Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Feast of Saint Mark, evangelist

(1 Peter 5:5b-14; Mark 16:15-20)

St. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four and in all probability the first written.  Its Greek is rustic, and its text is full of primary emotions.  But none of these factors make it so compelling.  More than anything Mark’s gospel conveys urgency because it justifies the suffering of discipleship.

After Peter intuits Jesus’ identity as Messiah, Jesus gives a warning to those who will accept him as such.  Since he will suffer for the sake of God’s kingdom, they must prepare themselves for the same.  Jesus does not tolerate any pretension of glory among them.  Rather he tells them that the one who will be first must serve the rest until the end.  The passion narrative in Mark does not spare Jesus any pain or cruelty.  He is tortured, ridiculed, and lingers on the cross more in Mark than in any other gospel.  His followers can expect similar mistreatment.

With few exceptions Christians experience suffering even martyrdom in greater numbers today than ever.  But in truth few of us are likely to be tortured physically.  However, we may be belittled or even ostracized for making Sunday worship a priority or for defending refugees and life in the womb.  As readers of Mark’s gospel, we should welcome such opportunities to follow our Lord and Savior.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:19-26; John 10:22-33)

The gospel reading today begins by declaring that the Feast of the Dedication was taking place.  The occasion marked the successful Jewish revolt against their Greek overlords.  By Jesus’ time Rome has taken control of Israel.  The Romans may not have been as oppressive as the Greeks, but their occupation was deeply resented.  The desire for a Messiah to lead a new revolt precipitates the demand of Jesus to declare himself.

In all the gospels Jesus alters the role of a Messiah.  He indicates, be it directly or indirectly, that he is not a warrior-Messiah like David.  In the passage at hand, however, he says that he is still like David in another respect.  He is a shepherd who cares for his flock.  He says that he gives those who follow him something greater than political autonomy.  He provides them “eternal life.”  This new way of living with neither bitterness nor regret transcends natural desire.  It belongs exclusively to God.  For this reason Jesus says that he does the work of his Father.

Like the Jews in Jesus’ day, we have to reconsider what we want.  Are we taken up with vindication and domination?   Or do we seek peace through love?  The former qualities belong to the world as we know it.  The latter is the promise of God in Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

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

“Growing pains” occasionally affect children in their sleep.  They cause some to wake up in the night with discomfort in their legs.  Since researchers have not found an underlying cause for these pains, they are named for growth, a phenomenon associated with children.  In the first reading we find the early Church afflicted with its “growing pains.”

One of the great issues for the Church in its first decades is whether to accept non-Jews into its fold.  Non-Jews are not gentiles who become Jews through circumcision and eating kosher but gentiles who refuse to accept Jewish customs.  Since Jesus was a Jew, could gentiles follow him without living as he did?  This is the critical question.  In the reading from Acts today Peter defers to none other than the Holy Spirit for an answer.  He explains to the Jerusalem inquisition that he baptized Cornelius’ household upon seeing that they manifested the gifts of the Spirit.

Today the Church has other issues to deal with.  We can easily name a few – people in second marriages after a divorce, the care of the sick in “persistent vegetative state,” the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate.  Too often differences on these questions create fragmentation and suspicion.  Like Peter we should turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance.  That is, we should recognize that what is most authentically Christian is the primacy of charity.  On some issues change may be impossible for reason of consistency with tradition and coherency with established teaching.  Even here, however, there is an imperative to treat the people who are passionately involved with respect and tenderness.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 9:1-20; John 6:52-59)

In his new apostolic exhortation Pope Francis writes of the need for humiliation.  He says that people need to be humiliated so that they may become saintly.  He continues that humiliation conforms Christians to Jesus who suffered so much at the hands of humans.  He adds that Christ reveals the humility of his Father, who has accompanied His people only to be continually rejected.  In today’s first reading Paul undergoes significant humiliation.  It may be considered the fundamental step in his journey to saintly prominence.

Paul’s first humiliation is in meeting Jesus whom he dismissed as dead.  He has discovered that the cause to which he has dedicated himself is not only vain but also blasphemous.  He also suffers the humiliation of being blinded and having to be led about like a child.  For a capable man like Paul this humiliation must have been very frustrating.  Finally, Paul suffers the humiliation of initially being considered suspect by other Christians.  He is feared, no doubt, as a possible double agent.  These humiliations prove to be transformative.  Paul becomes so humble that he will accept hardship, torture, even execution.  Nothing is too great for him to endure in order to complete the mission given to him by the Lord.

It is interesting that Francis does not use “humbling” but “humiliation.”  Humbling would be less radical, more a regular step toward self-knowledge.  Humiliation implies an inflated self-image that calls for considerable downsizing.  Francis is suggesting, perhaps, what our mothers tried to teach us.  We must learn the world does not center around us.  Rather we have to serve in it, above all, the God who has created and redeemed us.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

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

The two readings today fit together like a hand in a glove.  In the first Philip is sent by God to meet the Ethiopian eunuch on the road.  He reaches his assigned traveler just as the man is reading one of the Servant Songs of Isaiah.  When the man suggests that he needs Philip’s help to interpret the passage, Philip gladly complies.  He tells the eunuch that the passage refers to Jesus and wastes no time in baptizing him.

It is not just chance that brings the two men together.  Since Philip is sent by God’s angel, God is the instigator of the encounter.  In the gospel Jesus tells the crowds in Capernaum, “’No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him…’”  The Ethiopian eunuch is but one example of God’s grace drawing people to His Son.

God has called each of us as well to Jesus.  We may not feel especially graced because we are overly influenced by worldly values.  No matter, we are truly blessed.  We belong to a Church along with many gracious people.  We have eternal life as our destiny. Most of all, Jesus has become our friend.  We can rely on him to meet our needs.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

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

In his recent apostolic exhortation Pope Francis reminds Christians of their call to holiness.  He says that Christ provides them help to reach their goal.  When Christians feel overwhelmed, Francis exhorts them to beseech Christ crucified.  The pope only confirms what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel.

Jesus boldly says, “I am the bread of life.”  Attention should be given to both parts of this statement.  When Jesus declares, “I am,” he is giving the code word for divinity. He is to be trusted more than anyone else because he is God.  When he says, “…the bread of life,” he does not mean ordinary life for which food is required to survive.  Rather he provides the means to the joy and peace of life in its fullest sense.  He invites everyone - rich and poor, black and white, homosexual and heterosexual – to accept his offer. 

There is a cost to follow Jesus.  It is not monetary, but it is substantial.  If we are to become holy and have life in its fullest sense, we have to walk in Jesus’ way.  We have to be patient with the elderly, compassionate with the needy, and gracious to all.  Do not worry.  This is not a prescription of sacrifice so much as one of happiness.

Tuesday, April1 7, 2018

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

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

According to one journalist a ferocious debate is taking place about food.  The topic is how to assure that everyone eats when the world’s population rises to ten billion.  The journalist calls the two sides of the debate “wizards” and “prophets.”  Wizards predict that technological manipulation of present crops will be able to feed such great numbers.  Prophets believe that people will have to change eating habits if everyone is to have enough to eat.  They call for eating less meat and more grains and vegetables.  Jesus may be seen as weighing in on the issue in today’s gospel.

The people want Jesus to perform a miracle.  Knowing that he has just fed over 5,000, they want him to give another such sign.  But they are missing the point of Jesus’ feeding.  More than bread, they need to trust in Jesus’ word if they are to grow in life.  By following his teachings, they will come to possess even eternal life.  Thus Jesus shows himself in a sense to be both a wizard and a prophet.  As a prophet, he teaches people to abandon old ways of jealousy and rivalry.  As a wizard, he tells them of a radical way to love one another.

Jesus’ word has been embodied in the Eucharist.  When we take his body and blood, we commit ourselves to his ways.  The food itself has enormous value.  It provides us the grace to let go of hard feelings so that we might take care of one another.  In this way we follow Jesus to eternal life.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

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

Saints Peter and Paul seem to dominate the Acts of the Apostles.  Yet the story is not primarily about them.  Much less does is it dominated by the work of the apostles as a whole.  Above all, the Acts of the Apostles features the Holy Spirit.  The one whom is to be called the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is at work throughout the story.  He develops the Christian community and moves its center from Jerusalem.  The Spirit, not Paul or chance, brings the gospel to Rome.  From there it will be dispersed throughout the world. 

Stephen has been chosen for the work of the apostles precisely because he has the Spirit.  Jesus once promised that the Spirit will enable his disciples to defend themselves (Luke 12:12).  In today’s passage the Spirit is seen performing this task.  Stephen’s preaching with the Spirit surpasses the arguments of his interlocutors.  Resenting his mastery, the defeated debaters go to the authorities to silence Stephen.  The Spirit does not spare Stephen martyrdom, but he gives him an unparalleled countenance.  No other person in Scripture is said to have “the face of an angel.”

We have received the same Spirit.  He moves us to speak the truth to power and to recognize our own falsities.  The Spirit, most of all, enables us to make sacrifices for the benefit of others out of love.  In doing the latter, we too will have - to some extent at least - “the face of an angel.”

Friday, April 6, 2018

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

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

Pope Francis has criticized the “culture of waste” found in both rich and poor countries.   He has called the way many people throw food away like “stealing from the table of the poor and hungry.”  There are hundreds of millions of people who are undernourished while the rich and middle classes and often poorer people are growing obese.  Not only is the situation ironic and scandalous, it also blinds one to Jesus’ work in the gospel.

Jesus producing a superabundance of food cannot be appreciated outside a culture where it is in short supply.  In first century Palestine yields were a fraction of modern production and storage from pests a perennial problem.  In today’s passage, however, Jesus takes just enough food for a small family, multiplies it, feeds a crowd of well over five thousand, and finds enough bread for a feast remaining.  John the evangelist is showing why Jesus is the Son of God destined to rise from the dead.  He pictures him here as a new Moses with many elements of the Exodus saga: mention of a sea and of the Passover feast, going up a mountain, and of course feeding legions with bread from heaven.  The people in John’s story understand Jesus to the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18).

Following Jesus, we heed his command to care for the poor and needy. In this way, we look forward to his leading us beyond the enticements of this world to a realm of everlasting love.  This is the fulfilment of his Easter promise.  Death itself will not hinder us from reaching our deepest yearning for happiness.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

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

Since atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, we have to be careful about Peter’s statement in today’s first reading, “We must obey God rather than men.”  We hear of Muslim “holy wars,” but there was a time when Christian Europe was so tragically engaged.  To discern whether a particular impulse is of God or not, we must, as the first Letter of John puts it, “test the spirits.”

Testing the spirits means to compare whether a proposed action conforms to Scripture.  Take the case of the committed Christian who asks herself, “Should I take on another ministry, or am I already failing to do justice to the work I have?”  She will find in St. Paul’s writing the bold statements: “I have become all things to all people” (I Cor 19:22) and “Be imitators of me” (I Cor 11:1).  At the same time she may note how Jesus makes strategic retreats at times (e.g., Mark 7:24) and refuses to become overly involved in any one locale (e.g., Mark 1:38).  Obviously we sometimes need assistance in our discernment.  Fortunately, most of us have wise people nearby whom we may consult. 

We Christians have Jesus as our primary model of virtue.  Unlike Mohammed who was a businessman and a warrior, Jesus was a pacifist teacher.  He will not lead us into battles at those which promote social supremacy more than defend the common good.  Some of his sayings are not to be taken literally.  (If you have ever looked at pornography, do not pluck on your eye.)  But we should always pray to him for assistance.  As he says in today’s gospel, he “does not ration the gift of the Spirit” of wisdom.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

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

There can be no doubt to whose life the angel refers to in the first reading when he tells the apostles, “’Go and take you place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life.’”  At the beginning of the Book of Acts as he is about to ascend into heaven, Jesus instructs them “to be my witnesses” in Jerusalem and throughout the world.  The angel is just reiterating that command.

Acts gives various examples of the apostolic witness.  But the most famous summary of “this life” is seen in today’s gospel.  Jells tells 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.’”  Jesus is of God – His “Son.”  He comes to testify to God’s love for “the world” – all humanity.  This love is most powerfully witnessed when he willingly dies on the cross – among the cruelest of sufferings ever endured.

The witness of love has been shown to us today through the apostles, their successors, and many other true witnesses of Christ.  It compels us to love others by sacrificing some of our time, talent, and treasure.  We are more than willing to do this but not really for altruism’s sake.  No, we love even when it hurts, as Jesus says, so that we “’might have eternal life.’”

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 4:32-37; John 3:7b-15)

Everyone who has heard the four gospels a few times knows that John is different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  One significant difference is that in John’s gospel Jesus does not teach much with parables.  There are no long pedagogic stories in John like the “Good Samaritan” in Luke or the “Vineyard Owner” in Mark.  Rather John is the master of another teaching technique that is not commonly found in the others.  In John Jesus teaches by means of extended dialogues with different characters such as Nicodemus in today’s gospel.

Nicodemus has come to Jesus “at night,” which is symbolic for being unenlightened.  Perhaps he is impressed with Jesus like those in the first reading who witness the Jerusalem Christian community holding everything in common.  In any case Jesus tells Nicodemus about the power behind such generous sharing.  It is this way “with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  When Nicodemus asks about the source of the Spirit, Jesus replies a bit cryptically but nevertheless understandably to the Christian readers of the gospel.  The source of the Spirit is Jesus, the Son of Man, being “lifted up” on the cross.

Believers’ generosity has drawn many non-believers and lukewarm believers to Christ over the century.  We should not be afraid to contribute to this effort.  This does not mean that we make public displays of our giving.  But it moves us to treat all people better than fairly, showing particular care for the poor and unemployed.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

(Isaiah 7:10-14.8:10; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38)

A new coffee filter promises to make better coffee by filtering the water before it touches the coffee grounds.  Separating the good from the bad or the true from the false has always been a helpful exercise.  It is the essence of discernment which in turn is at the heart of today’s readings.

King Ahaz sounds pious when he rejects Isaiah’s offer for a sign in the first reading.  Actually he is refusing to engage in discernment so that he might enter into a pact with Assyria.  God expects obedience from His creatures, not sanctimony.  The Letter to the Hebrews shows Christ responding in the way God desires: “’…behold, I come to do your will, O God,” he says.  The four gospels are in accord that discerning and obeying the Lord’s will is a particular attribute of Jesus.  But he is not the only one who does God’s will.  Mary, his mother, proves herself similarly obedient.  In today’s gospel she discerns the sign of Elizabeth’s pregnancy as a sufficient indicator of what God expects of her.

We often have difficulty discerning God’s will.  Signs are ambiguous.  The probable results of proposed actions are unclear.  Prayer is helpful in such situations as is seeking advice of wise people.  We also have to questions our motives in doing one thing or another.  Then we act, never doing anything contrary to what we know to be God’s will and always praying for God’s assistance.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Friday within the Octave of Easter

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

Speaking truth to power often puts one in danger.  Martin Luther King, Jr., did it continually and died by an assassin’s bullet.  Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador also spoke up on behalf of the poor and likewise died a martyr’s death.  Both of these contemporary prophets no doubt were inspired by Peter’s speech in today’s first reading.

Peter is being harassed by Jewish authorities for having invoked the name of Jesus.  His persecutors want to suppress the cult of Jesus, but Peter cannot but proclaim what he experienced with Jesus’ resurrection.  As he says, God raised Jesus from the dead and there is no salvation other than in him.  Peter publicly pronounces Jesus’ salvation four other times in the Acts of the Apostles.  Although Acts does not tell of his martyrdom, his fate is sealed for so boldly declaring the primary Christian message.

All of us have opportunity to speak truth to power.  When we find ourselves confronting an injustice, we should prepare ourselves to speak well.  We want to make sure that what we say is true.  Sometimes the power we are addressing is not as evil as it appears.  Then we must be ready to endure repercussions.  However, if we know what we are talking about and say it with prudence, we may convince at least some of the powerful people who oppose us.  Finally, we want to pray for assistance.  Jesus promises his disciples his continued presence when they speak what he teaches.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

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.  Its purpose is to emphasize how Jesus’ resurrection makes everything new.  But this does not mean that the Old Testament is entirely silent.  It is so inextricable to the Christian message that it will be continually found in readings selected from the New Testament.  This can be demonstrated in in today’s first reading.

After healing the lame man St. Peter explains the purpose of the miracle to the astonished people.  He says that God is using the healing to glorify Jesus in whose name it was performed.  Then Peter identifies Jesus as the prophet whom Moses anticipates in the Book of Deuteronomy.   Belief of this prophet, he indicates, brings salvation from one’s sins.  Not heeding him, Moses continues, will lead to being cut off from God’s people. 

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wednesday of the First Week of Easter

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

As the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, falls the day after Christmas, today marks not just the fourth day of Easter but also the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  King should be seen as a contemporary martyr who daily risked his life until he was murdered.  The motive of the crime was racial bigotry which King prophesied against with heart, mind, and soul.

Today’s gospel shows Jesus’ disciples unable to recognize him as he explained to them the Hebrew Scriptures.  Fifty years ago many Americans had a similar blindness to King’s biblical denunciation of racism.  They had to be awakened to the evil by the murders of innocent children, civil rights workers, and finally the prophet King himself. 

We honor Martin Luther King today by examining our attitudes and actions to people of other social backgrounds.  Like Peter and John going out to the crippled man in today’s first reading we have to look in the eyes of men and women of other races, religions, sexual tendencies, and economic statuses and demonstrate our care for them.  Money was not the principal concern of the apostles nor is it ours today.  More than anything else, a greater commitment to social solidarity is needed among the different peoples who make up our society.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Tuesday of Easter Week

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

Deacon Luis is known as a happy fellow.  His smile beams just about all the time.  He is also kind and helpful.  One cannot tell from anything in his demeanor that he suffers considerable pain.  Arthritis pervades his bones and an injury that has been diagnosed as a cracked pelvis continually reminds him of its presence.  He takes a prescribed painkiller, but there appears to be more than that to give him such a gracious countenance.  Luis seems to have appropriated the joy of the resurrection which both readings today intimate.

In the gospel Maria is at first sad not only because of the traumatic ending to Jesus’ life but also because she believes that his body has been stolen.  When Jesus calls her by name, her tears turn into ecstasy.  She cannot help but cling to her teacher and friend.  In the reading from Acts Peter advises the Jews not to worry about having crucified God’s chosen one.  Rather, he tells them to be baptized to receive the Holy Spirit who not only forgives sins but also instills the hope of eternal life.

So why do some of us Christians today go about with heavy hearts and downcast faces?  Pope Francis has commented that many sport a “face of a funeral wake.”  It is probably so because they have a hard time accepting the fact that salvation is a gift and not something we earn.  Christ has done the work through his death and resurrection.  Now we accompany him in joy.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Monday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2:24.22-23; Matthew 28:8-15)

In 1945 Easter was also celebrated on April 1.  On that day Giuseppe Girotti, a young Italian Dominican priest, was executed in Dachau.  His crime was aiding and abetting the Jewish people who were being severely persecuted by the Nazis in northern Italy.  Fr. Girotti, a Scripture scholar, felt a profound solidarity with Jews through his study of the Old Testament.  He considered them his “elder brothers” in the faith.  His story belies the sentiments of Christians who have felt animosity toward Jews because of the report found in today’s gospel.

Matthew’s gospel is severely critical of Jews probably because of the time it was written.  Most exegetes date the gospel to after the fall of Jerusalem when Jews were redefining their religious practices.  They forcibly excluded Christians from synagogue services.  The violence resulted in the portrayal of Jews as almost universally disdainful of Christ.  Only in Matthew’s gospel, for example, do the Jews tell Pilate that both they and their children would be responsible for Christ’s blood.  Jewish leaders bribing the Roman soldiers in today’s passage corresponds to this defamatory narrative.

Certainly Fr. Girotti’s sense that Christians have much to thank Jews for corresponds better with Jesus’ teaching, actions, and resurrection from the dead.  Everywhere, and especially in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus exhorts his followers to forgive.  He never curses anyone throughout his ordeal.  Indeed, he died and was raised so that the sins of all might be forgiven.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

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

During Holy Week we always hear the story of Jesus’ death twice.  On Palm Sunday we listen to the passion according to Matthew, Mark or Luke depending on the year.  Last Sunday, of course, we heard Mark’s account.  Today, Good Friday, we always hear the passion according to John.  If we listen carefully, we will realize that the passion accounts read on Palm Sunday and the one of Good Friday have very different tones.  They have many of the same elements for sure, but they present Jesus’ suffering in very different perspectives.  Let us take a close look at a few of the differences from Mark’s and John’s passion accounts to see what they say to us.

In Mark Jesus is anxious in the garden of Getseman√≠.  He actually prostrates himself on the ground begging deliverance from the coming punishment.  In John, on the other hand, Roman soldiers fall to the ground as they face Jesus.  They are powerless before the great “I AM” that Jesus uses to identify himself.

We all remember how Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross.  In Mark’s gospel Jesus is so weary from the scourging that he can barely get himself to Calvary.  John’s gospel, however, makes no mention of Simon.  Rather, it states that Jesus carries the cross himself.  He is demonstrating the power of which he spoke earlier: “I have the power to lay (my life) down, and power to take it up again” (10:18). 

Mark and John also describe the crucifixion in very different ways.  In John darkness does not cover the earth as in Mark.  Jesus, after all, is the light of the world; where he is, lightness streams.  Jesus’ last words in the two accounts differ significantly.  In Mark he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  In John Jesus calmly says at the end, “It is finished.”  He has accomplished what his Father sent him to do and now returns to Him.

Sometimes we become unsettled when we hear of differences in the gospels like the ones we just noted.  We ask, what really happened when Jesus died?  This question, however, is not likely what the evangelists had first in mind when they wrote their passion accounts.  Rather, weaving together the stories they heard of Jesus’ death a generation or two earlier, they composed their accounts to testify to the faith of their respective communities in Jesus.  Their different perspectives help us at different moments in our lives. Sometimes we feel quite alone in our suffering and wonder where God is.  Then we can turn to Jesus on the cross in Mark’s passion crying out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and feel assured that he understands our anxiety.  Sometimes, however, we can face the trials life confident that we will overcome them.  Then, the solidity of our faith resembles that of Jesus hanging from the cross in John’s gospel.  The different passion accounts show us that Jesus is always there for us no matter our need.  We can always turn to him, the light of the world, to clear up any difficulty. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Holy Thursday

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

All three readings this evening refer to a symbolic meal which people eat to this very day.  The first reading indicates the origin of this meal.  As the nation of Israel is about to flee Egypt, God mandates the people to sacrifice a lamb and to eat its meat.  Furthermore, they are to spread the lamb’s blood on their doorposts to save them from the punishment He will inflict on sinful Egypt.  The lamb symbolizes the very lives of the people offered to God, and its blood represents their obedience to His commands.

In the second reading St. Paul recalls how Christ, a faithful Jew, celebrated the meal but appropriated its meaning to himself.  This had to be done because the people of Israel could not live in obedience to God’s law.  Jesus, who was obedient to the Father’s command from day one, is declaring himself the lamb sacrificed to God.  His blood, shed on cross of sacrifice, will save the people from the death caused by their sins.  Furthermore, followers of Jesus are to recall their deliverance from sin and death in a simple meal of bread and wine.  In the bread they will eat of Christ’s body, the Lamb of God.  In the wine they will drink of his blood shed for the forgiveness of their sins.

The gospel passage sheds light on the meaning of the symbolic meal.  Christ’s offering of himself as the Lamb of God is a service of love for his followers as demonstrated by his washing their feet.  Being cleansed from their sins by his blood, they will imitate his love with similar works of service.  They are to perform daily such works of love for one another.  These works are as easy as a friendly greeting and as difficult as taking time to visit the sick when we are busy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday of Holy Week

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

Few passages of Scripture give better context for appreciating Jesus’ passion than the four so-called Servant Songs from the Book of the prophet Isaiah.  These passages are read in the mass every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday of Holy Week.  They are the work of an unnamed prophet who is called “Second Isaiah” because his writings are attached to those of the great prophet of Judah.  Second Isaiah lived in Babylon with other exiled Jews.  He recognized a call to preach to the people about the wonderful deliverance God was to work on their behalf. 

The Servant Songs comprise an especially noted part of Second Isaiah’s writings.  They tell of a completely new kind of Messiah.  No longer is he a conqueror of armies; rather, he wins the esteem of the world by bearing evil patiently.  In today’s reading the Suffering Servant is pictured as being beaten and humiliated without cursing or striking back.  Who exactly is the Suffering Servant?  Second-Isaiah does not identify him.  Jews are likely to see him as their own nation that has suffered discrimination for centuries.  Christians have from the beginning seen the Suffering Servant as a prefiguring of Jesus.

What Second Isaiah says of the Suffering Servant and what Jesus validates in his being betrayed by a disciple and subsequent ordeal we, his followers, should take to heart.  We are called to make a presumption against the use of force to accomplish our ends.  We are also called to sacrifice our time and energy for the good of others.  Such actions reflect the guiding light to the nations, Jesus himself.  He is the one whom, at least in part, the world will come to acknowledge as Lord.

Tuesday, March 26, 2018

Tuesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 49:1-6; John 13:21-33.36-38)

The mental anguish of Jesus does not receive sufficient attention in the popular mind.  Granted that his physical pain was intense and prolonged, it might have been more easily borne with full support of his disciples.  However, his suffering was multiplied by the abandonment of two trusted disciples as well as the mocking of his captors.  Today’s gospel indicates that Jesus even foreknew his disciple’s sins which likely increased his misery.

It is important not to equate Judas’ and Peter’s infidelities.  Judas’ betrayal was eminently worse than Peter’s denial.  Judas made a pact with the devil by handing his teacher over to Jesus’ enemies with deliberation.  Peter’s offense was committed out of fear for his own welfare.  His fright does not excuse him from sin, but it does diminish his guilt.

We hope never to intensify Jesus’ pain with our own transgressions.  But because we still are not completely faithful, we want to participate in the liturgies of Holy Week with all devotion.  They will cleanse us of our sins and enable us to not offend again.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Monday of Holy Week

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

Judas is a scoundrel, yet he raises an interesting question in today’s gospel.  He is criticizing the use of costly ointment to anoint Jesus’ feet. Sometimes people disapprove of Church officials for similarly spending lavishly on accoutrements for worship.  Are such expenditures justified?

Jesus informs Judas that the ointment is being used not just for a regular ritual but for his death.  By the same logic family members who drive Chevrolets will ride in a Cadillac as part of a funeral cortege. But there is more here.  Mary recognizes Jesus’ exulted state.  As her sister Martha has already proclaimed, Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God…”  By using the ointment Mary calls attention to this fact to the edification of all.

Churches should expend a significant amount of resources for worship, but this need is not exclusive.  They are also obliged to care for the poor and to form their members as Catholic Christians.  These latter interests were Jesus’ principal concern as he lived and remain his legacy today.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday of the Fifth Week in Lent

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

In a book about God, theologian Karen Armstrong gives the so-called “new atheists” a sympathetic rejection.  Although she thinks they have a point in their critique of fundamentalist interpretations of religion, she finds their own critique of religion simplistic.  Armstrong finds it unfortunate that self-proclaimed atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris have not dialogued with religious thinkers whose ideas are more mature and deeper than those of the fundamentalists.  It may be said that Armstrong finds the new atheists hard of heart for their unwillingness to carry out a true search for truth.  In the readings today Jeremiah and Jesus likewise lament the hardness of their adversaries’ positions.  

Jeremiah has preached religious and moral reform to the Kingdom of Judah.  The people, he would say, have to stop thinking that foreign alliances will save them from the threat of Babylon and to rely on God.  Jesus asks the people of Jerusalem, the heirs of those to whom Jeremiah preached, to recognize him as God’s uniquely appointed messenger for all that he has done in God’s name.  In both cases, however, the people roundly reject these divine emissaries and even threaten their lives.

We should be wary of the ways some talk about God.  People want and should give testimony to their experiences of Him.  But they err on the side of enthusiasm when they reduce God to an unmerciful executioner or even to an individual helper greater than themselves.  God is holy mystery whose nature we cannot hope to really understand.  Some say God is love, and of course He is that.  But love does not adequately explain God’s nature any more than we could say that working is our nature because we need to work.  What is more important than talking about God is acting like God as demonstrated in Jesus’ life.  We should become more compassionate, understanding, and disciplined.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thursday of the Fifth Week in Lent

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

Today’s gospel was part of a longer passage that used to be read on the Sunday before Palm Sunday. It became the source of the tradition of covering sacred images during the last two weeks of Lent.  The statement that Jesus hid from the Jews who were about to stone him was taken as a cue to veil all statutes.  Today covering images is optional.  In any case, the processional cross should not be veiled until Good Friday.  However much some people think it important to continue the custom, it is external to the meaning of the passage which is very significant in itself.

In the dialogue with the Jews, Jesus asserts that he existed before Abraham.  He also says that he has intimate knowledge of the Father.  From these statements the Church has concluded that He is God like the Father in all things except their mutual relationship.  The conclusion is given added testimony when Jesus says later in the gospel, “’I and the Father are one.’”  Christian theologians have reasoned that the identity of Jesus as God is crucial for the atonement of human sin.  If he were not God as well as human, then his sacrifice could not have made up for the sins of humanity. Only the work of a human of infinite greatness – a God-man – could restore the justice that was taken away through sin.

Atonement may sound remote even unimportant as we consider Jesus’ cruel death.  But in thinking through why that death meant more than any other in history, we have to ask who Jesus was.  Certainly other good people have offered themselves in sacrifice for the good of others.  Certainly other innocent people have undergone similarly brutal deaths as Jesus.  But because Jesus is God, his death could bear the sins of the world.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

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

In a Jewish Seder Supper the question is asked if slaves exist today.  The answer given is yes, “There are many kinds of slaves today.”  Then the ritual gives four examples: slaves of 1) social injustice, 2) prejudice, 3) of poverty and inequality, and 4) of laziness, envy or jealousy.  It seems this last kind of slavery that Jesus has in mind when he tells the Jews in today’s gospel, “’…everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.’”

Sin curtails away human freedom by moving evil-doers away from what they know to be good for all. It allows them some self-satisfaction in exchange for living in coherency with the truth.  Because of its pleasurable appeal sin has the recurrent effect of keeping sinners attached to itself.  The Jewish boys in today’s first reading know better than to get entangled in it.  Even at the probable cost of their lives they refuse to sin and can die in integrity with their most deeply held beliefs.

We should find ourselves emerging from sinful tendencies at this point in Lent.  By prayer and self-mortification we have prepared ourselves for radical identification with Christ.  He has overcome sin and death which sin brings about.  Undergoing the paschal experience with him we will live forever as free women and men.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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, for example, 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 soon.  When Jesus tells the same Pharisees that they will “’lift up the Son of Man,’” he has another double entendre 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 Jesus’ loving sacrifice on the cross gains for us the forgiveness of our sins.  Linked to his victorious resurrection from the dead, his crucifixion assures us of transcendence of sin and death.  Spurred by faith in Jesus, we perform similar acts of love that merit for us eternal life.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(II Samuel 7:4-5a.12-14a.16; Romans 4:13.16-18.22; Matthew 1:16.18-21.24a)

Christians today do not mean to impose their faith on society.  But they do hope to “inculturate” the faith.  This strange but not unfamiliar word (to Catholics, at least) means to create an atmosphere that facilitates the practice of the faith.  Faith is inculturated when there are “Good Samaritan” laws to protect from litigation someone who assists a stranger in great danger.  Another example of inculturation is the dedication of a moment for prayer before a public event.  Unfortunately, in many places where Christianity once was prominent inculturation has been eroded by decidedly secular tendencies.  An example of counter-inculturation is the depenalization of abortion.

Inculturation is related to St. Joseph Day because Joseph assured that Jesus was raised in a religious atmosphere.  Hopefully, I do not stretch the meaning of the word too far by saying that Joseph provided not just the basic material resources and a Davidic patrimony for Jesus but also a sense of what it means to be Jewish.  It is possible that this might not have happened if Jesus were an orphan or grew up in the streets.

Joseph, as today’s reading from Romans suggests, is a model of faith.  He believed God’s revelation that Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit when he accepted her into his home and supported her and her son Jesus.  We should look to St. Joseph to intercede for us.  As one who received the special favor of being named the foster-father of Jesus and of carrying out the role diligently, he will have influence on our behalf before the Almighty.

Friday, March 16, 2017

Friday of the Fourth Week in Lent

(Wisdom 2:1a.12-22; John 7:1-2,10.25-30)

Today’s readings tell of rejection.  In the first, wicked men reject one of their comrades because they take his virtue as an indictment of their vices.  The writer of Book of Wisdom did not have Jesus in mind.  But the characterization fits the conflictual relationship between over-zealous Pharisees and Jesus.  The gospel shows the inhabitants of Jerusalem rejecting the possibility of Jesus being the long-awaited Christ or Messiah.  His actions conform to what is expected of the Messiah.  Nevertheless, they dismiss the idea because they think they know his origins.

The episode indicates the challenge to early Christianity of why believe in Jesus.  After all, he did not demonstrate his authority with grand displays of power.  He certainly did not supplant the Roman rule.  One counter-argument is suggested in today’s gospel.  Although Jesus was born among common folk, he has heavenly origins which the people could not possibly see.  The first reading intimates another reason for belief.  The Jewish leadership was too proud to recognize their sins and to see in Jesus the authentic teaching of God.

We too have to ask ourselves why believe in Jesus.  We do not want to reject him nor do we want our faith based only in custom or only on the arguments that were advanced to us as children.  We should find an answer in Jesus’ self-sacrificing love.  Unlike even Socrates, he was completely innocent of all crime.  Yet he submitted himself to one of the cruelest forms of punishment ever invented.  Jesus showed himself as God by dying out of love for us.  His resurrection after three days, although not seen by the population at large, confirms for us his Lordship.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

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

In his innovative call for evangelization, Pope Paul VI wrote of the incomparable value of sterling witness to the gospel.  “Modern man,” he said, “listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”  In today’s gospel Jesus offers witnesses to his working on God’s behalf.

Jewish authorities have been hassling Jesus for curing a paralytic on the Sabbath.  Jesus has defended the action as a work of life that God performs every day of the week.  Now he concludes his defense with three witnesses.    First, he claims that John the Baptist testified on his behalf.  John spoke of Jesus as the one on whom he saw the Spirit of God come down from heaven.  Jesus also says that Moses gave testimony to him.  He may have in mind here the passage from Deuteronomy which tells of a prophet in whose mouth God will put His very words.  Most of all, Jesus offers his own deeds as witness to his working on God’s behalf.  These deeds are not so much the great signs that he has performed but the way he does everything with love.

Jesus told Nicodemus, “’…God so loved the world that he gave His only Son.’”  This love is most tellingly shown when Jesus dies on the cross to redeem the world of sin.  That event centers history.  We have to go back to it continually to begin to appreciate its meaning.  It is what we will be doing in two short weeks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

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

A doctor had taken a special course in listening to heartbeats.  He became able to detect not only the thump of a heart functioning badly but also the whiz of its slightest tremor.  This ability enabled the doctor to warn young patients of heart problems that will likely face thirty years into the future.  In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of a hearing sensitivity in his followers as sharp as this doctor’s.

He says that those who hear his word his voice will come out of their graves to pass into eternal life.  What does his voice sound like?  It is the whimper of those in need.  It is the plea of the sick for companionship and the petition of the refugee for safe harbor.  Because Jesus’ followers can discern such sounds, they are able to perceive his call when they are dead.

 We have entered into a new phase of Lent.  The readings are no longer about penance but about promise.  Drawn especially from the Gospel of John, they describe the eternal life which is the destiny of those who follow Christ.  It is the reward of those who have learned how to discern his voice.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Lent

(Ezekiel 47:1-9.12; John 5:1-16)

“...I think the river is a strong brown god,” T. S. Eliot wrote in his majestic poem, The Dry Salvages.  John, the evangelist, would reverse the idea.  The river is not a god, but God is like a river.  In today’s first reading a river flows from its source in God’s Temple to not only grow every kind of nutritional and medicinal fruit but also to purify the oceans.  The gospel then portrays Jesus with even greater healing power than the Temple river.

The paralytic at the Sheep Gate is as sorry a dolt as seen in the gospels.  He cannot arrange a way to make use of the healing pool in the Temple precinct. When Jesus heals him on the Sabbath, the man reports the deed to Jesus’ enemies who are looking for something to indict him.  Yet Jesus shows no regret in taking pity on him.

Nor does he regret showing pity to us.  We may be wavering, even unfaithful. We may take him or put him low on our list of priorities.  But he remains ready to forgive, to heal and to assist us.  As Holy Week approaches, we want to recommit ourselves to follow him closely.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Isaiah 65:17-21; John 4:43-54)

The readings today focus on innovation.  In the first the Lord announces that He is about to create something so great that it will forever change life as it has been lived. The gospel gives a hint of what that change will be by relatedly a previously unheard of feat.  It shows Jesus healing the dying son of a royal official without even seeing him.  More wondrously, Jesus will bring new life to women and men living in different places and at different times.

Jesus accomplishes new life for people by rising from the dead on Easter Sunday.  As he rose, they will rise as well at the end of time when he returns to earth in glory.  Until relatively recently there was a lot of fanfare about Easter.  Most Christians wore something new on that day to symbolize the new life that was promised.  Everyone went to church.  Now the day seems to have less significance for most Christians than Mother’s or Father’s Day.  Perhaps Easter promises too much for people who are regularly awed by the products of technology. 

We should strive to keep Easter faith strong.  The best way to do so is to invite others to participate in the events of Holy Week and to celebrate Easter Sunday in an especially festive way.  Whatever the blessings that we have experienced in our lives, they are nothing compared to what Christ’s Easter victory promises.

Friday, March 9. 2018

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

(Hosea 14:2-10; Mark 12:28-34)

Jesus’ “first commandment” in today’s gospel originates in the Book of Deuteronomy.  It is taken from a famous passage known by its first words, “Shema Yisrael” – “Hear, Israel”. The passage then dictates the commandment that Jesus cites and concludes by saying that the words should hang “as a pendant on your forehead.”  Probably the author never intended a literal pendant, only that Jews would fix the command firmly in their minds.  But, as in many things religious, some fanatics started to wear headbands with receptacles carrying the written words.  There is challenge enough with loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

To love God with all our heart means to love Him unreservedly.  We cannot love Him in this way if we are going to love at the same time contrary things.  We cannot love God and at the same time look at pornography.  The soul is the seat of supernatural life.  To love God with all our soul is to love Him so that we may have the fullness of supernatural life in heaven.  It is to love Him by carrying out His will that we forgive and assist others in need.

When we love God with all our mind, we take care to learn more about Him.  We read books and magazines that help us understand His ways.  And when we love God with all our strength we make sacrifices for Him.  Our added prayer and fasting during Lent are signs of a strong love for God.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

(Jeremiah 7:23-28; Luke 11:14-23)

In today’s first readings Jeremiah accuses the people of Jerusalem of turning their backs on God.  They have not been faithful to the Covenant that they have made with the Lord.  The judgment could hardly be more severe.  According to Jeremiah, they no longer even pretend to be faithful; they do not even say the word.  The situation has not really improved by Jesus’ time.  He sees the same hardness of heart shown toward God’s ways of justice and mercy.  The people seem to refuse to accept Jesus as God’s prophet in order to follow their own preferences.

The same offense may be found in our society although, perhaps, magnified.  Faithfulness to one’s baptismal promises is now considered a betrayal of self.  Of major importance are the values that one chooses to recognize himself.  Forget about one’s culture, family background, even previous choices, one must do what he thinks is necessary to do at the moment. 

Faithfulness is an all-encompassing virtue.  It acknowledges one’s readiness to live in the ways that we have professed.  But we are not only faith to principles; we are also faithful to the people or the person who has imparted those principles.  For us Christians this means faithfulness to the Lord Jesus.  We promise to do as he commands because we know that he will provide our deep and lasting happiness. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

(Deuteronomy 4:1.5-9; Matthew 5:17-19)

The Scripture readings may remind us of the story of the wise man and the robber.  Once a wise man was traveling through a forest when he was stopped by a robber demanding the most valuable thing the wise man was carrying.  Without hesitating a second, the wise man opened his bag and pulled out a diamond as big as a grapefruit.  The robber took the diamond and went his way.  Later that same day, the robber returned.  He said that the wise man must have in his possession something more valuable than the big diamond.  Otherwise he could not have possibly given the diamond away so easily.  That something was what the highwayman now wanted from the wise man. 

Of course, the wise man had wisdom to know that the most important things in life are not riches.  They are spiritual realities like faith in God, a good character, and the moral virtues.  In today’s first reading Moses reminds the Israelites how valuable is the Law that God has given them.  He tells them that if they keep the Law, other nations will come to admire them.  In the gospel Jesus states that he has come not to take away Moses’ Law but to fulfill it.  He will perfect the law by emphasizing the need to love one’s neighbor from the heart.  Personal righteousness is always more than providing resources to the needy; it is caring for them from the heart.  This heart-felt care is like the “something more valuable” that the wise man possessed. 

We have to find effective ways of showing our care for the needy.  Monthly contributions to organizations that feed the homeless or provide social services for the poor may be the best we can do.  But it is better to dedicate some time ourselves to helping others in great need.  In this way we will form relationships with the poor so that we can love them from the heart.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

(Daniel 3:25.34-43; Matthew 18:21-35)

Last week the governor of Texas commuted the sentence of a man who killed his mother and brother.  The man was supposed to be executed, but with a recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Parole and also the petition of the killer’s father, the sentence was changed to life in prison.  Anti-death penalty supporters considered the change of sentence as a victory for their movement.  Perhaps death penalty proponents saw it as a step backward.  It would be better to review the decision through the lens of today’s gospel than as an ideological war.

Jesus is urging his followers to forgive those who repent of their crimes not superficially but “from the heart.”  He wants them to rejoice in the conversion of a sin as well as to love their enemies.  However, he does not show tolerance for the person who receives forgiveness but does not show it to others.  Such people, he might say, have to learn the hard way if they are to learn at all.

We have to take our lives seriously.  They are not games which we play over and over winning sometimes and losing other times until we die.  Rather our lives are more like a long educational process in which we will hopefully become loving people like our teacher and Lord Jesus. If the man whose sentence was commuted has not learned to forgive offenses against him, a long life in which he dies in bed will be no better than a short life in which he dies at the hand of an executioner.  He will never reach the goal in life which is, again, to love like Jesus.