Friday, May 1, 2020

(Optional) Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker

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

Today much of the Church celebrates St. Joseph the Worker.  The feast reminds Christians of the dignity of human work.  Just as Joseph plied his trade to provide for his family so do billions of workers today.   The gospel suggests that Jesus too put food on the tables of his followers.

The gospel is unequivocal.  Jesus provides true food with his body and true drink with his blood.  These elements can hardly be considered ordinary food and drink.  They represent Jesus’ total sacrifice of self.  The also nourish one not just to live today but to thrive eternally.  The difference here is monumental.  It is like that of an entertainer saying, “I love you all” and a spouse saying to his bride on their wedding day, “I will love you until the day I die.”

We will see if the pandemic’s closure of churches results in a greater longing for the Eucharist.  Many people have commented how much they miss receiving Communion.  Hopefully, this longing will translate in regular reception of Communion when public masses resume.  May it all bring about a closer imitation of Jesus’ sacrifice of self for others.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

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

In On the Origin of Species Charles Darwin proposed that evolution follows no design or purpose.  According to his theory, changes in living things happen accidently and in many ways.  The best of the changed beings survive and reproduce until even further changes make even better living things.  Most biologists accept Darwin’s ideas as gospel, but not all.   Some find living beings with built-in mechanisms to overcome future changes. These scientists see design and purpose at hand. They would be fascinated by today’s first reading.

Nothing seems to happen accidently when Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch.  He is directed by an angel to go down the desert road.  The Holy Spirit tells Philip to join the eunuch in his chariot.  When he does, he instructs the eunuch in the Scriptures and eventually baptizes the man.  Then the Spirit snatches Philip off.  In the meantime, another person has joined the rapidly expanding number of Christians.

We believe in Divine Providence. That is, we believe that God creates and moves the universe with our good in mind.  Apparent challenges to faith like that of Darwin arise from time to time.  They may even be helpful to stimulate reflection.  But they will never succeed in contradicting faith because faith goes deeper than science can in viewing the nature of things.  We have the testimony of Jesus, validated through twenty centuries of Christian experience, that God loves us.  We will find our salvation in holding on to that faith. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, virgin and Doctor of the Church

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

Frontliners in the struggle with the Corona-19 virus may look to Catherine of Siena for inspiration.  Catherine took care of the poor and the sick in her city.  When the bubonic plague struck, she attended its victims. But she is more remembered for her ministry to the influential.  She convinced the pope to return to Rome and brought reconciliation between the city of Florence and the papacy.  She also left a spiritual legacy.  As a writer, her book The Dialogue is a classic of Western mysticism. 

Catherine had great devotion to the Eucharist.  She would eat almost nothing but took Communion daily.  As a saint, she recognized that Christ is the “bread of life” as he says in today’s gospel.  She fed on him whom she considered her spouse. Nourished on that food, Catherine of Siena is rightly considered one of the most influential women of the fourteenth century.

All of us can find something to imitate in Catherine of Siena.  We may consider ourselves fortunate not to be like her in every way.  But it may be shortsightedness that makes us think that.  She knew Christ intimately and loved him unreservedly.  Now she experiences life in eternity with her beloved.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

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

People crave bread.  For the hungry bread may be the simplest form of dense food.  Once made, it can be transported anywhere and eaten for instant nutrition.  For the better off, “bread” serves as a metaphor for money.  This kind of bread seemingly provides for every need.  In today’s gospel Jesus uses bread in another way.  It represents his spiritual legacy.

The Jews ask for a sign if they are to believe in Jesus.  They remember how their ancestors pleaded with Moses and received manna received in the desert.  Jesus reminds them, however, that it was God who provided the bread-like substance.  Now, he says, the same God, his “Father,” is giving richer nutrition.  God has sent Jesus as the “true bread from heaven.”  Jesus provides all that a people need to live for eternity. He instructs them in his way of truth and love.  Even more, he nourishes for the task with his own body and blood.

Jesus is always calling us to believe in him more genuinely.  He wants us to embrace him more fully – his teaching, his example, and the community he has left behind.  When we do, he promises that we will not be disappointed.  Quite the contrary, we will find ourselves enjoying the fullness of life.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

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

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives a glimpse of societal life in first-century Jerusalem.   Stephen is a Greek-speaking Jew.  He is evidently not from Jerusalem where Jews speak Hebrew.  He also does not have much use for the Temple.  Jesus established a new form of sacrifice that may be done in a home.   So why have a Temple?  When he criticizes Temple worship, he is opposed by other Greek-speaking Jews.  These are “members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen.”  Just because they come from other places does not mean they have no need of Temple sacrifice.  They bring Stephen to the Sanhedrin, the governing body of Jews, for defaming the Temple.  Neither they nor the governors will stomach Stephen’s criticism even with his angelic face.

For a while Christians were tolerated in first-century Judaism.  They appeared as a sect together with Pharisees and Essenes.  They accepted the Law but believed that Jewish hope for the Messiah was realized in Jesus.  Judaism was flexible but the stress on the fault line between it and Christianity would soon give.  The Church was persecuted and the disciples left Jerusalem.  This led to fruitful missionary activity first in Samaria and then throughout the Greek-speaking world.

We should see the action as Luke, the author of Acts, intended.  The Holy Spirit moved the Christian mission from a fair start in Jerusalem to the whole world.  It disposed the people to hear the word of God as explaining the inner movements of their hearts.  It does the same today when we listen carefully to our deepest yearnings.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

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

The gospels regularly portray the Pharisees as sinister.  Because of this, the word “Pharisee” has come to mean duplicitous.  If someone calls another a Pharisee, the other would want to defend herself.  But the gospels mention a couple of Pharisees worthy of commendation.  Nicodemus is a Pharisee who comes to Jesus to learn.  In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, a Pharisees distinguishes himself for showing wisdom.

Gamaliel does not so much defend Peter and the Apostles as demonstrate good sense.  He points out that popular religious movements often rise and fall quickly.  He says that it would be a mistake to persecute Christians who may pass from the scene soon.  Rather, he recommends, they should be tolerated and then judged by their fruits.  If they bring about blessings, they obviously have God’s blessing.  On the other hand, if they only raise high expectations, the people will tire soon enough of empty promises. 

We should heed Gamaliel’s wisdom in regard to people of other beliefs.  Some people often want to tell us about their vision of God.  Unless they are a priest or a theology professor, we do not want to give them much time.  However, we might listen to them for at least a few minutes.  Perhaps they have a genuine spiritual insight.  We might do the same for television and radio evangelists.  They too may tell us something worthwhile about our Lord.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

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

In yesterday’s gospel Jesus spoke of darkness as evil.  He said, “’…people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.’”  Darkness and its prime referent, night, do not only symbolize evil.  They also represent ignorance.  Earlier John’s gospel said that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night.  He was coming out of ignorance into the light of Christ.  He called Jesus, “Rabbi,” which means “Teacher.”  Today’s gospel indicates how authoritative a teacher Jesus is. 

Teachers study the ideas of wise people.  They learn from the writings of Aristotle or Plato.  They cannot know everything of these masters because they didn’t live with them.  They could not ask questions of clarification and deeper probing.  When Jesus speaks of God, however, he knows all that there is to know. It is unclear whether Jesus is the speaker of today’s passage.  Nevertheless, it is clear that Jesus is said to have come from heaven.  He shares with people on earth “what he has seen and heard.”  It is like having Shakespeare as your English teacher.

The content of Jesus’ teaching – all that he has learned from God – is revealed in the rest of the gospel.  Having been formed in the faith, we have some idea of what it says.  We are to deny ourselves and to trust in God’s mercy.  This is not just a difficult task; it is also harrowing.  Jesus lived what he taught, and look where it got him.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

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

At the Last Supper in John’s gospel Judas slips away just before the great discourse of Jesus.  The evangelist makes a pithy remark after reporting Judas’ departure.  He says, “And it was night” (13:30).  Night, the time of darkness, indicates evil as today’s gospel relates.

The passage raises eyebrows for its stark presentation of good and evil, of hope and despair.   In an act of mercy God sends his only Son into the world to save it.  He is the light of the world because he teaches the way to eternal life.  He delivers his most eloquent lesson from the cross.  There he shows that to live eternally one must die to her or himself.  Many reject this truth.  In the gospel’s words, they “prefer(ed) darkness to light.”  They would rather live for themselves than serve others.  Think of the man so proud that he ceaselessly talks about himself.  Or consider the women so spiteful that she seldom has a kind word for anyone. 

We have to choose between good and evil, light and darkness.  By choosing goodness Christ becomes our companion.  He usually comes to us in the people or in the sacraments of the Church.  Preferring evil, we also find company with people of similar interests.  But in the end they will care for us no more than the extent that we serve their purposes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

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

Testy preachers sometimes refer to the first reading today as Communism in the early Church.  Of course, the practice of the Jerusalem Christian community has no resemblance to Marxist socialism.  It is more like the ideal of Catholic religious congregations.  Religious are supposed to submit all their possessions to the community.  The superior then sees that the goods are redistributed so that everyone’s needs are met. 

These rules, however, are often breached.  Many religious today have difficulty turning in everything they receive.  They are also reluctant to trust their fate completely to the discretion of a superior.  Interestingly, aberrations also creep into the Jerusalem community.  The very next passage in Acts tells of a couple who keep some of the receipts from the sale of its property.  Rather than giving all to the apostles, they evidently save some “just in case.”

Like the members of the early Church, we too have been called to a radical change of life.  We see our future secure not by our efforts but by the grace of Christ’s resurrection.  Once we make this realization, we become free women and men.  We can share our resources with others knowing that our generosity gives glory to God who loves us. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

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

Although she has an Irish name, Lisa Fitzgerald grew up in a Jewish household.  But she considered herself an atheist through law school at Harvard.  In the last couple of years, however, Ms. Fitzgerald began to read the works of Simone Weil, a French writer who died during World War II.  Weil, who also had Jewish roots, came closer to Christ as she began to pray.   One early morning Fitzgerald woke from sleep with a lot of energy.  She decided to run in a park.  While running, she was overcome with a need for prayer.  She crossed herself repeatedly, found a rosary site on her telephone, and began to recite it.  Later she joined the RCIA and was scheduled for Baptism this Easter. 

Lisa Fitzgerald’s story sheds light on what Jesus means in today’s gospel.  He tells Nicodemus that one has to be born again to “see the Kingdom of God.”  Being born again is more than a washing with Baptismal waters.  It is also viewing life in a whole new way.  Life is not a playground where one seeks different kinds of pleasure.  Nor is it a project to earn, buy, and consume to achieve happiness.  When one avails herself to God in Baptism, she realizes that life is a calling to know and love God.  Answering this call, she finds happiness in following God’s will.  This heavenly bliss will endure even death itself.

Most Catholics today are baptized as infants.  We grow up learning about God through parents and religion teachers.  As Jesus indicates in the gospel, we come to know Him slowly, almost imperceptibly.  Doing it right, however, we realize that God loves us and will give us happiness.  Still, we must respond to God with love.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Friday in the Octave of Easter

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

Ken Untener was bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, for twenty-four years.  He organized the diocese so well that he found time to give workshops on preaching nation-wide.  A few years ago a book of his homilies was published posthumously.  It was entitled My Name Is Ken and I Will Be Your Waiter a Long, Long Time.  The name “Jesus” might be substituted for “Ken” to understand today’s gospel.

Like a waiter, Jesus has food prepared for his guests.  He will be serving his disciples until the end of time.  The food that he gives them here -- bread and fish – is representative of himself.  It indicates how Jesus nourishes different dimensions of his disciples’ lives.  First, it is regular food.  As the Lord of creation, Jesus feeds his disciples’ bodies literally every day.  Then it is the “bread of life.”  Jesus gives “food for thought” by enlightening their minds with true wisdom.  Finally, it is food for their souls – Jesus’ own body and blood.  This food enables them to love as he loved so that they may have eternal life.

For eight consecutive days we are fed in the Eucharist with an account of a resurrection appearance.  These stories fortify our faith so that we might live as humans recreated in divine love.  The world challenges us daily -- physically, mentally, and spiritually.  By holding fast to our Easter faith we can overcome its wiles.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Thursday in the Octave of Easter

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

Today’s first reading picks up where the gospel passage ends.  As Jesus predicts, Peter is preaching in Jerusalem forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name.  He has just used that name to heal a paralytic.  Since the people have been awed by that name’s power, Peter takes advantage of the opportunity.  He exhorts them to repent of having executed Jesus.  Then they too can walk freely.

Such freedom encompasses more than having one’s sins forgiven.  By confessing their sins in Jesus’ name, the people will establish a relationship with him.  He will come to them much like he appears to the disciples in the gospel.  He eats with them and allows them to touch him as their friend.  Also like a true friend, Jesus will inspire them to act virtuously and share with them his eternal life.

We long to be in the midst of our friends these days.  But in order not to catch the Corona-19 virus, we have isolated ourselves.  Still we need not isolate ourselves from the Lord.  We have access to him in Scripture and also in our hearts through prayer.  He will not allow us to perish.  Rather he will give us guidance and consolation.  All we have to do is pray to him.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

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

A good number of years ago now Dinner with Andre made its debut.  Almost the entire movie shows two actors having a conversation over dinner in a fine restaurant.  They talk about the meaning of life and how their lives enter into that meaning.  In a way the gospel today parallels this movie.

Jesus talks with two of his disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Because two days earlier he was crucified, the disciples can hardly imagine that their fellow traveler is their teacher.  Yet his words touch their hearts.  They burn within as he explains all that the Scriptures say about their teacher.  When they reach their destination, they share a meal.  In breaking bread, they realize who their companion is.  He is their beloved teacher and Lord, risen from the dead.

The same Lord presents himself in our daily Eucharist.  Here we hear of him in the readings from Scripture, especially the gospel.  Here we hear his explanation of himself in the words of the priest.  Here we meet him – face to face, as it were – in one another.  Sometimes in his presence to us we actually feel ourselves burning within.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter

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

In today’s first reading Peter has just preached the sermon of his life.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, he fearlessly told the people of their great mistake in crucifying Jesus.  He also proclaimed, without any reservation, that Jesus has risen from the dead.  The people are not repulsed but convinced.  They ask Peter, “What are we to do…?”  Peter outlines for them a four-step response.

First, they are to repent.  He does not have in mind breast-beating so much as changing their way of thinking.  They are to realign their values and their lives in accord with Jesus’ care for the suffering love.  Second, the people must be baptized.  In this way they become part of a community where they will learn to love God and neighbor from the heart.  Third, they should proclaim the name of Jesus Christ into whose mystery they have entered.  They will not understand it completely, but they can tell others of his influence on them.  Finally, they are to receive the Holy Spirit.  This extraordinary gift manifests itself in different ways to different people.  Every way has its value, but none is self-sufficient.  Each person has to work with the others while keeping in mind the Spirit’s primary gift of love.

In the gospel Mary wants to cling to Jesus.  We may have the same temptation.  However, Christianity is not a “Jesus and me” religion.  We belong to a community where we meet the risen Christ.  We too, every day, must think in this new way.  We must also celebrate the community into which we have been baptized.  We cannot forget to proclaim Jesus to others.  And we must love one another from the heart.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Monday in the Octave of Easter

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

The world today is in desperate need of good news.  We have been in suspense over the virus for a month now.  Our spirits require word of a really positive development to emerge from worry.  What if there was something good to report like a cure COVID-19, but people tried to suppress it?  Perhaps pride or rebelliousness would move them not to share this hope-builder with others.  Would it not be a great offense to humanity?  This is the kind of travesty that Matthew tries to portray in today’s gospel.

Jesus meets the two Marys as they run in fearful joy from his former tomb.  He reiterates to them the mandate to tell his disciples about his resurrection.  The news is so overwhelming that he no longer even calls them disciples.  The grace of the resurrection has forgiven their cowardice so that he calls them “brothers.”  All can rejoice in what God has done.  However, the chief priests and elders of the people do not want the good news to be heard.  They fear losing their hold on the people.  So they try to suppress the news of the resurrection by bribing the guards of the tomb to tell another story.

To be fair to the Jews of Jesus’ time and today this tale of overt suppression of the truth probably did not occur as Matthew reports.  It is only attested in his gospel and may be understood in the context of the extreme Jewish-Christian animosity at the time of its writing.  Still people through the ages not wanting to believe in the resurrection have perpetuated the story.  On the other hand, Jesus and his disciples desire the resurrection to be preached with all its promise.  It makes our days brighter and our hopes for eternal life more secure.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

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

In the Gospel of John, Jesus dies with enigmatic words on his lips.  What does he mean when he says, “’It is finished’”?  What is finished?  Does Jesus have his life in mind?  Is he saying something like his apostle Paul who writes near the time of his death:  “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”  Perhaps he is only saying that his ordeal is ending.  He has been betrayed by a disciple, brutalized by the Roman soldiers, and finally crucified as a treacherous criminal.  Do we note a sigh of relief in these words?  No, that is not it.  Jesus means that he has completed the mission on which his Father sent him.  He has given himself as the sacrifice that achieves the forgiveness of the world’s sins.

Certainly this is the message of the first two readings.  Jesus fits the description of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah.  “He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins…”  The Letter to the Hebrews is more explicit in referring to Jesus.  It says, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”  Jesus has made up for human disobedience by suffering and dying in obedience to the Father.

But we should not think of forgiveness as automatic.  We are not forgiven because we are humans or even because we are Christians.  No, we must acknowledge our sins and ask forgiveness.  Many of us have difficulty recognizing our sins.  We do not think we do anything worse than “telling white lies” or “having bad thoughts.”  Others admit that they have graver faults but justify themselves saying they are not adulterers or thieves.  This kind of thinking reveals the root of our sin in self-centeredness.  We live for ourselves and not for God. 

This year we are experiencing extraordinary circumstances.  The normal venue for acknowledging sins and asking forgiveness is not largely available.  What are we to do?  Live in fear that our sins may damn us?  No, that is not necessary at all.  We simply make an act of perfect contrition in our hearts.  We tell the Lord that we are sorry because we love him even more than ourselves.  We also promise to go to Confession as soon as possible.  Then, as sure as God will deliver us from the Corona-19 pandemic, He will forgive us our sins.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Holy Thursday

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

A family friend was telling me about a woman who lives in her retirement complex.  The woman helps her neighbors with the van that she owns.  Twice a week she takes them to buy groceries.  “Is she paid for it?” I ask.  “No,” my friend says, “she volunteers her services.”  Now, however, with the pandemic, the woman cannot make grocery runs.  Her son has advised her to stay at home.  In fact, she does better for her neighbors by not taking them out.  Thinking about her, we might say that sometimes it is better not to do what Jesus tells us in this evening's gospel!  Sometimes it is better not to wash one another’s feet!

Of course, Jesus does not mean that we literally wash one another’s feet.   He is using foot-washing as a figure of speech.  On one level Jesus is asking that we show our love for one another by works of service.  We might do this by cutting a neighbor’s lawn or cleaning her house.  However, in order to not spread the virus, now not going near other people is itself a good work.

But there is a deeper meaning to what Jesus is telling his disciples here.  He is using feet washing to describe the sacrament of Baptism.  For this reason he tells Peter, “’Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.’” His disciples are to go forth and baptize others into the mystery of Christ.  All of us have a role in this mission.  We are to bring others to faith in Jesus Christ by our words and works of service.  He is the one who “loved them to the end.”   When we always speak graciously and love unselfishly, we fulfill Jesus’ mandate.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Wednesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 50:4-91; Matthew 26:14-25)

In Italy abstaining from meat on Wednesdays as well as Fridays is still sometimes practiced.  Of course, the Friday penance commemorates Jesus’ death on the cross.  The Wednesday abstinence similarly recalls Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, his disciple.

Although all four gospels speak of the betrayal, Matthew gives the most detail.  He tells us Judas is paid thirty pieces of silver for the treason.  This is a paltry sum when one considers the enmity the Jewish leaders feel toward Jesus.  Earlier in the gospel, Jesus tells his disciples not to take any silver with them as they preach the Kingdom of heaven.  Here Judas takes thirty pieces to turn in the kingdom’s main preacher.  More indicative of his contempt of Jesus is Judas’ calling him “Rabbi.”  Jesus told his disciples not to use that title for anyone (23:8). But Judas defies the mandate.  Of course, Judas’ betrayal brings about his destruction.  As Jesus suggests would happen, Judas hangs himself.  And even today his name is recalled with the same infamy as that of Hitler or Pot Pol.

Ironically, some have tried to justify Judas over the centuries.  In one novel Judas is portrayed as a co-redeemer because his action brings Christ to the cross.  Often these days Judas is seen as no worse than Peter when he denies Jesus.  Yes, Peter commits a terrible sin.  However, he acts out of fear and the difference between betrayal and denial is multiple.   Nevertheless, we should see the possibility of our acting as ignominiously as Judas.  We may betray associates for money or for pleasure.  We may betray Christ by feigning to be a “good Christian” and leading a double life.  Judas is one person we want to avoid imitating.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Tuesday of Holy Week

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

Christians see Jesus in the gospels as a teacher, healer, and, ultimately, redeemer.  Most underappreciate him for whom the gospel writers took him to be.  They understand Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament.  He has the faith of Abraham, the devotion of David, and the wisdom of Solomon.  He also fits the description of the Suffering Servant found in the second part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  During Holy Week the Church features the four songs or poetic passages that tell of this remarkable person.

Today’s first reading mentions that the Servant is named and formed in the womb.  He is predestined to speak on God’s behalf.  His work, however, seems barely noticed except by God who promises to make a light to all nations.  The Suffering Servant may be compared to Cordelia in Shakespeare’s play King Lear.  Cordelia speaks the truth in love to hear father when the foolish man wants her to lavish praise on him.  For her discretion, the king banishes Cordelia, but in the end her virtue is vindicated.  She dies prematurely as she brings the old king back to his senses.

Shakespeare intended Cordelia to be a figure of Christ as is the Suffering Servant.  Both help us to understand the wonder of him who died cruelly that we might live eternally.  Like Cordelia Christ always spoke the truth in love.  Like the Suffering Servant Christ he has become the light revealing God’s love to all nations.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Monday of Holy Week

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

Of all the signs that a person leaves behind at death, none can be greater than her body.  The dead body, of course, looks like the living person.  It often indicates whether the person suffered before dying.  In order to preserve the body temporarily, perhaps as an aid to mourning, Jews anointed the dead body.  Anointing became a sign of respect for the dead person and perhaps an honor due her.

In today’s gospel Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.  Her motive is not stated.  Perhaps she does it in thanksgiving for Jesus’ resuscitating Lazarus.  Jesus, however, interprets the act as preparation of his body for burial.  He realizes that the time for him to complete the work of redemption is at hand.  Although she may be unaware of it, Mary is prophetically proclaiming Jesus’ death.

With Jesus we all die.  At least, this is our belief and also, quite counterintuitively, our hope to overcome death.  If we die with him in love with God and neighbor, then we will rise with him.  Death has lost its finality for us Christians living in self-sacrificing love.  Whether we anoint our dead or cremate them, we know that death will give way to the resurrection.  This is the Easter faith that we celebrate throughout this long Holy Week.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

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

Robert Frost observed the nature of animals as well as human nature.  He deeply mistrusted identifying the former with the latter.  In his poem “The White-tailed Hornet” he writes:

…“As long on earth
As our comparisons were stoutly upward
With gods and angels, we were men at least,
But little lower than the gods and angels.”
But once comparisons were yielded downward,
Once we began to see our images
Reflected in the mud and even dust,
'Twas disillusion upon disillusion.
We were lost piecemeal to the animals,
Like people thrown out to delay the wolves…”

Frost’s words here approximate what Jesus says in today’s gospel.

Jesus is defending his claim to be God’s Son by reminding his detractors of Scripture.  He quotes the psalms to show that humans may rise to a divine level.  His divinity, however, comes by reason of eternal generation.  Ours, in fact, comes by rebirth in his image.  In spite of his efforts, the people continue to harass Jesus for the claim. 

Many dismiss Jesus today for the same reason.  They may see him as enlightened as when he speaks of neighborly love.  But they have no use for a supernatural being who gives determinative mandates to order society.  We should take note of this trend to reduce Jesus to a few non-threatening remarks on love.  More importantly, we should try to present coherently the fullness of his teaching.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

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

A friend once expressed the wonder of seeing young people smoke and in other ways defy death.  He was telling the story of a person who was “twenty-one, drunk, and never going to die.”  Would that we could stave off death indefinitely!  But we cannot, and for this reason many are curtailing livelihood, companionship, and recreation in face of the Corona-19 virus.  Yet sooner or later we all die.  And then what is there?   In today’s gospel Jesus provides a way to overcome not death itself, but its permanence.

Jesus tells the people that if they keep his word, they “’will never see death.’”   He means that death will not wash away their existence forever.  He is promising them eternal life with the resurrection of the dead.   He offers as witness to the truth of his statement the patriarch Abraham.  Abraham is alive for the faith he held.  It is the same faith that Jesus preaches (his word).

Keeping the word of Jesus, we love one another as he loved us.  In the supper he shared with his friends the night before he died, Jesus gives more specific instructions.  We are to wash one another’s feet.  No, not literally, but figuratively.  We are to always help one another, even inconveniencing ourselves doing so.