Eucharist tonight to reflect on how we may render the service that Christ’s asks and to pray for the grace to implement the plans we make.  If we find ourselves wondering whether we can do it, we should look forward to the Passion of Christ which will be recalled tomorrow to consider what Christ has done for us.  We also might anticipate the Easter service when we are assured of the strength to live out the life to which he has called us.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 50:4-9a; Matthew 26:14-25)

Of the four gospels Matthew gives the most complete portrait of Judas Iscariot.  As in Mark and Luke, Judas is named on Matthew’s list of apostles in the last place because he will betray Jesus (10:4).  In the passage read today, Judas bargains with the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver in exchange for handing Jesus over.  During the Last Supper Matthew alone pictures Judas as disobeying Jesus’ explicit directive not to call anyone “Rabbi.” In Gethsemane Judas again defies Jesus by calling him “Rabbi” and then treacherously kisses him as a sign to the arresting party that he is their man (26:47-50).  Finally, only Matthew describes Judas’ returning the money he received from the high priests out of regret for what he had done.  Then, according to Matthew alone, Judas hangs himself (27:3-5).

Judas betrays Jesus out of greed.  The thirty pieces of silver comprise 120 days of wages for a skilled laborer in gospel times.  In the end Judas appears remorseful when he goes back to the chief priests to return the silver.  Is he expressing contrition for his sin?  Not really. He offended Jesus, not the chief priests.  If he were truly sorry, he should have sought Jesus’ forgiveness. 

Judas evidently was at least gifted enough to attract Jesus’ attention and to be elected an apostle.  Perhaps he was blinded enough by the desire for silver that he bought into the criticism of Jesus by the Jewish leaders.  In any case he lacked the fortitude to ask forgiveness of the person he offended.  Looking at ourselves, we may find some of the same character faults.  Hopefully, we pray every day that God will strengthen us so that we never betray our friends, least of all, Jesus, the greatest of our friends.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 49:1-6; John 12:21-33; 36-38)

The gospel today invites us to compare and contrast Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial of Jesus.  Preachers sometimes say that the two offenses amount to the same sin of infidelity.  That opinion, however, seems mistaken.  It would be like equating setting a house on fire and failing to call the fire department when we see the blazes.  “First, do no harm,” wrote the primordial physician-philosopher Hippocrates. 

Other preachers may condemn Judas for treachery but dismiss Peter’s failure because he was afraid.  This way of thinking also seems misguided.  There is no evidence that Peter suffered clinical anxiety.  Indeed, he appears as a head-strong man.  Doing good almost always involves some difficulty.  Peter’s failure to act righteously when confronted about Jesus indicates that he considers his losses in declaring his loyalty as greater than his benefits.  Although his repeated denials comprise lies, we should see Peter’s principal sin as one of omission.

Nor can Judas’ treason be defended by saying that the devil made him do it.  Although the passage states, “Satan entered him,” a bit later, when Judas leaves the supper, it adds, “ was night.”  This reference is made not so much to give the time of day but to indicate that Judas deliberately chose the darkness of evil to the light of Christ.  We are wise to consider that we too are susceptible to the same tragic mistake and to avoid it at all costs.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 42:1-7; John 12:1-11)

Jews read the passages about the “Suffering Servant” with a question in mind: “To whom does the prophet Isaiah refer?”  Is it the prophet himself, or Job or possibly the entire Jewish people who suffered terribly at various points in history?  Christians, in turn, have no doubt that the passages refer to Jesus Christ whose passion and death fit quite squarely with Isaiah’s descriptions.

Jesus did not come with an army of followers and much less did he use violence to impose his teaching.  He established justice on earth by exemplifying God’s love to what became myriads of followers.  With his crucifixion, God established an eternal covenant which is by no means in retreat despite the fact that relatively fewer people attend church in Western societies.  Jesus also opened the eyes of the blind, physically in some cases but, more critically, morally to all people who seek fulfillment from power, pleasure, or possessions.  Finally and most importantly, he freed prisoners of sin who may not even be aware of the harm they do.

We will hear readings from the Suffering Servant passages throughout Holy Week.  They remind us how Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecy through his passion and death.  Although everyone has difficulties, they leave us in awe at the price Jesus paid for our freedom.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Jeremiah 20:10-13; John 10:31-42)

The woman feels forlorn.  Having taken care of her grandson as an infant, she has a very special affection for him. But her daughter-in-law and son seem to deprive her of opportunities to see him.  Her daughter-in-law even avoids speaking to her.  Perhaps the isolation she feels is not of the magnitude of Jeremiah’s in the first reading today or of Jesus’ in the gospel, but certainly many of us know the distress it creates. In turn, these feelings from being excluded in different situations help us to understand what the Scriptures point to today.

The gospel portrays the debate between Jesus and the Jews of his time.  It also reflects the situation between Christians and Jews in late first century Palestine.  The Jews could no longer tolerate Christians claiming the Sonship of Jesus in their synagogues.  Their religion had been devastated by the Roman razing of their Temple.  As humans tend to do when in distress, these Jews reassessed who they were and what they believed.  They concluded that there was no place among them for adherents to belief in Jesus as Lord.  As they were in the majority at that place and time, the Christians had to go. Like Jesus in today's gospel, the latter withdrew to other places to find their future.

When we find ourselves misunderstood, isolated, and even, perhaps, our good names attacked, we may find a resolution to the distress in doing what Jesus does here.  We need to examine our words and works to test whether we are acting in accord with God's will.  If we find ourselves innocent of wrong-doing, then we can take consolation in assuming the posture of Jesus who suffered after doing what is right.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Genesis 17:3-9; John 8:51-59)

The charismatic heretic of the fourth century Arius had the same problem which vexes the Jews in today’s gospel.  If God is infinite, he argued, then he could not become incarnate in a singular subject.  This, he claimed, would be like putting a mountain into a box.  Therefore, Arius concluded, Jesus must have been created like all other beings and then raised to divine status by God’s special indulgence.  In the gospel reading the Jews critique Jesus as coming to a similar erroneous conclusion when he claims, “Before Abraham came to be, I AM.”  The Jews think that Jesus is identifying himself with the eternal “I AM” when he is obviously a creature born in time. 

Recently Fr. Robert Barron, one of today’s gifted theologians, published an essay which can be used to explain how Arius and the Jews are mistaken.  Like his great predecessors Saints Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas, Fr. Barron understands God not as just the highest being but qualitatively different from all other beings so that he cannot be compared to any other.  We have glimpses of who God is through Jesus, but His nature is really beyond human understanding. It is only because God has revealed it that we can say He became human.  Again how this happens is beyond reckoning.

God became human in Jesus so that humans can become like God.  Knowing ourselves as sinners, this may seem incredible although the saints provide us a glimmer of hope.  Jesus’ death and resurrection has given them the grace to become holy.  The same Easter mystery will sanctify us.

Wednesday, April 9, 2-14

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Daniel 3:14-20.91-92.95; John 8:31-42)

As if they were victims of a viral pandemic, the minds of many young men are being permanently infected by pornography. The vice creates desires impossible to fulfill so that finding happiness in marriage will likely also prove elusive. Ironically, in the name of sexual freedom consumers of pornography are being enslaved by the gross images. The same irony underlies today's gospel passage.

Jesus confronts the Jews with the truth that he is from God. This fact should be evident from the great signs that he has performed. But his opponents refuse to be swayed. Instead, they dismiss him as an upstart for which Jesus accuses them of being enslaved to sin. He alone can free them from sin because he brings the truth to the world. That is, he teaches them by deed as well as word the priority of sacrificial love for others.

The dialogue of this gospel may sound stilted to us. Jesus appears almost self-righteous, and the Jews in clinging to the traditions of their fathers do not seem as malicious as they are made out to be. We should remember that the Gospel of John was written in midst of a fierce persecution of Christians by Jews who were reforming themselves after the devastating defeat of the rebellion against Roman rule.   Jesus becomes the Christian spokesperson vindicating belief in his divine Sonship.  His teaching on communal love is verified by the lives of the saints through the centuries as well as his own crucifixion. To really be free we must love as he loved.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Numbers 21:4-9; John 8:21-30)

The Gospel of John is full of double meanings.  Life and death have both physical and spiritual significances.  In today’s passage, Jesus speaks of “’going away,’” and the Pharisees mistake him to mean that he is going to kill himself.  Actually he is saying that he will return to his Father in heaven.  When Jesus tells the same Pharisees that they will “’lift up the Son of Man,’” he has another double meaning in mind.

Jesus is lifted up twice in the gospel.  The first lifting takes place with his crucifixion.  The scene is reminiscent of the reading from Numbers when Moses lifts up an artificial serpent on a poll to heal all onlookers who were bitten by snakes after complaining, like college students, about the quality of their food.  Although many think of the crucifixion as at least a setback for Jesus, in the context of John’s gospel it is victorious.  Jesus is crucified following his Father’s plan and in control of all that happens.  The second lifting up occurs when Jesus is raised from the dead in absolute glory. 

Looking at a crucifix, we do not shudder but find hope.  One reason for confidence is that most crucifixes do not reveal the gore of an actual execution.  But it is also true that the cross gives hope because we link it with the resurrection.  We know that if we suffer life’s setbacks with the same fortitude as Jesus, we will, like the Israelites in the first reading, triumph over our woes.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Daniel 13:1-9.15-17.19-30.33-62; John 8:1-11)

Last week the State of Texas executed another criminal.  The man was a serial killer who victimized young girls.  Who but a Jesus could have taken mercy on him?

But isn’t this the point of the gospel?  Does it not urge Jesus’ followers to become like him?  In today’s reading Jesus pardons the woman caught in adultery.  It should not be thought that Jesus is just another liberal ready to excuse sexual misconduct as inconsequential.  He makes no attempt to invalidate the law (Leviticus 20:10) which demands that adulterers be put to death.  Rather he looks at the woman as a child of God who, like everyone else, stands in need of mercy.

This does not mean that we are to excuse serious offenses and least of all murder.  In justice criminal activity must be corrected and criminals must compensate for their crimes.  Jesus’ example, however, does oblige us to treat offenders with love by seeking amiable ways to reconcile them with society.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Wisdom 2:1a.12-22; John 7:1-2.10.25-30)

Even today in a few Catholic churches statues and images are covered during Lent.  The practice is connected with today’s gospel which used to be read every year on the Sunday before Palm Sunday.  Because the passage says that the Jerusalemites could not arrest Jesus, it is assumed that he is nowhere to be seen.  Thus, he and the saints who reflect his glory are covered as to be likewise not seen.

The gospel passage, perhaps more importantly, relates the ignorance of the people of whom Jesus is.  They see him as a false prophet, one who claims to speak on God’s behalf but does not.  He is, of course, a true prophet and more – God’s own Son.  At the crucifixion in Luke’s gospel Jesus pleads to his Father on behalf of his executioners that they do not know what they are doing.  The Gospel of John conveys the same realization here albeit without the prayer for forgiveness.

However much the people’s ignorance of Jesus is in the gospel, we should not be found guilty of the same fault.  Excellent understandings like Pope Benedict’s three-volume study Jesus of Nazareth are available.  The more we know of him, the closer we will want to follow him.  And the more we do that, the happier will be our reception into eternal life.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Exodus 32:7-14; John 5:31-47)

It's takes no great insight to see that in planning soccer games on Sunday mornings society is replacing religion with physical fitness.  Sure, some families faithfully hustle to church at another hour during the day, but most are content to substitute competition for worship on the Lord's Day.  Today’s first reading recalls the Israelites in the desert also forsaking God.

Tired of waiting on the Lord, the people take religion into their own hands and create objects of worship for themselves.  It is a familiar story.  Rebellious hearts refuse to accept the legacy that has been handed down to them and search for something different to treasure and worship.  In the gospel Jesus pleads with the Jews to accept him as the faithful interpreter of the Mosaic covenant who has come to reestablish the closeness of the people to God. They, however, content with their structures of privilege would prefer that he just leave the premises.

We must take care to live our faith as it has been handed on to us.  This entails not only attending mass on Sundays but also not hankering after fulfillment from pleasure, power, or athletic prowess.  Stated simply, it means to follow Jesus in his love for his Father and all our brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Isaiah 49:8-15; John 5:17-30)

Lent is commonly associated with the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt.  The forty days of sacrifice to overcome selfishness rhyme with the forty years of purification that the Hebrews spent in the desert.  But other Scriptures from both the Old and the New Testaments give meaning to the Lenten experience.  The reading from the prophet Isaiah today gives one example.

In the sixth century before Christ the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah and carried many of its people into exile.  It was a terrible experience of subjugation and humiliation.  The prophets write of it as a punishment for the excesses of the people during the almost 500-year period of Israel’s kings.  In that long period many Israelis took up the idolatrous practices of their neighbors.  Often the rich spent their fortunes on sumptuous living and ignored the poor in their midst.  But after decades of mortification in Babylon, Isaiah now declares the people have suffered enough.  They have learned their lesson.  God is ready to take them home.

We should hear the voice of Isaiah as an indicator that Lent is now nearly over.  God has noticed our sacrifices and is coming to redeem us of our sins.  We have to hold the line for two and a half more weeks.  But just as sure as daylight is now overtaking the night (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) so can we count on God liberating us through Christ’s Easter victory.  He shall crown our efforts of charity, prayer, and fasting to make us God-like in mercy, holiness, and generosity.