Take up your cross and follow me!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent 2021

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.

During this past year so many of us came to understand this.  The New York Times this past week and the Washington Post offered articles showing how much has changed in American life during the past year. Many or most of us have indeed surrendered to the Pandemic and the changes it has wrought in our lives. 

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 used to walk  my dog Shoney, of happy memory, he was always on the hunt for chicken bones that our lawn-mower guys leave behind in the grass. Do you think I could get him to let go of one of the bones once he finds one? I was the one that used to do the surrendering ~ even though it was 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. Amen

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 us?

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.

We surrender our failure to spend time in prayer with the Lord.

We surrender our failure to offer true care and support to one another. 

We surrender all our character defects, particularly our refusal to grow spiritually.

We surrender our cynicism and lack of trust.

Our poor self-esteem and failure to love and love and accept ourselves.

We surrender our resentments.

We our sins and our tendency to do evil. 

But we also surrender all the beautiful loving moments of our lives ~ all those who have helped us grow and blossom ~ all our loving relationships.

“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

 

 

 

Have you been to the mountain?

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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

The King became utterly poor for you and me!

palm_sunday-1

Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

April 9, 2017

Dear Friends,

All is ready now for the final days of our Lenten journey with Jesus.   The drama of the Paschal Mystery will  be re-enacted  once again in  parishes throughout the world.  I have loved the liturgy of Holy Week since I was a boy and in this blog I hope I can share that love with you.    We’ll go deep here.  Please take time to reflect.  Come with me now, won’t you?

Jesus entered the holy city Jerusalem on a humble beast of burden ~ himself burdened with the sins of the world, Here’s the Gospel story that precedes the blessing of palms and the procession into the church . . . .

When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem
and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, 
Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, 
“Go into the village opposite you, 
and immediately you will find an ass tethered,
and a colt with her.
Untie them and bring them here to me.
And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, 
‘The master has need of them.’
Then he will send them at once.”
This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet 
might be fulfilled:
Say to daughter Zion,
“Behold, your king comes to you,
meek and riding on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them.
They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, 
and he sat upon them.
The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, 
while others cut branches from the trees 
and strewed them on the road.
The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
And when he entered Jerusalem 
the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?”
And the crowds replied, 
“This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

William Barclay, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar I’ve been referencing, notes, what Jesus was about to do was a deliberate, planned action on his part:  this would begin the last act in the drama of his life.

This was not a spur of the moment decision. He had told his disciples exactly where to find the ass and the colt; they were waiting for him.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem. He was to be acknowledged as king. He came humbly riding on an ass. Barclay says we must be careful to see the real meaning of this. In western lands the ass is a despised beast; but in the east the ass could be a noble animal. Often a king came riding into his city upon an ass, indicating that he came in peace. The horse was the mount of war. Jesus showed that he came not to destroy, but to love; not to condemn, but to help, not in the might of arms, but in the strength of love.

The whole city of Jerusalem was awash with visitors in preparation for the Passover at this moment.  Barclay also notes that thirty years later a Roman governor had taken a census of the number of lambs slain for Passover and found the number to be about a quarter of a million. Now, Passover regulations stated that a party with a minimum of ten people were required for each lamb which meant that there were about two and a half million people in Jerusalem at the time Jesus entered the holy city!

The crowd receives Jesus like a king.  They spread their cloaks in front of him.  They cut down and waved palm branches (and that is why we bless and distribute palms and this day is known universally as Palm Sunday.)

They greeted him as they would a pilgrim, Barclay notes: “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.” 

They shouted, “Hosanna!”  The word means, “Save now!” and that was a cry that a people addressed to their king or their god.   (Interesting ~ I didn’t know that!)

So, we see that Jesus action here was planned and deliberate, similar to those of the prophets of old who would put their message into a dramatic act that people could not fail to see or understand.  Jesus action here was clearly a Messianic claim, or at least when a few days later he would be the cleanser of the Temple, an even more dramatic act in which he was to rid the Temple of the abuses that defiled it and its worship.

To conclude, then, Barclay had made three points about this story . . .

+  It shows Jesus’ courage.  He knew he was entering a hostile city.  All through his last days, in his every action is there is a “magnificent and sublime defiance” –“a flinging down the gauntlet.”

+  It shows us his claim to be God’s Messiah, God’s Anointed One. And the cleanser of the temple.

+  It shows us his appeal–not a kingship of the throne, but a kingship of the heart.

In today’s liturgy, when the procession reaches the altar inside the church, and the people settle into the pews, the mood of the liturgy radically changes dramatically. It becomes somber as the ministers at the altar and the congregation prepare for the solemn reading of the Passion—this  year from the Gospel of Matthew, that’s usually proclaimed with several voices.  But I’d like to reflect a moment on the New Testament reading from Philippians 2:1-11 that precedes it because it captures the essence of the meaning of this day . . . .

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Johannes Metz wrote a little book Poverty of Spirit, in which he says . . .

Have we really understood the impoverishment that Christ endured?

Everything was taken from him during the passion, even the love that drove him to the cross . . .

His heart gave out and a feeling of utter helplessness came over him. Truly he emptied himself . . . He became utterly poor. [Thus] he accepted our humanity, he took on and endured our lot, he stepped down from his divinity.

He came to us where we really are ~ with all our broken dreams and lost hopes, with the meaning of existence slipping through our fingers. He came and stood with us, struggling with his whole heart to have us say ‘yes’ to our innate poverty. [God’s faithfulness] to us is what gives us the courage to be true to ourselves. And the legacy of God’s total commitment to humankind, the proof of God’s fidelity to our poverty, is the Cross.

[The Cross is the sacrament, the sign] that one human being remained true to his own humanity, that he accepted it in full obedience.”

Thus each of us has the opportunity to embrace our own poverty, or as I have been saying in Arise for the past two years we have the opportunity to accept whatever brokenness shows up in our own lives and find the treasure buried within. But this goes against the grain for us in American life. We are told to keep up with the Joneses. And so we strive for power, prestige, possessions.

“Poverty of spirit is the meeting point of heaven and earth,

the mysterious place where God and humanity encounter each other,

the point where infinite mystery meets concrete existence.”

And now, here’s my prayer . . . .

Lord Jesus, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week once again.

We raise our palms,

Lord Jesus, here we are, once again, singing our Hosannas!

We listen to the story of your sacred passion and death.

And now we learn that You really meant it!  

You weren’t just pretending to be human;

You immersed Yourself in our misery,

You got down in the muck with us

~ accepting it all, even death on a cross.  

Jesus, help us to embrace our humility,

our poverty, our brokenness, our share in Your cross.  

May this Holy Week truly be holy for us

so that we too will rise again with You to new life

and receive anew the gift of the Spirit.  

To You, Lord Jesus, be glory and honor forever! Amen.

Before you go, dear friends, here is a beautiful song, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Click here. Be sure to enter full screen. 

Have a fruitful Holy Week.  I will publish again throughout the week. 

Here are the today’s Mass readings. Click here. To get back to this page, go to the top left corner of your computer screen, click on  the  < back arrow, and you’ll be right back here. I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire passion story according to Luke.  I have also provided you a commentary on this gospel (and also the other readings), if you’d like to reflect on them further. Click here.

Acknowledgements  Johannes Baptist Metz Poverty of Spirit / Translated by John Drury / Paulist Press / New York / Mahwah, NJ / 1968, 1998

William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Matthew- Volume 2                                                                                 The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 238 – 243.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

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Unbind us, Lord! Let us go free!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent ~ March 29, 2020

John the Evangelist has still another incredible story of a three-part series used by the church to show us how Jesus wants to be for us: He is the One who unbinds our shackles ~ calls us forth from the tombs of our lives and offers us new and risen life!  When? For all eternity – Yes!  But also right here, right now ~ especially when all of us are affected by this terrible coronavirus crisis! 

(Also see the two previous posts for the first two stories “A thirsty man meets a thirsty woman (John, Chapter 4)  and “You light up my life” John, Chapter 9).  There are marvelous lessons for believers and unbelievers alike here. You’ll find them on the top right column of the blog.)  The images I use here are of a statue interpreting the unbinding of Lazarus on the grounds of the Diocese of Lake Charles Retreat Center in Lake Charles, LA.  I title them: “Addictions.”

Before I offer my own reflections on this precious Gospel text of St. John, I’d like to begin, as I usually do with some notes by our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay . . . .

Jesus often went to the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha at Bethany to rest from the tensions of his life—to “hang out” with them and just relax for a while. (You might note that the word ‘Bethany’ is often used for Retreat Centers for that reason.)

The sisters sent a note to Jesus that simply was a request to come to Bethany, knowing he would come. Barclay notes that the word Lazarus means God is my help.

The sisters sent a note to Jesus that simply was a request to come to Bethany, knowing he would come. Barclay notes that the word Lazarus means God is my help.

But he stayed away several days before going up to Bethany.

Martha was the first to go out to meet him, but Mary lingered behind. Martha spoke half with reproach that she could not keep back, and half with a faith that nothing could shake. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And Jesus, replied, “Your brother will rise again.”

Barclay tells us that one of the strangest things in scripture is the fact the saints of the Old Testament had practically no belief in any real life after death. In the early days the Hebrews believed that the soul of every man, good or bad alike went to Sheol. Sheol is wrongly translated Hell; for it was not a place of torture, it was the land of shades. All alike went there and they lived in a vague, shadowy, joyless ghostlike kind of life. “In death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give you praise? (Psalm 6:5)

In the days of Jesus, the Pharisees and the majority of Jews did believe in some kind of afterlife, but the Sadducees refused to do so.

Then our Scripture scholar comments on Jesus’ display of emotion at the tomb of Lazarus.

“When he saw the Jews who had come with her weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit, so that an involuntary groan burst from him, and he trembled with deep emotion.”

Barclay says this one of the most precious things in the gospel. So deeply did Jesus enter into people’s sorrows that his heart was wrung with anguish.

John was writing in Greek for Greeks for whom the primary characteristic of god was what they called apatheia, which means total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever.

They argued that if we can feel sorrow are joy, then that person can have an effect on us. Now, if that person can have an effect on us, that means for the moment that they can have power over us.. No one can have power over God, and that means that means that God is essentially incapable of feeling any emotion whatsoever.

What a different picture Jesus gives us. The greatest thing that Jesus did was to bring us the news of a God who cares.

But there’s a problem . . .

In the other three gospels there are stories of Jesus raising people from the dead: Jairus’ daughter in Matthew, Mark and Luke. The raising of the widow’s son at Nain in Luke. In both cases, the raising occurred immediately after death, suggesting that they could have been in a coma.

Secondly, in the other three gospels, there is no account, not even a mention on the raising of Lazarus. If it actually happened how could they possibly omit it? Barclay goes on to elucidate this problem thoroughly.

But then he resolves it by telling a story of a young marine who came to faith after living a life of sin and nearly despairing, he read this story, and it brought him back to Christ.

And now, it’s time for my own reflections, dear reader . . .

As you read this story,  picture it.  Get into it.  And I will add a few reflections of my own along the way.  Here’s  an edited version of the NRSV version.  Cf. the following link for the complete text: John 11:1-45.

NOW a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”

I can muse that  You, Jesus often went to the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus.  You probably went there to  “let your hair down.”  To get away from the crowds — even Your chosen  and sometimes unruly band of  Twelve who often didn’t  “get” what You were about.  I muse that You sometimes felt quite alone even among them.   But You really seem to enjoy the three siblings’ company.  You could be who You were, without pressure, without demand.  You could simply “be.”   And Your three friends were very comfortable with You as well.  (Remember the story in Luke 10:38-42 when he came for dinner?)

Lord, help us to find friends who accept us as we are — warts and all —  with whom we don’t have to pretend to be someone / something we’re not.  Where we can learn and be encouraged to bind our wounds and become whole.  I thank you for the people in my life who are “there” for me when I need them.

But when Jesus got the note from Martha, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory.

Lord, You have enabled me  to realize, that illness and difficult times can end in glory for those who persevere ~ who trust ~ who are willing to understand what such crosses will teach us. 

Lord, help us to see the glory hiding in the dark places of our lives. . . .

Though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Lord, help us to grow into patience — to wait.  To wait for God’s time for things.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”  [ . . . . ] “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”

How many of  us have fallen asleep to the reality of our lives?  Jesus, help me to WAKE UP! and really see and accept the reality of my life — both the good and the bad.  And the reality of what’s going on in our nation and our world.

[. . . .] When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Lord Jesus, I hear you saying this to ME.  As a priest I have consoled many who wept at the death of their own loved ones.  And throughout my own long years  of illness, these words consoled me.  Somehow, I realized that, even on this side of the grave, You have granted me new and risen life again and again. 

She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Yes, Lord, You are the One who is my Friend / my Beloved / my Redeemer / my Shepherd and Companion on my life’s journey!

When Martha had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.

Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

In those few words I feel her grief, Lord  . . . and a bit of a reprimand: “Why weren’t You here?”

How often as a priest have I heard people say that!

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

Jesus, as I (we) reflect on this story, help us to feel / to sense / to realize that it is your humanness / Your humanity that saves us:  You are one like us!

He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

Jesus began to weep.

Lord, You always weep with and for Your friends . . . and the folks who do not know You are waiting for the touch of your friendship.

You cry — even now — over the state of our world.  I know.  I often cry with you!

So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Jesus, I praise You that You were not afraid to express Your love to other men, especially to the young beloved disciple who leaned on Your breast at the Last Supper (John 21:20).

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus, You always worked in an atmosphere of hostility.  There were always people around who hated You because you loved.  And teach others to do the same.  In these later days of Lent as we approach the celebration of Your passion, death and resurrection — this year — may we be soberly aware that it was the religious leaders who had you killed. Something for us to ponder even today.  Are we for You or against You?  Are we on the side of Love or Hate?

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

Jesus, I know many who have heavy stones laying across devastated lives.  Particularly my friends  who have lain in the tomb of addiction.  I know families who weep and worry over the death of the spirits of their loved ones.

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

There are always consequences to devastated lives.  They’re always hard to repair.

Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

. . . . but Jesus reminds us  to always to have hope in the ones we love — even when matters seem hopeless.

So they took away the stone. And Jesus [. . . . .] cried with a loud voice, “LAZARUS COME OUT!”

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.

Jesus said to them,

“Unbind him, and let him go.”

I have come to realize, Lord, that coming out of our tombs is only the beginning of recovery.  Resurrection takes a long time.We need others to unbind us.  And I thank you for the people who have helped to unbind me ~ especially You, Lord!

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

May we come to deepen OUR faith in You, Lord, and realize that as we stay close to You, You will unbind us and let us go free to new and risen life and love!

 
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ!
Now here is the song “He will raise you up on eagle’s wings” Click here. by Michael Joncas   sung at my parents’ funeral and so many others I had the honor of presiding at.  We Catholics truly believe that we will live forever!
 And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.

 

the garden on the edge of the bayou in which the statue is placed

 

With love,
Bob Traupman
contemplative writer
 
This post is dedicated to the young men for whom I’ve  prayed and their parents: May they be unbound from the shackles of their addictions and have a new and risen life.

 

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.  From the oremus Bible Browser http://bible.oremus.org v2.2.5 2 March 2008.  

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition                                                The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 80 – 103.

I can see! You light up my life!

The Fourth Sunday of Lent – The story of the man born blind

( March 26th, 2017)

John the Evangelist is inviting us to ask ourselves:  Who are the blind ones?  Who are those who see?

This story is amazing.  William Barclay, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar, comments that “there’s no more vivid character drawing in all of literature than this. With deft and revealing touches John causes the people to come alive for us.”

But before we get into the story itself, I’d like to give you some notes from William Barclay’s commentary on the Gospel of John. He says this is the only story in which the sufferer was blind from birth.  the Jews had this strange notion that one could have sin in them before one was born ~ “in a sin-affected universe!”  They also believed that the sins of their fathers are visited upon their children.

But there is something interesting about the pool of Siloam he mentions.  When Hezekiah realized Sennacherib was going to invade Palestine, he had a tunnel cut through solid rock from the spring into the city of Jerusalem. It was two ft. wide and six ft. high. They had to zigzag it around sacred sites so it was 583 yards long.  The engineers began cutting from both ends and met in the middle ~ truly an amazing feat for that time.  The pool of Siloam was where the stream entered into the city.  Siloam means “sent” because the water had to be sent through the city. Jesus sent the blind there for his cure.

John causes the people to come alive for us. First, there’s the blind man himself. He began to be irritated by the Pharisees persistence.  He himself was persistent that the man who put mud on his eyes had cured him of his blindness. Period! He was a brave man because he was certain to be excommunicated.

Second, there were his parents. They were uncooperative with the Pharisees, but they were also afraid.  The authorities had a powerful weapon.  They could excommunicate them as well, whereby they could be shut off from God’s people and their property could be forfeited as well.

Third, there were the Pharisees.  At first, they didn’t believe the man was cured. And then they were annoyed they could not meet the man’s argument that was based on scripture: “Jesus has done a wonderful thing; the fact that he has done it means that God hears him; now God never hears the prayers of a bad man; therefore Jesus could not be a bad man.”

The consequence of this for the man was that the authorities cast him out of the temple.  But Jesus the Lord of the Temple went looking for him.  Jesus is always true to the one who is true to him.  

And secondly, to this man Jesus revealed himself intimately.  Jesus asked the man if he believed in the Son of God. The man asked who that was. And Jesus said it was He.

And so, this man, who is not given a name in this story, progresses in his perception and understanding of Jesus. At first, he says, “the man they call Jesus opened my eyes.”

Then when he was asked his opinion of Jesus in view of the fact that he had given him his sight, his answer was, “He is a prophet.”  Finally, he came to confess that Jesus is the Son of God.  

Before we leave this wonderful story, I want you to take note of the final line that surely sounded Jesus death knell and is a warning to us all.

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.  

So in our world today, we ask, “Who are the blind ones?”  “Who are those who see?  We’re dealing with the reality or rather the unreality of “fake news” these days. As a consequence, it’s hard to know whom to believe these days, where to find sort out the truth from the falsehood or the lies. 

When we ~ um ~ “converse” with people online, we often don’t really know whether they’re presenting themselves for who they are or giving a false persona; or we probably don’t get to know them very well.

Some people only see the appearances of things.  Many of us don’t have the eyes to see the unseen and the unknowable.

A lot of advertising today only shows handsome young men and women.

What do you See when you wander around town?

Are you on the lookout for the truly beautiful?

Like Cindy, the bag lady I found sitting in the park knitting one day next to the main library in downtown Lauderdale.

A while back I took a double take when I noticed her on a cold morning just outside the door.  She caught my eye because she was polishing her nails a luminous pink. She had on a fuzzy cardigan to match.  I backed up ten steps to say hello.

What impressed me the most was the twinkle in her eye, her cheerful demeanor and her ready smile.

I wasn’t  nearly as self-possessed when I was homeless for a short time in the early Eighties. It ain’t pretty.  I was scared to death. 

What DO you See with those eyes of yours, my friend?

Are you able to see the truly Beautiful People, like Cindy?

Can you distinguish between the real and the unreal / the true and the false /  the True Self from the false self .

In the first reading the Lord teaches Samuel, his prophet not to judge by appearances, but to SEE BEYOND / to see into.

“Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance

but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:10.)

We need to realize that “t’is ever thus!”  We must not allow the hypocrites — or as I call them the “lipocrites” — to blind us from the beauty that is available to anyone who does have eyes to see.  

No!  Don’t excuse yourself from finding God or love or a loving community of faith just because there are some who don’t get it.

Jesus healed the blind man;

he let the sensuous woman wash his feet with her hair;

hung out with sinners and the tax collectors;

told people to “Love one another as I have loved you”;

let the youngest disciple lean on his breast during the last supper;

kept his mouth shut when he was accused;

and, most importantly, simply did what his Father told him to do: be obedient (stay on message) until the very end.

And . . . and they killed him for that.

Just remember, if you choose to preach this gospel,

if you tell people to see the beauty — the Christ —  in the person in front of you,

whether that one be a  bag lady / homosexual / fallen down drunk / drug addict /

mentally ill, crazy man / Muslim / Republican / Democrat / Jew / Catholic / atheist /

pro-lifer / pro-choicer / Martian / immigrant / anybody who thinks differently than you,

they may well crucify you too or cast you out of their life,

stop their ears to anything you say or do —

just as did with the blind man in this Gospel story John tells so dramatically today.

God sees differently, you know.  He does not divide.  God unifies.

God made us all as his children.  God sustains all of us in the present moment.

God loves us all.  No matter what!

Can you see yourself with God’s eyes, my friend?

Many people think they’re a piece of junk and so they pretend to be somebody else.

But God made you just-as-you-are.

He wants you to See YOURSELF as he sees you.

When you can do that, then you will change.

The good in you will increase; the not-so-good will fall away

because God himself will do the transforming.

The man who was blind was able to see that.

That was the second gift of sight Jesus gave him –

not just the ability to see trees and people and flowers

but to See with the eyes of the heart.

Why?  Because Jesus did more than give him his sight.

He Touched him!

He drew him close!

He treated the man as a person!

And that, very simply, is all Jesus wants US to do:

Treat one another as PERSONS! Someone just like you.

Try it today.  With your honey who treated you like vinegar this morning.

Your hyper kids.  Your nasty neighbor.  Your lousy boss.  A bedraggled stranger on the street.

That’s the message of this gospel story.

Lord Jesus,

You are truly My Light.

You help me see the beauty in myself and all around me.

My life and my world are SO different because of You!

I love You.  I delight in You.

I never know what to expect when You’re around.  I can SEE!

You have given me true sight,

the ability to see into things.

To have the courage to look at My Reality — good and not-so-good.

To see the beauty in the people in my life instead of their faults.

And I praise You  for you have given me the ability to use the awesome gifts  

our  heavenly Father has granted me so that I may help others see beauty as well.

I want to help people see their own beauty!

To call it forth from them.

To walk around this world and See the beauty our Father has created all around me.

I love You, Lord.

You are My Light!

I believe that You truly are the Light of the World!

And St. Paul in today’s second reading sums it up:

“Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead,

and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:8-14.)

Now here’s the song “You light up my life  Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are today’s Mass readings that accompany this Gospel. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

The Story of the John 9 was taken excerpted from William Barclay’s  the Gospel of John ~ Volume 2 / Revised Edition

The Westminster Press / Philadelphia, PA 1975 / pp. 37 – 52.

A thirsty man meets a thirsty woman ~ are you thirsty too?

The Third Sunday of Lent (March 19, 2017)

We’re in an important series of Sunday scriptures used to help catechumens (those preparing to meet the Lord in baptism).  In using this series of three stories (1st) The Woman at the Well, (2nd) The Man Born Blind (next Sunday) and (3rd)  The Raising of Lazarus, the Church all through its history has asked John the Evangelist to interpret  for us how he sees Jesus and his significance for us.

This Sunday’s gospel has Jesus and his buddies passing through Samaritan territory.

Here are a few notes from Scripture scholar William Barclay once again.Jesus was on his way to Galilee in the north of Palestine from Judaea in the south.  But he had to pass through Samaria, unless he took the long way across the Jordan River Jacob’s well stands at the fork of the road in Samaria, one branch going northeast, the other going west. This place has many memories for Jews as Jacob bought this ground and bequeathed it to Joseph  who had his bones brought back here for burial. The well itself is more than 100 feet deep. You also need to know the Jews and Samaritans had a feud that had lasted for centuries.  

William Barclay tells us that this story shows us so much about the character of Jesus.

~ It shows us his real humanity. He was weary from the journey and he sat by the side of the well exhausted.  

~ I shows us the warmth of his sympathy.  From an ordinary religious leader, from one of the orthodox church leaders of the day the Samaritan woman would have fled in embarrassment. She at last had met someone who was not a critic but a friend; it seemed the most natural thing in the world for her to talk with him.  

~ It shows that Jesus is the breaker down of barriers. The quarrel between the Jews and the Samaritans was an old, old story, going back to 720 B.C. when the Assyrians that invaded the northern kingdom and captured it. The Samaritans lost their racial purity and therefore lost their right to be called Jews.  

~ And there is still another way Jesus was taking down barriers.  The Samaritan was a woman. The strict Rabbis forbade Rabbis to greet a woman in public, not even their own wife or daughter. And not only that, she was also a woman of notorious character. No decent man, let alone a Rabbi, would have been seen in her company, or even exchanging a word with her, and yet Jesus entered into conversation with her.

And now here’s my telling of the story .  .  .  .

 Jesus and his buddies came to the well and his buddies went off to the nearby town of Sychar. The hour’s about noon and Jesus is weary, hot, dusty, sweaty (I presume) and thirsty.

He sits down by Jacob’s well but has no bucket; the cool stuff is right down there but he can’t access it.  

Along comes a woman with a bucket and he’s about to break all kinds of taboos:  One, Jews don’t associate with Samaritans as I said. Two, men don’t speak to women in public. She is shocked by his shattering both of these impenetrable barriers and is quite flustered. And three, she’s not exactly a woman of high moral standing.

He soon puts her at ease by asking her for a drink; as the great Teacher he is, he reverses the symbol and says he will give her “living waters so she will never be thirsty again.”

She’s intrigued and begins to relax into his accepting, easy manner. (We forget that He was probably a handsome 31-year-old.) In fact, she quickly feels such total acceptance that she trusts him to touch her ~ on the inside.

The conversation cuts to the quick very quickly. Jesus says she has had “five husbands and the one she’s living with now is not her husband.”

Jesus has a true pastoral manner that, very sadly, so many of my friends who have left the church did not receive from a priest or their family or a community when they needed it the most.

One of the new “Mysteries of Light” of the Rosary  has us meditate on “the proclamation of the kingdom.” At some point, I realized that I must learn how to proclaim (share ) the Good News not over the heads of masses of people but to share it as Jesus did here in a stranger’s town ~ one person at a time.

I ache inside when I realize so many have turned a deaf ear to the church because we priests and bishops often do not match our words with the lives we lead or because we use harsh and condemning words that push people away and singe their souls instead of drawing them close. Pope Francis is showing us that too.

Through my own life experience I have learned to do as Jesus did with the woman at the well. He befriended her first.  He treated her as a person. He spoke kindly. He did not condemn her but in revealing his own vulnerability (his own thirst,) he brought her up to his own level.

In my videographer’s eye I can  see the two of them sitting close to each other on the wall of the well, gently conversing as Jesus listens to the story of her brokenness. I’ve learned that — the only legitimate way, in my eyes — is to preach the gospel — in mutual regard and respect and in mutual vulnerability.

If we keep yelling at people in harsh words we will be just tuned out.  St. Francis of Assisi is known to have said, “Preach the gospel; when necessary, use words.”

We have a beautiful truth to share — the sacredness of all life and the sacredness, the holiness of the ground beneath our feet — but we can only get that message across when we be with people’s where they hurt and need, without judging; to cry with them and hug them instead of yelling at them or talking over them. Jesus would never do that!  The only people he yelled at where the people who justified themselves and condemned others.

I repent of the times that I have been harsh with others.  And those times have been many. And I pray that, day by day by day, Jesus, the gentle One, would help me to be more and more gentle and nurturing and respectful to those I meet whose lifestyles and values are different from mine.  For I know that if I want to have any influence on them, I need to let them get close to me and let them know that, despite everything, they have a place in my heart.

I look at Pope Francis and am in awe of this holy man at eighty years old with his youthful vigor and eternal smile and his mercy upon mercy upon mercy. Oh! How I wish I could serve again like that. I pray that in some small way that it would be so.

The story of the woman at the well ends by telling us that this wonderful human being in Whom-God-shown-through (Gospel of the Transfiguration — Second Sunday of Lent) broke down the wall of prejudice and hostility between Jews and Samaritans so dramatically that the whole town welcomed him; and he and his buddies stayed for two days.  

And there you have it, dear friends. This is the Jesus I know and love.  And want to be like.

Lord Jesus,

I give thanks that I have had mentors who drew me close

in whose loving embrace I received non-judgmental loving

and through whose example I myself desire to love without judgment.

In my own thirst to receive the faith of those I meet and care for

may I always bring them to You, the spring of living water

so that the water you give them “will become IN THEM

a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.”

So be it! AMEN!  

Here’s Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Waters Click here.

Years ago when I first heard this song, I thought Jesus was / is the bridge!

And here are all of the Mass readings that accompany this story, that is with catechumens or candidates for the sacraments of Initiation present,  Click here.

If you go to a Mass that uses the regular readings for which is the Feast of St Joseph. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

William Barclay: the Gospel of John – Volume 1 Revised Edition pp. 146 – 151.  / The Daily Study Bible Series                                                                   The Westminster Press – Philadelphia 1975

Have you been to the mountain?

mount-everest-himalaya_1105_600x450

The Second Sunday of Lent ~ March 12th, 2017

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. (Barclay / Matthew /Volume 2 pp. 156-162.)

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 ~ 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 death.  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 sense God is affirming you?

Affirmation is very important.  It was important for Jesus; and it is important for you and me.

Athletes get lots of affirmation and praise especially the ones who get gold medals but maybe not so often for the rest of us.

I used to receive a lot of affirmation when I was in a parish.  These days my dog Shoney gets all the praise and attention.

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 our traditional Catholic hymn Holy God We Praise Thy Name as you’ve never heard it before. Click here.

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

the Gospel of Matthew Revised Edition Volume 2 / The Daily Study Bible Series / William Barclay

The Westminster Press / Philadelphia 1975

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

The Jesus I know and love

IMG_2022Thursday after Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2017

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 each of us are 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 extricate ourselves from the dysfunctional communication and game-playing within the walls of our own home that cauterise 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 ought to choose our words carefully.  To preside over ~ take responsibility for what comes out of our mouths.  And 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 ~ a Zen word  that denotes a riddle that often takes a long time for us to get it.

Try to get into it this Lent. Ponder its meaning for you right now. Repeat it often until you get it.

It’s So counter-cultural.  In our society people do everything 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. We might be tempted to do this by running away by getting a hasty divorce or by dumping a girl friend who no longer suits us via way of a cruel text message.

The Cross of Jesus is about commitment. Lent places before us the Cross of Jesus and his loving embrace of it. 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 telling the truth he saw in his heart.  He knew that it would lead him to death, but he kept heading on his way up 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.

Jesus did a brand new thing.  His message was that his Father-God embraces every person without exception.  His message was that He, Jesus, transcended the Law; that the only law was to love.  This went against the grain of those who saw him as a threat to all they knew.

In the desert, Jesus made a firm commitment to BE the truth that he saw in his heart no matter what.  Jesus embodied that highest moral standard: to commit his life to justice and love, no matter what it cost him.  His mission was very simple:   Stay on message, no matter what.    He was a person of absolute integrity.  No one was going to dissuade him from being who he was.

Very sadly, many in the church say that they believe in Jesus but are quick to condemn, quick to hate.  If you are one who has been condemned by the church or treated hatefully, I,  for one, ask forgiveness from you for I know Jesus would never want that for you.  And I ask for forgiveness and change of heart for those who do the condemning and the hating.

Finally, I  would like to be in solidarity with so many of us these days who have crosses to face that are profoundly difficult. Let us help each other to bear the crosses we must carry.  But remember, the key is acceptance.  Acceptance ~ the willingness to be nailed ~ is the secret to yours and my recovery.

This is the Jesus I know and love:  The one who has the strength to love, no matter what. He’s my hero.  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 a concert version of 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

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

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Dear Friends,

Ash Wednesday is upon us once again. Easter is late this year on Sunday, 
April 16th,

So, you may ask ~ what’s this Ashes thing”

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

What are ashes about?

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:

REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE DUST AND UNTO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN,

or  REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL.  

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 rebuilding?

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. 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

[Chorus]
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?
Tonight

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 expecting different results. 

Or of just renewing and deepening our commitments. Or just deepen our fervor.

A lot of Catholics just show up on Ash Wednesday, get a smudge of ashes on their forehead without the slightest intention of doing what they symbolize:  CHANGE.

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 religion.

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.

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 2013.

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.  

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer  

Thursday ~ The Jesus I know and Love



Carnival ~ Letting our hair down before Lent begins

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Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Well, this week the Big Easy and Rio have one thing in common ~ one huge party.  And what is so interesting it’s very Catholic.  It’s a time to let your hair down before the strike of midnight on Ash Wednesday when we Catholics fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays during  the six week Lenten season.

The root of the word “CARnival is the same as the word “inCARnation”~ a word that means the enfleshment of the Son of God.  

Now here’s a bit of carnival or Mardi Gras history for you.

A carnival is a celebration combining parades, pageantry, folk drama, and feasting, usually held in Catholic countries during the weeks before Lent. The term Carnival probably comes from the Latin word “carnelevarium”, meaning “to remove meat.”   Typically the Carnival season begins early in the new year, often on Epiphany, January 6, and ends in February on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French).

Probably originating in pagan spring fertility rites, the first recorded carnival was the Egyptian feast of Osiris, an event marking the receding of the Nile’s flood water.  Carnivals reached a peak of riotous dissipation with the Roman BACCHANALIA and Saturnalia.

In the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church tried to suppress all pagan ideas, it failed when it came to this celebration. The Church incorporated the rite into its own calendar as a period of thanksgiving. Popes sometimes served as patrons.

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The nations of Europe, especially France, Spain, and Portugal, gave thanks by throwing parties, wearing masks, and dancing in the streets. All three colonizing powers carried the tradition with them to the New World, but in Brazil it landed with a difference. Not only did the Portuguese have a taste for abandoned merriment, (they brought the “entrudo”, a prank where merrymakers throw water, flour, face powder, and many other things at each other’s faces), but the Negro slaves also took to the celebration. They would smear their faces with flour, borrow an old wig or frayed shirt of the master, and give themselves over to mad revelry for the three days. Many masters even let their slaves roam freely during the celebration. Since the slaves were grateful for the chance to enjoy themselves, they rarely used the occasion as a chance to run away.

Pre-Christian, medieval, and modern carnivals share important thematic features. They celebrate the death of winter and the rebirth of nature, ultimately recommitting the individual to the spiritual and social codes of the culture. Ancient fertility rites, with their sacrifices to the gods, exemplify this commitment, as do the Christian Shrovetide plays.  On the other hand, carnivals allow parody of, and offer temporary release from, social and religious constraints. For example, slaves were the equals of their masters during the Roman Saturnalia; the medieval feast of fools included a blasphemous mass; and during carnival masquerades sexual and social taboos are sometimes temporarily suspended.

Tomorrow: Why Ashes on Ash Wednesday?

May I suggest that  by Wednesday morning to try  be ready to enter into a deeper journey into your inner depths to discover our Lord and at the same time your deeper Self.  Be ready to experience new life, new growth for your self — and for our country.  God knows we need it at this time.

Dear Lord,

Today we let our hair down a bit and when the the fun is over,

may we be ready to enter the desert on Wednesday with you

and discover how desert experiences can cleanse and purify us and make us whole.

Let us enter the desert willingly and learn its lessons well.

We ask you, Lord, to lead the way.

Amen. 

But, before you go, here’s a musical slide show of what a Carnival parade is like down in Rio. Click here. Be sure to enter full screen.  (Ladies: Let your husbands have some fun. It’s not ~ um ~ exactly R rated.)  

With love,  

Bob Traupman 

contemplative writer