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Take up your cross and follow me!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent 2018

We are one week away from Holy Week.

May we prepare to celebrate the mysteries with profound reverence and love.

“The hour has come” Jesus says, “for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

“I solemnly assure you, 

unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies,

it remains just a grain of wheat.

But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

The image is clear. Dying is part of living. No death, no life. No dying, no rising.

Jesus goes on with a riddle:

“The person who loves their life loses it,

while the person who hates their life

in this world

preserves it to eternal life.’

We often try to grasp the things and persons in our life tightly and not let go. Parents sometimes have difficulty letting go of their children. Persons diagnosed with terminal cancer sometimes have difficulty accepting the inevitable and have difficulty preparing for a peaceful—or as we used to say “a happy” death.

This scripture is about surrender.   About letting go.

 We think of surrender as something unhealthy, that surrender means defeat. But for Jesus and for us surrender is the way to victory.

 Jesus is a model of surrender and letting go for us. On the cross he stretched out his hands to be nailed. He let go of his ministry and his life and entrusted them to his heavenly Father.

He emptied himself—as the beautiful hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 shows us.

 If we want to live a truly spiritual life, we have to let go of all things that are not God.

There is a stripping process, a cleansing and purifying that is part of spiritual growth.

Throughout our lives we are given trials that can cleanse and purify us—if we let them.

We are to be purified as gold and silver are purified in the furnace.

The task is simple: to let go.

But we find that oh! so difficult. The more we realize we should let go, the tighter we cling to things and persons and pet projects.

When I walk my dog Shoney, he’s always on the hunt for chicken bones that our lawn-mower guys leave behind in the grass. Do you think I can get him to let go of one of the bones once he finds one? I’m the one that has to do the surrendering ~ even though it’s bad for him! But let’s move on.

“The person who loves his life, loses it” Jesus says.

Facing the issue of letting go and trying to discern the things we need to let go of is a holy and a wholesome process.

Forty years ago, at one of the darkest periods of my life, I came to realize that I needed to let go—not because it was the right thing to do but because I had no other choice. My life was not working any more. I had to try a different way.

I wrote the following prayer to capture the moment:

Lord Jesus, I surrender my ego;

forgive my sins of egotism.

Lord Jesus, I surrender my self-will;

let me be motivated by a loving concern for you and the people you want me to care for.

 Lord Jesus, I surrender my self-centeredness;

let me do what you want me to do.

Lord Jesus, bring the Father and the Holy Spirit and abide with me and remain with me.

Let me see as you see,

hear as you hear,

speak as you speak

and touch as you touch.

To you be glory and honor, forever and ever.

And now at this time of my life during this Lent there are still have other things that I have let go of and surrender to God.

I have let go of them; but I must pray that I not take them back.

The Cross is a paradox.

An instrument of cruelty and death becomes a sign of life and eternal salvation. Jesus allowed the soldiers to strip him of his clothes and he stretched out his hands to be willingly nailed to his cross.

What was this amazing paradox Jesus was teaching?

William Barclay offers three suggestions . . . .

First. Jesus was saying that by death comes life. The grain of wheat was ineffective and unfruitful so long as it was preserved in a jar or in a sack. It was when it was thrown into the cold ground, and buried as if in a tomb, that it bore fruit. It was by the death of the martyrs that the church grew. In a famous saying, “The blood of the martyrs in the seed of the Church.”

It is always because men have prepared to die that the great things have lived. By the death of personal desire and personal ambition someone becomes a servant of God.

Second. Jesus was saying that only by spending life do we retain it. The person who loves his life is moved by two aims, by selfishness and personal security. Not once but many times, Jesus insisted that the person who hoarded his life must in the end lose it. My mother had a saying,, “It’s better to burn out than to rust out.” The world owes everything to people who recklessly spent their strength and gave themselves to God and to others.

Third. Jesus was saying that only by service comes greatness. The people whom the world remembers with love are the people who serve others.

This Easter, may we surrender our life more fully, more richly into the hands of our loving Father. Let us unite to Jesus’ Cross the sins and shortcomings that hinder us from being the wonderful instrument of God that he wants us to be.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

And before you go, here’s a wonderful hymn with words on this Scripture. Click here.

Here are today’s Mass readings, if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series /The Gospel of John – Volume 2 / Westminster Press /Philadelphia 1975: p. 123.

And here’s a Prayer of Acceptance that I composed back in 2007.  Perhaps you’d like to copy and paste it and  print it to place in a prayer book.

Prayer  for Acceptance

Heavenly Father,

I praise and thank you for the gift of life and of love you share with me and my loved ones.

I find acceptance very difficult at times.

Sometimes I feel you give me crosses too difficult to bear.

I ask you now if in your kindness you would grant me the grace to accept . . .

(here name the situation or persons.)

I really want to live in your will but sometimes I lack the faith and hope to do so.

I sometimes feel self pity / discouragement /anxiety /guilt and poor self esteem.

I keep taking back the things and persons I have placed in your hands

as if I lack confidence in your ability to preside over my life.

Today ~ right now ~ I ask that I may accept my life as it is

so that I may receive your grace and your loving guidance.

Father, I also pray for those around me who may be struggling with difficult crosses.

I pray for those who are struggling with relationships with their spouses or their children.

For those who are having financial difficulties.

For those young people who have lost their way.

For those who are seriously ill or near death.

May we all be given the strength and the grace we need.

Father, I meditate now on the Cross of your Son

and our Brother Jesus Christ who willingly accepted death on a Cross.

May we be given the strength to unite our lives,

as meager s they may seem to be, with his act of sacrifice

so that we may experience the joy of his Resurrection. 

Father, I place my life in your hands.

Father, I place my life in your hands.

Father, I place my life in your hands

~ bob traupman / st. augustine ~ 2007

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God so loved the world . . . (John 3:16) Do you believe?

The Fourth Sunday of Lent 2018 

We’re half-way through Lent now and traditional this is known as Laetare Sunday ~ Laetare in Latin, meaning “Rejoice!”  However, today’s readings don’t seem to have that kind of flavor.

The Responsorial Psalm has us sing: “Let my tongue be silenced if ever I forget you, Zion!”

The priests’ and deacon’s vestments’ and perhaps the sanctuary decoration probably will be of a rose color, rather than that of violet or purple for the rest of Lent.

But today’s readings are a reflection on God’s generosity, God’s forgiveness. God’s constant, loving care of his people.

The first reading from Chronicles 36:14-23 outlines the infidelity, the sins of Judah and even the priests; they polluted the temple.

But early and often did God send messengers and prophets to try to get them to turn from their evil ways. Then they were carried off in captivity to Babylon.

But even then the Lord had mercy. A new King came to Persia—Cyrus—and he let the Jewish people return to their homes and actually helped them rebuild their temple.

The message of this first reading is renewal and forgiveness. God will continue making loving, merciful overtures toward sinners early and often in our own time—toward those who are responsible for the evil the world is presently experiencing—toward those who cooperate in that evil in the hope of metanoia ~ real change of mind and heart.

We realize that God has made the ultimate overture in Jesus, incarnate, crucified and risen, in victory over sin and death.

In the Gospel from John 3: 14-21—our Scripture Scholar-friend William Barclay tell us that John goes back to a strange story in Numbers 21:4-9. On their journey through the wilderness the people murmured and complained and regretted that they had left Egypt. To punish them God sent them a plague of deadly fiery serpents; the people repented and cried for mercy. God instructed Moses to make a bronze image of a serpent and to hold it up and those who looked at it would be healed.

John took the old story and used it as a kind of parable for Jesus. He says, “The serpent was lifted up; men looked at; their thoughts were turned to God; and by the power of that God in whom they trusted they were healed. Even so Jesus must be lifted up; and when people turn their thoughts to him, and believe in him, they too will find eternal life.”

Barclay goes on—there’s a wonderful suggestive thing here: The verb to lift up is hupsuon. The strange thing is that it’s used of Jesus in two senses. It’s used of his being lifted up upon the Cross; and it’s used of his being lifted up into glory at the time of his ascension into heaven. It’s also used in Philippians 2:9. The lifting on the Cross and the lifting into glory are inextricably connected. It’s an unalterable law of life that if there’s no cross, there’s no crown.

In this opening sentence of today’s gospel, there’s the phrase “believes in Jesus.” Barclay suggests it means at least three things . . .

First. It means believing with all our hearts that God is as Jesus declared him to be. It means believing that God loves us, that God cares for us and wants nothing more than to forgive us.

It was not easy for a Jew to believe that. Jewish people looked on God as one who imposed laws upon their people and punished them if they broke them. They looked on God as a judge and on man as a criminal at his judgment seat. (In fact, I have known Catholics who have thought the same way! That they were going to hell for the even small peccadillos. I knew a lady once who thought her flatulence was a sin!) Jewish people looked on God as one who demanded sacrifices and offerings.

Second. How can we be sure that Jesus knew what he was talking about? What guarantee is there that this wonderful good news is true? We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that he knew God so well, was so close to God, was so one with God that he could tell us the absolute truth about him.

And Third. We believe that God is a loving Father because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and whatever he says about God is true. We must stake everything on the fact that what Jesus say is true and that whatever he commands we must do. When he tell us to cast ourselves on the mercy of God unreservedly that we must do.

The second phrase is eternal life. We have already seen that eternal life is the very life of God himself. So, if we possess eternal life, what do we have?

First, we have the peace of God. We are no longer cringing before a tyrannical judge. We are at home with our Father.

Second, it gives us peace with our fellow human beings. If we have been forgiven, we must be forgiving. It enables us to see others as God sees them. We become on human family.

Third, it gives us peace with life. If God is Father, God is working all things together for good. This a friendly universe!

Fourth, it gives us peace with ourselves. We are most afraid of what’s inside of us than anything else, it seems. We know our weaknesses, the force of our temptations, the tasks and demands of our own life. But now we know we are facing them with God and with his Son Jesus.

And finally, it makes us certain that the deepest peace on earth is only a shadow of the ultimate peace that is to come.

And so we come to probably the most quoted scripture passage in the world—John 3:16 in today’s gospel.

God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have everlasting life.

All great men have had their favorite texts, but this has been called “Everybody’s text.” It contains the essence of the gospel. Barclay says it tells us certain great things . . . .

First. It tell us that the initiative in all salvation lies with God. Sometimes preachers draw a picture of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle loving Jesus. But this text tells us that it was with God that it all started. It was God who sent his Son and he sent him because he loved humankind.

Second. It tells us that the root of God’s being is love. It’s easy to think of God as looking at us humans in our disobedience and rebellion and saying: “I’ll break them: I’ll discipline them and punish them and scourge them until they come back as in the Old Testament. It’s easy to think of God as seeking the allegiance of his subjects to satisfy his own desire for power. The tremendous thing about this text is it shows us God acting not for his own sake, not to satisfy his desire for power, not to bring the universe to heal, but to satisfy his love. God is not like an absolute monarch, (as many despotic government rulers today are) who treats each person as a subject to be reduced to abject obedience. God is the Father who cannot be happy until his wandering children have come home. God does not batter or bully them into submission; he yearns over them and woos them into love.

Third. It tells of the width of the love of God. It was the world that God so loved. It was not a nation; it was not the good people; it was not only the people who loved him; it was the world. The unlovable and unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, the person who loves God and the one who never thinks of God, the person who rests in the love of God and the one who spurns it—all are included in this vast inclusive love of God. As Augustine put it: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”

And now before you go, here’s a hymn sung in many churches that extols God’s love for us. Click here..

 And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here. 

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative writer

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – volume 1  revised edition /                                                   Westminster Press / Philadelphia / 1975 /pp.134-138.


The Cleansing of the Temple ~ Cleanse us too, O Lord!

The Third Sunday of Lent March 4, 2018

Once again, I rely heavily on our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay for his insights for today’s reflections. First of all, he notes that John after the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he and his friends returned for a short visit to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, and shortly after that he set out for Jerusalem to observe the Passover feast.

This, Barclay observes, is interesting in that John’s chronology of the life of Jesus is quite different from the other three gospels. In the others, Jesus is depicted as going to Jerusalem only once—the Passover feast in which he was crucified, the only visit to the holy city other than the one when he was a boy. But in John, Jesus makes frequent trips to Jerusalem, including three for Passover. Barclay notes there’s no real contradiction here—only different points of view.

Today’s Gospel story is about Jesus’ Cleansing the Temple. It could not have happened twice. He angered the Temple authorities so much that they had a warrant for his arrest. And this story is only in Chapter two of John’s gospel. Barclay notes that John is more interested in truth than in facts; he’s not writing a chronological biography of Jesus. He’s thinking back to the great prophecies of the coming of the Messiah: “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to the temple. For he is like the refiner’s fire, and the fuller’s soap . . . , and he will purify the sons of Levi. . . .till they present a right offering to the Lord.

Right at the beginning he shows us Jesus acting as God’s Messiah must act. And he did. His anger is a terrifying thing. He formed a scourge out of cords and moved through those selling oxen and sheep and doves and the -money-changers sitting at their tables and drove them all out of temple and said, “Take these away and stop making my Father’s house a house of trade.”

The Passover was the greatest of all Jewish feasts. The law stated that every adult male who lived within fifteen miles of the holy city must attend. Now here are some facts that shaped Jesus’ anger. Astonishingly, it’s likely 2.25 million Jews sometimes assembled in Jerusalem in those days for Passover. And there was a tax that every Jew over 19 must pay—the Temple tax. It was one half shekel. At that time, the value of a half shekel was about 6 cents. It was the equivalent of almost two days of working man’s wages. In Palestine all kinds of currency were valid—from Greece and Egypt and Tyre and Sidon and Palestine. But the Temple tax had to be paid The Jewish shekels; the foreign coins were considered unclean; they could be used to pay ordinary debts, but not debts to God.

So in the Temple courts sat the money-changers. If there trade had been straight forward, they would have been fulfilling an honest and necessary purpose. But they charged to change the money and they charged get their change. The poor pilgrims couldn’t win. The wealth that accrued from the Temple tax and from this and from this method of money-changing was—well—beyond belief.

It was estimated that the annual profit was about $100,00 for the Temple. And Barclay says that when Crasus captured Jerusalem in 54 B.C. he took from it $3,400,000 without coming near exhausting it.

What enraged Jesus was that pilgrims to the Passover who could ill afford it, were being fleeced at an exorbitant rate by the money-changers. It was a rampant and shameless social injustice—and what was worse it was being done in the name of religion.

Besides the money-changers, there were sellers of oxen and sheep and doves. Many pilgrims wanted to make a thank offering. Victims for the sacrifice could be bought in the temple court. But no. The law was that the animal had to be unblemished and, therefore, the Temple authorities set up appointed inspectors (muncheh) to examine the victims that were to be offered. The fee was 1 cent. If the worshipper bought the animal outside the Temple, of course, it would be rejected. A pair of doves would cost about 4 cents outside but 75 cents inside. Here again, was bare-faced extortion of the poor and humble pilgrims who, as Barclay says, were practically blackmailed into buying their victims in the Temple booths. It was that which moved Jesus into flaming anger. St. Jerome thinks that the very sight of Jesus made the whip unnecessary. A certain fiery and starry light shone from his eyes and the majesty of the Godhead gleamed in his face.

Now, Barclay suggests there are at least three reasons why Jesus acted as he did..

First, God’s house—his Father’s house, as he said in John’s gospel—was being desecrated. In the Temple, there was worship without reverence. Worship without reverence can be a terrible thing.

When I attend Mass once in a while I’ll find a priest who rushes through the Eucharistic Prayer in a distracted fashion—the most solemn part of the Mass, or who doesn’t say the words of Consecration reverently. I ache inside for the priest, for myself and for the people who are not being edified.

Second, Jesus acted as he did to show that animal sacrifice and all that went into it was completely irrelevant. For centuries the prophets were saying exactly that. “Bring no more vain offerings” (Isaiah 1:11). “They love sacrifices; they sacrifice flesh and eat it; but the Lord has no delight in them.” (Hosea 8:2:12-16).

Third. The Temple authorities were making the Court of the Gentiles into an uproar and a rabble where no man can pray. The lowing of the oxen, the bleating of the sheep, the cooing of the doves, the shouts of the hucksters, the rattle of the coins, the voices raised in bargaining disputes—all these combined to make the Court of the Gentiles a place where no one could worship. The conduct in the Temple court shut out the seeking Gentile from the presence of God. It may well be that this was most on Jesus’ mind. Jesus was moved to the depths of his heart because seeking pilgrims were being shut out from the presence of God. “Mark has Jesus say: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers  Mark 11:17).     

Bishop Robert Barron in a reflection in the Magnificat liturgical magazine for today’s gospel has this to say . . . .

The most fundamental vocation of human beings is to give God right praise. In this act of adoration we become rightly ordered in ourselves. Accordingly sin is the suspension of right praise., a turning of the heart toward creatures rather than the Creator, which results in the disintegration of self and of society. All of the institutions of Israel—law, covenant, prophecy and Temple—were intended to bring the nation back in line to make Israel a priestly people.

Hence, the corruption of the Temple represented much more than simply an issue of social or institutional injustice. It was the compromising of the identity of Israel. Jesus comes to restore God’s holy people to right praise—and to turn inside out and upside down all forms of false worship. Thus, as you contemplate the image of Jesus cleansing the Temple, ask yourself the following question, “Precisely what or whom do I worship?” 

As I conclude this reflection, I am reminded that St. Paul has told us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).  And so, I’ve added to our title, Cleanse us too, O Lord!  Bishop Barron suggested that we ask ourselves what or whom we worship?   In America today we have all kinds of idols besides the Creator and we treat our bodies as anything as the temple of the Holy Spirit that they are. 

So here is my prayer . . . .  

Jesus, I wonder what your disciples thought when they witnessed your blazing anger.

Some even today say it’s so out of character for you. 

Would that you would come into our world today and throw out those who hurt the poor! 

But I know that’s up to us to do, right?

But at least help me to form “right praise” and cast out the sin in my life.

Yes. Jesus, this is one more instance of  “the Jesus I know and love.”  

(Ya know, I never thought about your anger before.) 

And before you go, here’s a Lenten hymn for you.Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. This is a song by John Michael Talbot

And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – volume 1 revised edition /                                                                       The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975 /pp. 107 – 114.

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Have you been to the mountain?


The Second Sunday of Lent ~ February 25, 2018

Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a mountaintop and there they have ~ well ~ a “peak” experience extraordinaire. 

I’d like to begin once again with some notes from Scripture scholar William Barclay. He says that tradition has it that this event took place on Mount Tabor but it’s no more than 1,000 feet high. Barclay suggests it’s more likely, that the transfiguration event took place on snow-covered Mount Hermon that’s 9,400 feet high where there would be more solitude.

Then he explains the significance of the cloud. In Jewish thought, God’s presence is regularly connected with the cloud. It was in the cloud that Moses met God. It was in the cloud that God came to the tabernacle. Here, the descent of the cloud was a way of saying the Messiah had come. All the gospel writers speak of luminous cloud which overshadowed them. All through history the luminous cloud stood for the shechinah, which was nothing less than the glory of the Almighty God.  In Exodus,  we read of the pillar of fire that was to lead the people away from their slavery.  “And the cloud  covered the tent of meeting and glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34)

The transfiguration has a two-fold significance,

First, it did something significant for Jesus. He had made the decision to go to Jerusalem, which meant facing the Cross and his death. On the mountain he received the approval of Moses and Elijah. They basically said, “Go on!” And he received the wonderful affirmation of his Father, who basically said, “You are acting as my own beloved Son should and must act. Go on!”

Secondly, it did something significant for the disciples. They were shattered that he was going to Jerusalem to die. Things were happening that were breaking their heart. What they experienced with Jesus on the mountain, even though they didn’t understand, gave them something to hold on to. It made them witnesses to the glory of Christ; they had a story they could hold in their hearts until the time came when they could share it.

Now here are my reflections . . . .  .

It’s a great story.  It contrasts with last week’s story of Jesus in the desert when he was tempted by the devil.  Today Jesus is receiving a wonderful affirmation.

Peter, James and John are genuinely high in this morning’s gospel story.  First, they’re on a mountain – that’s exhilarating already, and secondly, they see Jesus transfigured before them in dazzling glory. This is a wonderful spiritual high, lest you get the wrong idea.  For Peter, James and John, this is as good a high as it gets – seeing the Son of God in his true glory.  They’re blown away.

Peter, speaking for all of them, wants to stay there, at least, a while longer.  But it doesn’t happen.  They have to come back down from the mountain.  We might say they had to return to reality, but that’s not accurate. The vision of Jesus in brilliant light was reality too.  It wasn’t imaginary. It wasn’t an illusion. It was a real moment in their lives.

We experience wholesome highs, too.  A particularly rewarding achievement, an especially fulfilling moment in a relationship ~ a time when, for whatever reason, the world is bright, life makes sense, and most of the pieces of our lives fit together.

Such a moment can happen in our spiritual life, too.  A retreat or some other spiritual experience can send us soaring.  At such moments, we may feel the immense joy of God’s love and an intense personal affirmation .  But the experience inevitably fades.  We “come back to reality.”  But, again, that’s not accurate.  The spiritual high was also reality; it becomes folded into the rest of our life, like salt that gives zests to the taste of food.

Imagine that you are in Jesus’ company, along with Peter James and John as they are climbing the mountain.  You are about to have your own mountain top experience.

Perhaps you’ve lived in a valley all your life or are pretty much confined to the view that four walls bring you.

In the valleys, your view is limited; you cannot see either the sunrise or the sunset.  On a mountain top, your horizon gets expanded.  You can look far into the distance and see the sunrise if you are looking east, or the sunset if you are looking west.  Life in a valley can be boring, dull, monotonous.  Life as viewed from a mountain top can be exhilarating and engaging.

You may never have a mountain top experience like Peter, James and John have had.  Even ONE mountain top experience  ~ one “peak experience” as Abraham Maslow likes to call them can be life-changing.

Any close encounter with God can be life-changing.  I remember one I had in 1976.

I was making a private retreat.  My retreat director assigned me a scripture on which to meditate.  I was to take a full hour to reflect on the  account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert from the gospel of Mark.  Nothing came the first time.  Nor the second.  The third one connected. One brief experience (it lasted only about 15 minutes) has changed my relationship with Jesus forever. 

I had the experience that Jesus was quite close to me; in the meditation I got close enough to wrestle with him.  Yes, wrestle with him!  If that happened in my mind’s eye,  then it was and is possible to think of myself very often as that close to Jesus.  (I felt quite certain that I did not conjure it up because I never would have dreamed of myself in that situation with our Lord.)

How about you ~ have you ever had a peak experience?  Have you had more than one?  Then you understand what I am talking about.  You know that such moments can be life-changing.

What does it take to have a peak experience?

It can happen just in the faculty of our imagination ~or a dream ~ that special place inside us where we can be led to new and wonderful things, things never seen before.

It requires openness ~ a sense of adventure, a willingness to leave our comfortable place to climb a mountain.

Now imagine that you are accompanying Jesus and Peter, James and John as they climb the mountain . . . .  And you see Jesus become radiant.  Dazzling.  Incredibly beautiful in his appearance ~ his face, his hands his hair, his robe.

And then hear the Voice from above proclaim to you and the others:

“This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.  Listen to him.”

How would you feel?  Would you be  afraid?  Would you be filled with joy?  Would you fall to the ground in worship?

Let’s focus on one point of the story.

Jesus received a tremendous affirmation from his heavenly Father who was heard saying,  “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”

This was a moment of affirmation for Jesus.  Surely he needed it; he could feel the weight of his mission upon his shoulders.  He had an intuition that his life would enter upon tremendous suffering and that death was soon awaiting him.  He also received affirmation from Moses and Elijah and then, Peter, James and John, in turn, were affirmed that their choice to follow him was essentially correct.

How about you — how often do you receive affirmation?

How often does your spouse or a friend or your boss praise you for something that you did or for who you are?  Probably not very often. How often do you have a sense that God is affirming you?

Affirmation is very important.  It was important for Jesus; and it is important for you and me. Bishop Robert Barron, writing a commentary for today’s Gospel in the Magnificat liturgical magazine, said that what Christianity was all about was deification. The Fathers of the Church were fond of saying God became man that man might become God.  

And that one readily thinks of this theme when one meditates on the Transfiguration of the Lord. For one brief shining moment on the mountain, God revealed the transfigured humanity that will mark the denizens of heaven beautiful, elevated, dazzling, outside the confines of space and time. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the Transfiguration is meant to give all followers of Christ, making their way through the difficulties of life, a burst of hope. Deification is what awaits us, proclaims our evangelizing bishop!

As I conclude, I encourage you to make the intention to be open to joyous experience of your own when such moments come.  When they come, embrace them ~ accept them.  Try not to resist or deny them as many of us do.  Surrender to the moment and experience it as deeply and richly as you can.

I pray for God’s affirmation for each of you.  Hear him say: “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.

Now give someone a really good affirmation before the day is over.  And, before you go, here’s a wonderful hymn to give to honor our Lord “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Click here.

the Gospel of Mark Revised Edition / The Daily Study Bible Series / William Barclay

The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 209-11.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

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The Fidelity of Jesus ~ May we be faithful too!


The First Sunday of Lent ~The Fidelity of Jesus ~ February 18, 2018

This is a story about fidelity in the face of temptation.

This is a story about the Jesus I know and love.

Before I get into my own thoughts on this important opening story in the life of our Lord, I’d like to share some notes from our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay.

He says that the word to tempt in Greek peirazein has a different emphasis than its English counterpart. We always think of tempting as something bad. But peirazein has a different emphasis; it means to test.

One of the great Old Testament stories makes this clear. Remember how Abraham narrowly escaped sacrificing his only son Isaac?  God was testing him, not tempting him!

So, with Jesus, this whole incident was not so much a tempting as the testing of Jesus.

We have to note further where this test took place. The inhabited part of Judea stood on a central plateau that was the backbone of southern Palestine.  Between it and the Dead Sea stretched a terrible wilderness, thirty-five by fifteen miles.  It was called Jeshimmon, which means “the Devastation.”  The hills were like dust-heaps; the limestones looked blistered and peeling; the rocks bare and jagged, with heat like a vast furnace and ran out to the precipices. 1,200 feet high, that plunged down to the Dead Sea. It was in that awesome devastation that Jesus was tempted or rather the Father was shaping him ~ testing his mettle ~ for his mission.

Then there are these other points to take note .  .  .  .

First, all three gospel writers seem to stress the immediacy with which the temptations follow the baptism.  As Mark has it, “The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness.” (Mark 1:12).  Barclay suggests to us that we do well to be on guard when life brings us to the heights that that’s when we’re in the gravest danger of a fall.

Second, we should not regard this experience of Jesus as an outward experience. It was a struggle that went on in his own heart and mind and soul.  The proof is that there is no possible mountain from which all the mountains of the earth could be seen. This is an inner struggle.

It is through our inmost thoughts and desires that the tempter comes to us. His attack can be so real that we almost see the devil.

(Pope Francis in the meditation in the Magnificat liturgical magazine was saying that Christian life is a battle. And then cautioned when someone said “you’re so old-fashioned; the devil doesn’t exist, “Watch out! The devil exists. We must learn how to battle him in the 21st Century. And must not be naïve. We must learn from the Gospel how to battle him.”)

Three, Barclay goes on, we must not think that Jesus conquered the tempter and that the tempter never came to him again.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. In Christian warfare, says Barclay as well as Pope Francis, there is no release.  Some people think they should get beyond that stage; Jesus himself never did, even in his last hour in Gethsemane.

Four, one thing stands out about this story—these temptations could only come to a person who had special powers and knew he had them.  We are always tempted through our gifts.  We can use our gifts for selfish purposes or we can use them in the service of others.

Five, the source must have been Jesus himself. He was alone in the wilderness.  No one was with him in his struggle, so he must have told his men about it.

We must always approach this story with unique and utmost reverence, for it is laying bare his inmost heart and soul.

The story of Jesus moving into the desert this year, of course this year, is from the Gospel of Mark, and it’s very short; in fact it’s only sentence long. It has no dialogue between Jesus and the devil as Matthew and Luke do. But h

Here’s what Barclay has to say. I will add two  comments from the Magnificat liturgical magazine, and then I will fill in with the prose piece I wrote many a year ago . . .  So here are Barclay’s comments . . . .

No sooner than Jesus is has been immersed in his own baptism by John the Jordan River and basks for a moment in that glory that the battle of temptations begins.

Mark tells us that  the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness for his testing time. The very Spirit that came upon him during his baptism.

In this life it’s impossible to escape the assault of temptations; but they’re not sent to make us fail. They’re sent to strengthen the nerve and our sinews of the mind and heart and souls. They’re not meant for our ruin, but for our good.

The Lord once found his people in a wilderness, a wasteland of howling desert (Dt 32:10) That’s where we first find Jesus and that’s where he first finds us—in a wasteland of sorrow, confusion, suffering, sin. Magnificat

Barclay gives the example of a football player who is showing signs of real promise. The manager isn’t going to put on the third team where he’ll hardly break a sweat, but on the first team where he’ll be tested and have a chance to prove himself.

That’s what temptation is meant to do—to enable us to prove our strength of character and to emerge stronger for the fight.

From this episode, our first lesson should be that human life on earth is a life of warfare and the first thing Christians must expect is to be tempted by the devil. Reading in the Gospel that Jesus was tempted right after he was baptized, they will not grow fainthearted and fearful if they experience keener temptations from the temptations from the devil after their conversion or baptism than before—even if persecution should be their lot. Magnificat

And then there’s this: Forty days is not to be taken literally. It’s the regular Hebrew phrase for a considerable period of time. Moses was said to be on the mountain with God for forty days.

And it was Satan that tempted Jesus.. The word Satan in Hebrew means adversary.

The other title for Satan is the Devil: the word comes from the Greek diabolos, which literally means a slanderer. It’s a small step from the thought of one who searches for everything that can be said against a man (adversary) to the thought of one who maliciously and deliberately slanders man in the presence of God.

In the New Testament, we learn that it is the Devil or Satan human disease and suffering. It is the devil who seduces Judas. It is the devil who is destined for the final destruction.

And I wrote this many years ago. . . .

This is a story about earth-shaking silence that bore the sound of deafening harsh voices and one soft and gentle voice Who sent Jesus among us so we could know we had a father/God who loves us with an everlasting love.

This is a story of confrontation and testing.

Dramatic confrontation with the elements–blinding sun and penetrating darkness, blistering wind and numbing cold, impassioned hunger and parching thirst.

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to pray and to fast.

There, he would shape his mission.  He was searching for the answer of the question:  What kind of spiritual leader would he be?

There, he was also tempted by the devil, who sought him to distort that mission.

The soft voice of the Father to whom he was so devoted, the voice that was the source and object of all his fidelity, each one of us should train ourselves to hear.

And then learn . . . day after day after day to love . . . more deeply . . . more intimately . . . more really–the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the Jesus I know and love.

And I ask him to teach me the gentle ways of the Father.  Through Jesus, may we be faithful too!

Mark finishes with two vivid touches.

First. The beasts were his companions. In the desert there roamed the leopard, the bear, the wild boar and the jackal. This is usually taken to be a vivid detail of the grim terror of the scene. But perhaps here not so. Perhaps it is meant that the beasts were Jesus’ friends. Remember, Francis of Assisi befriended animals as well.

Second. The angels were helping him. There are ever divine reinforcements in the hour of trial. Jesus was not left alone—and neither are we.

And then Mark adds two verses. . .  Mark 1:14,15

After John had been arrested, 
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Barclay gives a brief outline of the content of the “Good News ” (the Gospel.)

1) It is the good news of truth.

Job: “O that I knew where I might find him.”

Marcus Aurelius said that the soul can see but dimly and the word he uses in Greek is for seeing through water.

2) It is good news of peace.

The penalty of being a human person is to have a split personality—beast and angel strangely intermingled. Schopenhauer, the gloomy philosopher was found wandering. He was asked, “Who are you?” “I wish you could tell me,” he answered.

3) It is the good news of promise.

It’s true that men had often thought of rather of God threats than of God of promises. Isn’t it so that non-Christian religions think of a demanding God while on Christianity tells of a God more ready to give than we are to ask?

4) It is a good news of immortality.

To the pagan, life was the road to death; man was characteristically a dying man, but Jesus came with good news that we are on the way to life rather than death.

5.) It is good news of salvation.

That salvation is not merely a negative thing; it is also positive. It is not simply liberation from penalty and escape from past sin; it is the power to live life victoriously and to conquer sin. The message of Jesus is good news indeed.

6) There is the word repent.

The Greek word metanoia literally means change of mind. We are very apt to confuse sorrow for the consequences of sin and sorrow for sin. Many a person is desperately sorry because he has made a mess that he has got himself into, if he could be reasonably sure he could escape the consequences, he would do the same thing again. It’s not the sin he hate, it’s the consequences.

Real repentance means that a man has come, to hate the son itself.

7) And finally, there is the word Believe.

“Believe,” says Jesus. “in the good news.”

To believe in the good news simply means to take Jesus at his word. To believe that God is the kind of God that Jesus has told us about. To believe that God so loves the world that he will make any sacrifice to bring us back to himself. To believe that what sounds too good to be true is really true.

And now, before you go, here’s  a song I’ve always loved with a lovely slide show ~ On Eagles’ Wings.  Click here.  It’s the text of Psalm 91 that says, For He will give His angels charge over you, To guard you in all your ways.”  Remember to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are today’s Mass readings, if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of Mark / Westminster Press Philadelphia / 1975 / pp. 21-26.

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The Jesus I know and love ~ And I want You to know him too!

Thursday after Ash Wednesday, February 16, 2018

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

In the first reading, Moses says:

“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. 

Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

Now here are my thoughts on Moses’ address to his people.  One often hears the words Choose Life as a Pro-Life message.  That’s important, but we’re invited to choose life again and again, every day.  This Lent is an acceptable time to choose the life that affirms and nourishes us and to deliver ourselves from the dysfunctional communication and game-playing within our own home that damage the souls of our spouses and our children.  

Let’s choose Life this day in the way we speak to and about the folks we meet today.

Choice is an act of the will, the highest power of the human person.  We need to choose our words carefully.  To preside over ~ take responsibility for what comes out of our mouths.  To realize our words create life or death.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says,

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must take up his cross daily and follow me. 

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?  (Luke 9: 22-25)

My reflection: Jesus gives us a koan here. That’s a Zen word  for a riddle given to a student to mull over until the the student gets the insight.

Try to get into it this Lent. Ponder its meaning for you right now. Copy it on a card and repeat it often until you get it.

Jesus’ message is So counter-cultural.  In our society people do anything to avoid the smallest bit of pain. There are even numbing pads so that you don’t feel it when you prick your finger for the Accu-check  for diabetes.  And we avoid emotional pain by not thinking through our problems. Some folks do this by getting a hasty divorce to run away from our problems or by dumping a girlfriend who no longer suits us via way of a cruel text message.

Lent places before us the Cross of Jesus and his loving embrace of it as our Savior, yes, but also as a model for us. He willingly stretched out his arms to be nailed. Jesus knew he would have to face a lot of suffering on his journey.  He knew  he would make people angry by proclaiming the truth he saw in his heart.  He knew that it would lead him to death, but he never strayed from the road to Jerusalem.

The issue is Acceptance of whatever life calls us to. Jesus  accepted the Cross because he chose to be faithful to his mission.

He was a person of absolute integrity.  No one was going to dissuade him from being who he was.

This is the Jesus I know and love:  The one who has the strength to love, no matter what.   He’s my Lord, my Savior, my mentor, if you will.  I would like very much to be like that.  How ’bout you?

Tomorrow we begin to reflect on Jesus’ forty-day retreat into the desert’ (the Mass text for this coming Sunday) to prepare for his mission. Now before you go, here’s Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie singing  the old hymn “Jesus walked the lonesome valley” Click here.

And here are today’s Mass readings if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

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Ashes to ashes, dust to dust ~ Can we rise again?

Ash Wednesday 2018

Dear Friends,

Ash Wednesday is upon us once again. Easter is early this year ~ Sunday April 1st.

So, you may ask ~ what are ashes all about?

We Catholics like symbols.  (So does Harry Potter.)

What can they tell us about life? And death?  And reality?

When the priest smears ashes on the penitent’s forehead he says one of two poignant phrases:



So, it’s a sign of humility, a sign that we are part of the earth, that we are dust.

Are we to reflect and ask ~ Are we just dust?

Have made an ash-heap of our life

Are we sitting in an ash-heap?

Is there nothing but ruin, smoldering embers around us?

If so, do we despair?

Or can we dream of re-building?

Whether or not, the answers to these questions apply to us literally, it is important to humble ourselves before our God.

They could very well be true at any moment of our life.

I certainly can say ~ There but for the grace of God go I.

I was searching for a song about ashes and I found one by the Rock group Rev Theory in their song The Fire. 

Here’s an excerpt of the lyrics; they seem to know this:

Tell me that I’m hopeless
Tell me I’m a lost and wayward son
Tell me that I’m callous
Tell me that our life is too forgone

So take a breath and brace yourself

Tell me I’m a lost soul
Tell me I’ve one foot in the grave
Tell me that I’m shallow
Tell me it’s enough to keep you awake

So take a breath and brace yourself

Coz tonight this could be the last chance before we die
Can we rise again from the ashes?
In this final moment
Is the fire still alive?

Notice these guys are dealing with the same issues here.

Of  being lost; of needing a change.  And, amazingly, they use the metaphor of ashes and ask if the fire is still alive.

What is the fire for them?  Love?  Creativity?  The Holy Spirit perhaps?

But for us,  Lent is a season of hope that ends in new life, in risen life.

It’s a time to TURN AROUND ~ to make a U-turn ~ when we realize our life has gone in the wrong direction.

That’s what the word conversion means.  To simply do a U-turn.

Turn around and head in a different direction.

To get going again.

To CHANGE, so you don’t keep on doing the same old thing and expect different results. 

It doesn’t do a Catholic much good who show up on Ash Wednesday, get a smudge of ashes on their forehead without the slightest intention of doing what they symbolize:  CHANGE.

And so, dear friend, don’t just give up something  for Lent. Get at the root of your life where you need to look at the real stuff.

I invite you to go deeper into the practice of your faith.

Make the sign Mean Something!

Let it transform you from inside out.

The question is:  Do we ~ you and I ~ have the COURAGE TO CHANGE?

So, let’s do Lent well ~ together.

During Lent, be ready to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Find out who this Jesus is ~ for you.

And what wisdom he has to offer us that will help us to change and enrich our lives for the better.

It seems Rev Theory are on their way to it already.

Whether you are  Catholic or not, perhaps you will find some wisdom,

some meaning for your life in these pages.  Join us as we walk the journey together

as Jesus did ~ through suffering to death to new and risen life these six weeks of Lent 2018.

God of  pardon and of love,

Mercy past all measure,

You alone can grant us peace,

You, our holy treasure.  

Now here’s Rev Theory’s ~ The Fire  Click Here. Be sure to enter full screen but if you’re not used to rock music DON”T turn up your speakers. 

And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer  

Thursday~ The Jesus I know and Love