Tonight is the Easter Vigil, and I thought a short reflection appropriate. Many people have spent this week reflecting on Jesus’ suffering and death. Tonight at Mass, there will be numerous readings to reflect upon, and we will also join in support and celebration of those persons entering the church. Our presence is a physical reminder that this celebration of Easter is about relationships. These new members of the Church need our support, prayer and love. They are a great reminder that God is merciful and compassionate.
Sometimes God’s mercy comes in the form of tears. Pope Francis, in his Ash Wednesday homily, urged the faithful to pray for the gift of tears. He said that tears would “make our prayer and our journey of conversion more authentic and without hypocrisy”. This prayer should have great meaning and hope for us all. For we fail to experience the deep joy, gratitude, and reconciliation of Easter, without a very real sense of what God has done. We pray for tears, because tears are a witness to reality. We stand in dire need of a relationship, the relationship that satisfies our deepest yearnings and desires, and covers us in the blood of Jesus to expiate sin.
We are nothing. We are poor. We are hopeless. We are desperate. We are empty. We are incomplete.
I just returned from Holy Thursday Mass. A celebration that is so beautiful, so solemn, so intriguing. I was waiting for inspiration to write this piece. I needed a moment among others who were seeking the same thing that I was.
People who are nothing..poor..hopeless..desperate..empty..and incomplete.
Have you ever been part of a foot-washing ceremony? When I had this blessing, I experienced a great deal of humble love on both sides of the basin. And it is another ceremony where we experience the gift of touch. Jesus with skin on.
In praying about writing this, my many thoughts were distilled into one word: welcome.
Several years ago, there was a commercial for Calgon foam bath that showed a housewife, who appeared to be frantic and stressed as the phone rang, the kids cried, the dishes piled up, and the dog barked. The woman stops what she is doing and shouts, “Calgon take me away.” In the next scene, she is enjoying a Calgon bubble bath without a care in the world.
While I am not a big fan of bubble baths, I certainly can relate to the need to have a break when life gets complicated. I think all of us, regardless of age, need times in which we wish we could just find a quiet place where we can be alone. The challenges of everyday life can wear us down sometimes, leaving us feeling stressed, and, perhaps even worse, making us forget about the many blessings in our lives.
We were never promised a trouble-free and stress-free life, but we were promised that whatever difficulties we face would not define us or defeat us. Jesus became Man in order to show us how to live our lives, and He died so that we would have eternal life. His Resurrection is the promise of a new day and new opportunities.
Isaiah 49: 1-6
Psalm 71: 1-2, 3-4a, 5ab-6ab, 15, and 17
John 12: 21-33, 36-38
In the Gospel today, we see the extreme and radical love God has for His people. Jesus predicts two different betrayals and yet still loves those who will betray Him – Judas and Peter – in the most intimate way through the Eucharist. If you knew someone was going to betray you, would you invite them to a gathering of friends and give your entire self to them? I can’t say that I would, but Jesus does. And not only does He do this in the Gospel today, but He does it every single day.
There are 52 weeks in a year, but there is only one week we call “holy”. What will you do to enter into the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus this week? Will it be a time of fruitful prayer and reflection or just another week on the calendar?
Here are a few suggestions:
Begin with Palm Sunday. Meditate on the Passion reading. Take your palm home and put it in a prominent place. On Thursday evening, we will enter into the Triduum – the three holy days leading to Easter. Holy Thursday is a commemoration of the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and gave His body and blood as food and drink. After this meal, our Lord would have gone into the Garden to enter into His Passion. We will commemorate this by keeping a holy silence on Thursday night. At many churches, the priest will carry the Blessed Sacrament to an altar of repose and invite the congregation to keep vigil with our Lord. Consider remaining for some time during the hours our Lord would have been in the Garden and then in prison.
Imagine your work place. At some point a new colleague arrives, one who seems to be very smart, speaks three languages, always with a brilliant idea and the right solution handy. He never complains of too much work or of the neurosis of the boss. He does everything with love, in perfect order, with great respect. He never fails and especially when he speaks….he makes everyone else look bad!
Wow, what a nuisance, who is this fellow? What is he looking for? It would be better if he wouldn’t be there. Let’s get rid of him!
“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.”
As I read through the scripture passage for today, this was the line that kept sticking out to me. It resonated and stayed with me. I knew God wanted to speak to me through this line, so I spent some time meditating in prayer.
Scripture says, “I will maintain my covenant with you…to be your God and the God of your descendants.” The readings today focus on the covenant God made with Abraham. What is a covenant? A covenant is “a binding agreement; a compact, a contract.” Just like God promised Abraham that He would be with him always, he has promised the same for us. He has promised us that he will never leave us nor abandon us. He is there to give us peace, hope, joy, love, understanding, etc. He is there to answer our cries, our prayers, all of our needs.
I feel it can be easy to lose hope at times in life while praying prayers of petition and feeling like our prayers are not heard or answered by God. It can easy to wonder if we have been forgotten or why He hasn’t answered our deepest longings. But we can rest assured knowing that despite those feelings of doubt, we can experience that God is there just like he has promised. He does hear our prayers and answers them according to His will. Now, sometimes His will doesn’t match up to our will, desires or timing, but He truly hears and answers every little prayer and petition we offer to Him. He knows what’s best for us.
Renaissance artists paint the Annunciation as a heavenly scene; but there’s a very human underside to Mary’s plea, “How can this be?”
A poor, unmarried woman finds herself pregnant. The woman is fearful at first. The boyfriend wavers before stepping up. The child is born in a shed.
Why didn’t God send Gabriel to Mary after she and Joseph were happily married, settled down, with a nursery painted and ready?
In the first reading today, the Israelites had grown tired from their journey. They were hungry and uncomfortable. When they complained about their circumstances to God, he responded by punishing them heavily. I wonder if his displeasure with them was less about their unhappiness and more about their lack of gratitude. “We are disgusted with this wretched food,” they say. This statement confirms that they did, in fact, have food (even if it was wretched).
Was the Lord upset that they didn’t see His provision, that on that long journey, he had given them just enough to sustain them? And what was His penalty for their ungratefulness? It was death.
Today’s reading of Susanna’s plight reads like a fast-paced, page-turning novel. I found myself totally immersed in the unfolding events and characters. No doubt about it, Susanna was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Have you ever felt this way? Despite what appeared to be a lose-lose situation, Susanna trusted God.
Her prayer was simple and faith-filled,
“O eternal God, you know what is hidden
and are aware of all things before they come to be:
you know that they have testified falsely against me.
Here I am about to die,
though I have done none of the things
with which these wicked men have charged me.”
I would like to share a little on the subject of plans today. I have recently been informed by a loved one that I am a planner. While I am pretty sure this is not a clinical diagnosis, it did come across as a bit of an accusation. It certainly began a reflection on how I may be operating, especially in my relationship with the Lord. And, I suppose plans are important. We make them, make a big deal about them, and encourage others, including our children, to make them as well. Today’s Gospel reading is radical, deep, and difficult to understand. So what do I do with the difficulty, the challenging depth? Well honestly, I am tempted to make plans.
Greek men come seeking Jesus, and question Phillip in the hopes of a face-to-face encounter with Jesus. They want to see the Savior. It is an odd passage because naturally, we expect Jesus to be a good person and take some time out to talk to these men. Instead of going to meet these men, it would seem that Jesus ignores them as he begins to reflect on the end of his journey, and things get very heavy. Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”
“Blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart and yield a harvest through perseverance.”
Today’s Gospel is about the people who doubt that Jesus is who he says he is.
There are so many ways that we, as humans, struggle with the concept of who Christ is and what we should believe or not believe.
Friday, March 20, 2015. Twenty-seven days in, if you’re not counting Sundays.
The Spring Equinox occurs this evening. The Spring Equinox has been celebrated as a time of beginning and renewal for a long,long, time. The axis of the earth will now tip more and more toward the sun, making the days longer in the Northern hemisphere.
March 20, 2015 there is a new moon, or a perigee moon. The moon is dark to us, and it will pass as close as it ever gets to the earth but veiled in darkness.
There is a picture of Saints John Paul II and John XXIII on my refrigerator at home. In my office, there is a calendar of the Church Fathers, images of Jesus, and a papal blessing from His Holiness Benedict XVI. As Catholics, we are blessed to have the examples of so many men and women who can inspire us to love God and our neighbor more each day. Their words and actions remind us today that we are capable of becoming the people God knows we can be, in spite of our sinful nature. Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a paragon of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Today’s first reading brings me back to an acclamation that I bet I’ve heard at Mass at least a hundred times in my life.
“I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple, Alleluia Alleluia…”
It’s funny how there are some of those that stand out in our minds. While I read the first reading for today, that’s what my mind kept wandering to, all the times I’ve heard that verse and sung it over the years in various Catholic churches wherever I happened to be that Sunday.
“Thus says the Lord: Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create…” (Isaiah 65:17)
I have three sisters and between them, I have 15 nieces and nephews, ranging from five months old to 20 years old. So, I have seen a fair amount of pregnancies and the challenges and sufferings that can ensue – from nausea, to dehydration, to bed rest. But that pain and suffering is soon forgotten in the birth of a beautiful new child, and each sister would gladly say it is worth all the pain (at least most days!).
“In those days the people added infidelity to infidelity […] they preferred darkness to light, but God, the merciful, had compassion and decided to give his only son in salvation of the world”.
How direct and clear are the readings this Sunday. They contain a real verdict: God wants to give us eternal life and, to be worthy of it, he wants us to choose to refuse darkness and believe in Him, who is light. The parallel between the brass snake lifted up by Moses and Jesus’s crucifixion is evident, as is the similarity between the Israelites, who were bitten by the poisoning serpents and all of us today, who are continuously attacked by the old serpent – the devil.
When I read through the first reading I find myself upset or scared about the message. It almost doesn’t seem fair that the virtuous man’s litany of good works can’t outweigh his path of sin at the end. I find myself wondering if I have “done enough” myself to enter into eternal life. What does my record look like? Have I done enough?
Part of the Gospel says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” I feel it’s easy to read a familiar scripture verse, such as this one, and not really grasp the depth of Jesus’ words. Many times, I read over the verse too quickly and think “oh yea, I got it”, but do I really? When I take apart the verse and focus on the individual words, I discover a new level of richness and greatness in what Jesus is asking us. The word that stands out to me is “ALL”. He wants our complete, entire and all encompassing love.
So what does this mean? How do we live out this type of love? How do we give God our “all”?
In the town where I was born, the local high school’s mascot was the Demons. As a young kid, I remember driving past the school and seeing a huge demon face on the side of the building, complete with glowing red eyes. The design was effective. The thing looked pretty demonic.
(The high school I actually attended, in a different city, was the Angels. The sports teams never played each other, but that would’ve been an epic match up.)
Today’s gospel reading talks about the law. In Jesus’ time, and in ours, there is much debate over the place of law in our faiths. It has historically been used for bad, but also for good. The word “legalistic” is used often to describe many faith traditions, including Catholicism.
As always, there is the need for reflection on our motives and our intentions. Feeling self righteous about attending Sunday church services while living a life that contradicts everything taught in that church is missing the mark. And trying to earn our way into heaven ignores the great graces that Jesus pours onto us.
But, is there something to be said for “the law”?
Today’s reading makes me cringe. Yes, cringe. The parable is about a master who graciously forgave his servant’s debt and the servant who, in turn, refused to forgive a debt owed to him by another. I see myself in the servant and I don’t like it one bit. How can I embrace the forgiveness that is mercifully bestowed upon me by God and man, and refuse to do the same for others? I have prayed about this time and time again asking God to teach me ways to forgive. Well, He recently answered my prayer in a very unexpected way.
I have to admit that I have always felt a little sheepish about handing over hard earned money for a bottle of water. I continue to have a strong suspicion that water is JUST water here in the United States. I certainly don’t have to pay for the clear stuff coming out of my tap! Whatever your opinion is on the subject, Naaman is a man who has clearly been suckered by the world of advertisement. This is a guy who scoffs at the quality of the Jordan River, its physical appearance, the quality of the water; “Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar better than all the waters of Israel?”
Naaman’s journey in the first reading brings him into the land of Israel seeking to be healed of his leprosy. He is sent to the King of Israel, who does not have the slightest clue of what God is about in this particular situation, misinterprets Naaman’s intentions, and becomes angry.
What are we putting first in our lives? Is it God? Is it an addiction? Is it food? Is it our partner?
The list goes on and on.
If the first thing that popped into your head wasn’t God, it’s time to sit down and reassess priorities. I literally just sat down to reassess as I’m writing this.
In many instances, He may not be what popped up first. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the world around us – our friends, family, extracurricular activities, work, etc.; but is it dangerous to do so?
100% yes. It is dangerous. It is dangerous for mind, body and spirit. We are not going to live a fulfilled life if Jesus isn’t the center of every single thing we do.
Our relationship with Jesus is not unlike, in many respects, that relationship in our lives that inspires us to love like we never knew we could. Relationships, however, can be challenging at times. It is not easy to have a relationship with Jesus, for example, and Jesus tells us so in Matthew 16: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
The apostles, who accompanied Jesus throughout His ministry, did not truly understand or appreciate that He is the Son of God. The only apostle with Jesus when He died, after all, was the Beloved Disciple John. The other apostles were in hiding, fearing for their lives. As we continue on our Lenten journey, today’s Gospel challenges us to discover new ways to cultivate God’s love, grace, and mercy in the world in which we live.
Jeremiah 17: 5-10
Psalm 1: 1-2, 3, 4, & 6
It’s amazing the difference two perspectives can have on scripture readings. Sometimes I try to imagine how the characters of the Gospel would interpret the readings for the day, and in today’s Gospel, we have two very distinct perspectives in the rich man and Lazarus.
The rich man would probably find it hard to see any meaning in the readings from Jeremiah and the Psalm today. I mean, he trusted human beings and sought his strength in the flesh and everything worked out for him. Why would he need to trust or hope in the Lord? He already had everything he would need or hope for and could trust himself just fine as far as he could see.
But my trust is in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
In your hands is my destiny; rescue me
from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.
- Save me, O Lord, in your kindness.
You know, there’s something to be said for having a bad Lent. I know it isn’t fun to feel like a failure, and it can be frustrating when life feels “hard”. But the truth is, when we feel small, that’s our reminder that in God is our strength.
Today we begin the 14th day of our Lenten journey. Four weeks from today we will be in Holy Week. I think this is a pivotal week in our Lenten journey. One of two things may be happening now: One is that you are having a very good Lent. You set prayerful goals, you have struggled but you are keeping them.
However, another option is that you are struggling. Lent snuck up on you and you never made clear, prayerful goals. You gave in and ate a whole sleeve of Girl Scout cookies one day. You got up for early morning prayer the two days after Ash Wednesday but not so much anymore. Several of the disciplines or fasts you have thrown out the window. You fussed at your children or spouse. Many of us have a perfectionist side and we think if we can do something just as we want we should just throw in the towel or hit the ctrl+alt+delete on our Lent.
In today’s Gospel, the Lord gives us the measure of love.
If you leave your sewing basket or a carpentry case open around at home, you can bet that one of your kids will surely find it and pull out a very attractive tool and start playing with it, having lots of fun: a plastic, or better, retracting measuring tape. Man likes to measure. Man needs to measure. Measurement reduces confusion and uncertainties.
Euclid and Isaac Newton gave us a great contribution in this field. Measurement is useful to give accurate descriptions, to move to places, to build something or simply to think. Measurement units are necessary in many fields: economics, tailoring, architecture, science, business, carpentry, cooking….and love! But how do we measure love? We are accustomed to considering love as an emotion that can’t be seen or touched and, moreover, something that is experienced differently by everyone, and therefore pretty difficult to measure.
The Transfiguration. What an amazing and terrifying experience that had to have been for Peter, James and John; seeing the Son of God turned dazzling white, meeting Moses and Elijah. A meeting of heaven and earth. A spectacle, a miracle right before their eyes.
And then to be told to keep it quiet until after the Resurrection! At the time, it must have seemed like an impossible request. How could they keep that to themselves? How great must have their desire have been to share what they just witnessed!
What is the definition of perfect? Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be; absolute; complete.” In the Gospel today, Jesus compares loving our enemies to perfect love. Christ places this selfless love as the model and example of what true love is.
I feel it can be easy to read this scripture passage and reflect on the importance of this type of love, but the true tests come while living it out. For me, it’s easier to love even in challenging situations when I’m mentally prepared for the challenge that I am to face. But we are caught off guard many times and these virtues are truly put to the test.
Heart disease is a top killer in America.
It’s probably not just America. I’m guessing that diseased hearts are just as deadly in countries where skinny people eat lots of rice and fish.
I’m not talking about the kind of cardiac problems your doctor warned you about. That kind is easily avoided. Just maintain a perfect diet, a daily exercise regimen, and stay away from funnel cakes. You know, all your Lenten promises.
In each of the readings today, God reminds us to come to Him with our needs. He tells us to simply ask, as Esther does, “Help me who are alone.” The psalmist says, “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.” In the gospel, Matthew says, “ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
The Lord is making promises. He hears and will answer us. The scriptures about casting our fears and problems onto the Lord are endless. He begs us to come to Him, both directly and through the family and friends and communities He has placed in our lives. Unfortunately, we too often dig our heels in and refuse to ask for help. So what stops us? What keeps us from the open and merciful arms of Jesus?
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time,
“Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you.”
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s bidding.
The opening of today’s first reading caught my attention. “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time” but I was immediately curious about the first time the word of the Lord came to Jonah. What did He say the first time? Were the messages related? The Book of Jonah is only four chapters and it opens with the word of the Lord coming to Jonah for the first time. That message, too, related to the wickedness of those in Nineveh.