Posts tagged: Lent

Jesus Loves His Friends

By , April 5, 2014 4:48 am

April 6th, Fifth Sunday of Lent

Oh, today’s Gospel! This is one of my favorite texts in the entire bible whether you are talking about Old or New Testaments. Today’s Gospel excerpt is drawn from the 11th chapter of St. John’s Gospel and for me it is wonderfully meaningful. The whole thrust of this Gospel is John, communicating to the first generation of the life of the Church, his memory what Jesus revealed about himself.

Sometimes our Lord communicated with words and other times just extraordinary actions. Today I am making reference to what I consider a wonderful extraordinary aspect of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. That is the fact that he was a MAN.
Members of the Christian community always recognize that Jesus is God dealing with us through a human nature. We know that. We believe that. But can we get our arms around it? Can our limited brains really grasp the awesome reality that within this Jewish carpenter from Nazareth the Godhead dwelt?

Well, today’s text really helps us to go in that direction. You know the story so well. Jesus goes to visit his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus but on arriving, he is told that Lazarus died several days before. The text says that he was “troubled in spirit, moved by the deepest emotions” and then listen to this, he began to WEEP!

Did we all catch that? Jesus of Nazareth is weeping. This Divine Presence is torn by emotions, saddened and filled with a sense of loss. Can we really grasp that? I think the principle underlying the scene is that Lazarus was a friend of Jesus. Jesus liked him. Jesus was crushed on learning of Lazarus’ death. I like to transfer that concept to the rest of us. Yes, we are followers of Jesus, yes, we believe in him, but do we really see him as our friend? What a gift.

If we live a good life and if we do the things I just mentioned, we are his friends. Would your acquaintances be impressed if you were at a meeting and they announced that the president of the United States has called for you and has asked you to return the call? Would it seem important to you if it were only the governor or the mayor? My friends, if we are living a good life, we are the friends of Jesus. There is nothing better than that.

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Faith, Courage and Joy

By , March 21, 2014 5:17 am

The other day I wrote about the question as to whether or not sadness and joy can co-exist. The answer is that they certainly do. Sadness is an emotional response or reaction to one or more of life’s difficulties and usually when those problems are solved, sadness evaporates. But joy is a permanent relationship. I am of course referring to Christian joy.
Several weeks ago, Father James Martin S.J., editor of America magazine, wrote an excellent article on the subject. It is particularly important for understanding Christian joy.

“First let me distinguish joy from happiness. Unlike happiness, joy is not simply a fleeting fleeing or an evanescent emotion. It is a permanent result of one’s connection to God. While the more secular definition of joy may be simply an intense form of happiness, religious joy is always about a relationship. Joy has an object and that object is God. The ultimate response to the Good News is joy, one that is lasting and endures even in the midst of difficulties.”

And who does not have difficulties? We all have problems. We all face crises at one time or another, we all get tired and occasionally at least discouraged. The Gospels clearly tell us that Jesus experienced overwhelming sorrow. When he learned of the death of his friend he broke down and cried. Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions and so we must assume that Jesus laughed. The Gospel of Luke, speaking of the Garden experience, used the word agonia and says that Jesus’ tears fell on the ground as in drops of blood.

For successful living, adults require a wonderful blend of faith, courage and strength. We should not attempt to avoid every possible problem. Sometimes it is easier to address them face on rather than wishing that they would go away.
Back to Lent! This is a time to evaluate our efforts to develop in these necessary virtues. We need to deepen our awareness of our faith in the presence of Jesus, and we certainly need courage and strength to move forward. Good Friday is coming but beyond that is the Resurrection. Let us go forward.

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Can Sadness and Joy Co-exist?

By , March 20, 2014 5:11 am

Well, we are nearly halfway through the Holy Season of Lent and this is a good time to ask ourselves how are we doing? Lent is not just a name for part of the liturgical calendar. Lent is a program, a spiritual program. In Lent, we are asked to set aside a very small portion of the Church year, roughly six weeks, and to use that time to systematically endeavor to improve and strengthen the quality of our spiritual lives.

This is a serious undertaking and it does not happen automatically. One must set goals and in daily prayer ask ourselves, did we do better yesterday? Am I really trying to improve at least a little bit today?

Lent should be a time of joy because we can become more conscious of our closeness to God. We can see more clearly that this awesome historical figure, the carpenter from Nazareth, did not just live 2,000 years ago, but is alive today within us and around us. Lent is a time when we can grasp more clearly that the Holy Spirit is a reality, is within us and around us, strengthening us. With our minds and hearts clearly focused on God’s love for us, everything else falls into place. Has sometime in the family developed cancer? Is your brother-in-law still out of work after 14 months? Does that distant aunt still seem to reject the rest of the family? And is the crisis in Crimea threatening world peace? All of these things are problems and all of them give us concern but if we are steadfast in our relationship to our Divine Lord, each of them will ultimately be resolved as we continue towards eternal life.

Lent is a time of joy not of sadness.

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Testing Our Faith

By , March 15, 2014 5:15 am

March 16th, Second Sunday of Lent

The ashes either fell or were washed from our foreheads ten days ago. As we move farther along in this holy season, we must make every effort to hold on to what the ashes symbolized because it is that symbol which makes Lent both meaningful and necessary.

In a very short period of time, all of us will depart this planet. It is the role of the Church to constantly remind all of us to live life in preparation for that reality. Thinking of death is realistic but not dreary. We believe that our departure, regardless of the process involved, opens the door to an eternal life of joy.

Most people find that the first reading today is grim and evil, at least in its concept. To understand its meaning fully, we have to remember the culture being written about, as the author of the Book of Genesis is telling of Abraham’s complete and obedience. The culture, tragically enough, utilized the offering of other human beings, even children, to the deity being worshipped. Yahweh’s challenge to Abraham was a test of his faith and Abraham responded properly. He was totally obedient to God even though what he thought that he being ordered to do was the worst possible thing that could be demanded of him. Yahweh, however, knowing of Abraham’s awesome and complete faith, intervened and Isaac would live to carry on God’s saving plan for the human family.

If you switch over to today’s Gospel, you see a thinly veiled comparison between these two events. Abraham was committed to doing Yahweh’s bidding, even though he did not understand it. Jesus’ three close friends, Peter, James and John, knew something wonderful was coming but, at the time of their vision on top of the mountain, they did not understand it either. Jesus simply told them let’s go down and join the others, but don’t tell anybody about this. There is plenty of time for all of us to understand…and then after the Resurrection they would!………….You and I do understand!! God loves us. He has come to us. He has redeemed us and our response is to walk in the footsteps of the Risen Lord. At times it can be a challenge but the good use of Lent makes it much easier.

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Creeping Symbols

By , March 5, 2014 5:51 am

Ash Wednesday, March 5th
Everyone knows that the Roman Catholic Church loves to use symbols. Symbols are external signs, and they put in the mind and the heart ideas concepts, context and responses that are much more forceful than mere words. Today is Ash Wednesday and I used to enjoy saying to people, “You can really spot the Catholic in the crowd today!” Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, but sometimes there are more people at Mass on this day than regular Sunday. There they are with white shirts, their good ties, attractive blouse. People look clean and proper with a big black smudge on their forehead. What’s wrong? Oh yes, they’re Catholics.

Ash Wednesday is a very physical, excellent example of symbol, that is extraordinarily simple and yet it conveys an awesome reality. We are all going to die. We are going to deal with and account for the lives we lived in this planet. We are all going to reach a point in time during our journey when it comes to an end. It’s over and from here we move on to eternity. Because we are so easily pulled in various directions, we find ourselves easily distracted. It’s excellent that we are reminded of this reality from time to time and Ash Wednesday does it.

I’m happy to see that a number of mainline Protestant faith communities are also beginning to return to the ancient idea of marking the beginning of Lent with a smudge of ash, a reminder of reality, a reminder that we really need to use this life effectively, generously, lovingly, and faithfully. In my opinion, this is a small but meaningful symbol of what I call “creeping ecumenism.” The greatest in this move in this direction was when a number of the larger faith communities embraced the Lectionary that the Catholic Church produced following the Second Vatican Council. It’s a wonderful thing now that Catholics, Episcopalians, and some Lutherans are reading the same texts in all of our churches on the same Sunday morning.

Jesus Christ wanted his followers to be united in faith. Our Lord wanted us to always seek unity with each other. It is attached to our unity with Him. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we should not be discouraged. Even these small signs of progress are important and encouraging.
Onward towards Christian Unity.

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Let the Lord Do It!

By , March 2, 2014 4:09 am

March 2nd, Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel is drawn from that of the 6th chapter of Matthew and it presents us with a beautiful scene affecting God’s love for all of His creation. In the midst of that lovely scene, we are also challenged to have faith, to be detached and have boundless hope because of God’s love for us. But that is so cheerful and I think we have to start thinking about Lent, so I would like to flip to the second reading which presents us with a couple of tough lines from St. Paul’s occasionally blistering first letter to the Corinthians.

Paul challenges the Corinthians and tells them how he should be treated. “Men should regard us (St. Paul) as servants of Christ and administrators of the mysteries of God!” I believe that this is certainly true. That was Paul’s role at that time and in that place. However, I think such a strong stark statement is a reflection of the fact that there was real conflict within the Christian community in Corinth. That, of course, is the principal reason why Paul wrote the letter. He had started the community there and continued to provide oversight, but he really wanted to be treated with respect and have them treat each other in the same way.

He then repeats to his distant parishioners that he is the administrator of Christ’s work and that requires that he be trustworthy. He reminds them that they are not to judge him; that it is the Lord who will do the judging. Naturally, from that would flow the principle that they are not to be judging each other. Evidently, rash judgment was a frequent failure in the early Church and because we are still very human, that regrettable human weakness continues to pervade our lives and our communities.

Let’s try hard to remember that it is the Lord who will be doing the judging. He is certainly better at that than we are.

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He Has Risen – He Has Risen – Hallelujah!

By , March 30, 2013 3:52 am

Easter Sunday!
Today the whole Christian world celebrates with joy the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The sacred liturgy today is truly beautiful. The dreary weeks of Lent are behind us. Our churches are illuminated magnificently. The bells are ringing constantly and the throngs of people who gather before the altars across the world are filled with joy and enthusiasm. Happy Easter! Happy Easter! Have a great Easter! When we gather as families later on that joy continues because we believe with all our hearts that the great event of history is being marked today – that the second person of the Blessed Trinity, having come among us, to join us, to be one with us, to assume a true human nature, has suffered and died for us and his infinite act of obedience and generosity more than balanced the endless acts of human frailty that had been committed throughout the centuries. He has risen indeed – Hallelujah!
Oh the joy and the celebration and happiness that dominates this wonderful day. It is probably the wrong day for me to say this but I want to mention that in the midst of that joy there is a serious note, or more accurately a serious responsibility. Jesus called the twelve apostles to journey with him for nearly three years. He was not just seeking out traveling companions. He did not want to gather admirers around him. The fact is that there was a job that had to be done and these frail human beings were to be the first people on the job. That job, that role, that vocation, is being a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what the apostles were. They were witnesses. They saw him alive. They saw him crucified. They saw his body. They saw him resurrected. And they were to tell the world of that awesome reality. And so they did and in the process commissioned others to join in spreading the good news.
It is 2,000 years later and the job is still there. It still needs to be done, still needs to be carried out day by day. It is wonderful that so many of us attend Mass frequently. It is good that we are happy to declare to others that we believe in Jesus Christ but we must also tell those people that we believe in the resurrection, that we believe that this awesome miraculous act had the purpose of documenting the infinite power that resided in and passed through Jesus of Nazareth.
Let’s continue to celebrate today, but remember that we have a job to do and we need to get started in the morning.

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Wave Those Palms

By , March 23, 2013 4:44 am


March 24th, Palm Sunday
It is almost over. For five weeks the Church has been calling us to examine ourselves more honestly, to center our thoughts more clearly on the reality of Jesus of Nazareth and enter into a spirit of prayer that would carry us forcefully into Holy Week and the great Feast of the Resurrection.
Holy Week is here and the next seven days we will symbolically walk with our blessed Lord. First, he experiences a brief triumph as he enters on a donkey (a symbol of royalty) and cheered wildly in his honor as he enters the city gates of Jerusalem. The text of Matthew’s Gospel says that the crowd was huge, very excited, tearing branches off trees and even laying down their cloaks so that the animal could, a symbolic sense, walk on a carpet. Then it gets quiet.
Jesus and his disciples would again go outside the city to the suburban town of Bethany and he will abide with his close friends for three very quiet days of prayer and preparation.
Wednesday has Judas cutting a deal. He promises to give the enemies of Jesus the opportunity to arrest him at a time when it can be done quietly without instigating a riot.
Thursday reminds us of the institution of the Eucharist and the beginnings of the priesthood.
Friday we call “good” but it is awful and holiness explodes on Saturday as we anticipate the celebration of the actual resurrection.
The whole process will be over in just a few days. If we have slipped a little during the past weeks, this would be a good time to say I am going to give it my all, to concentrate on this sacred week for ourselves and for our families.

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Oh, Those Stones

By , March 16, 2013 4:47 am

March 17th, Fifth Sunday of Lent
I just opened my lectionary and I can see very clearly that tomorrow is the fifth Sunday of Lent. I am also joyfully aware that March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day. This is a sad reality that surfaces every seven years because the Sundays of Lent are so important in the liturgical calendar that they block out the lesser feast days themselves. My comments come from the Mass of this Sunday rather than those of the Votive Mass of St. Patrick. I am sure that God will forgive me.
It is not a problem because the Gospel excerpt used for this Sunday is simply marvelous. It is clear, dramatic and our Lord drives a point home with tremendous power. You know it well but let’s take a quick look at it again.
It shows our Lord’s teaching in the courtyard of the temple and, as usual, there is a large crowd. Suddenly, there is excitement and people begin to jostle. We see then a number of strong men pushing and shoving a single woman through the crowd until they get in front of Jesus. They denounced her and ask for his view on whether or not she should be stoned to death because she had been caught in an adulterous act. Adultery requires two people! Where is the man? Try to visualize this dramatic scene. There is a lot of yelling going on and a crowd of men are demanding that Jesus agree to Mosaic law that a woman like this should be killed. They have already humiliated her tremendously and now they are pushing for her death.
Our Lord drops to his knees and then begins drawing in the sand. When they kept demanding a response, he really threw back one of the great stories of the Gospels. “Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her.” Jesus then returned to his crouched position and waited to see what would happen. The crowd slinked away leaving no one there but Jesus and this poor abused woman. When the woman told Jesus that no one had accepted his challenge, that no one had condemned her, he merely said, “Nor do I condemn you. You may go but from here sin no more.”
From a Christian perspective, that is one of the greatest statements ever made. He knew that the woman had made mistakes but he was informing her that God instantly forgives true sorrow. She was being given another chance to live a better life.
As Lent approaches, be conscious that Jesus was speaking not only to the Jewish woman but to you and me as well. Let us remember that as we move towards Holy Week.

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The Cold Brother

By , March 9, 2013 4:36 am

March 10th, Fourth Sunday of Lent

For the first couple of weeks in Lent, the scripture readings are usually somewhat grim. We are reminded of human weakness, the urge to know ourselves better. We try to be motivated to improve ourselves. This is all a process and the Church urges us to make good use of this holy season. And this Sunday is using one of the most meaningful parables that our Lord presented to his listeners. The story of the prodigal son.
Many of us read that story and put the emphasis in the wrong place. We are glad that the kid came back. We are glad that the father is forgiving. We hope that the same thing will happen to us. But a very important part of the story is the older brother. He does not forgive. He does not celebrate his brother’s return to a good life. He does not appreciate the infinite forgiveness of the father. This parable of our Lord says a great deal about God’s infinite forgiveness but it also says in a very pointed way that you and I have to be forgiving people as well.
As Holy Week draws closer take a few minutes and run through your mind people against whom you have held some grievance of late. Do you see that person as being forgiven by Almighty God? If you answer affirmatively, shouldn’t we do the same?

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