The Jesus I know and Love ~ and I want You to know Him too!

Thursday after Ash Wednesday, March 7, 2019

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 a hymn about taking up your cross. 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

My God, why have you forsaken me!!!

Like a sapling he grew in front of us,
Like a root in arid ground…
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering ….
And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings in peace
and through his wound we were healed
–excerpted from Isaiah 53.

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion ~

March 29, 2018

I was blown away by an article I pondered in the volume of Lenten readings that sustain me every year called Bread and Wine. This one is by a German theologian Jurgen Moltmann who was a prisoner of war in WWII. It’s entitled Prisoner of Hope . . . .

The night before the Romans arrested him, Jesus went into the garden of Gethsemane, taking only three of his closest friends with him and “became greatly distressed and troubled” as Mark writes. “My soul is very sorrowful even to death,” he said, and begged his friends to stay awake with him.

Often, Jesus would withdraw at night to pray alone in order to be united with God whom he so intimately called “my Father.” Here, for the first time he doesn’t want to be alone with God. He seeks protection among his friends. Protection from whom?

And then comes the prayer that sounds like a demand, “Father, all things are possible to you, remove this cup from me.”   (Mark 14:16)—spare me this suffering.

Christ’s request is not granted. God, his Father, rejected it. Elsewhere, we are always told “I and the Father are one.” But here Christ’s communion with God breaks down. Christ’s true passion begins with the prayer in Gethsemane that was not heard.

Of course, there was the simple human fear of pain, But Moltmann believes it was a quite different fear that the only begotten Son could be “forsaken’, “rejected”, even “cursed’ by the Father. He’s not afraid for his life. He’s afraid for God and the Father’s kingdom whose joy he had proclaimed to the poor.

This suffering from God himself is the real torment of Christ’s passion. Martin Buber called it the eclipse of God. Who cannot be paralyzed by it? His friends were protected from it by a profound sleep.

Moltmann says the Luther bible heads this chapter with the title The Struggle in Gethsemane. The struggle with whom? Christ’s struggle with himself? His struggle with death? It’s the struggle with God. This was the real agony. He overcame it through his self-surrender.

That was his victory—and our hope.

At the end of Christ’s Passion, on Golgotha, the place of execution, we hear a despairing cry to God . . .

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice ‘Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani

            MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!’”

For three hours he hung nailed to the cross, apparently in silence, locked in agony and waiting for death. And then with this cry, that expresses the most profound abandonment by the God on whom he pinned all his hopes and for whom he was hanging on the cross.

What Christ was afraid of, what he wrestled with in Gethsemane, what he implored the Father to save him from, was not spared him. It happened on the cross. The Father forsook ~ abandoned the Son and “God is silent!” The Son was forsaken by the Father, rejected and cursed, as Professor Moltmann suggests in this article. He bore the judgment in that everyone is alone and in that no one can stand.

(If you’re getting bored with this reasoning—please hang in there! I think you’ll be astonished how it will apply to you personally!)

Is there an answer to why God abandoned him? Is there an answer to the agonizing questionings and disappointment of death: “My God, Why? Why?”

As a priest I know that a real answer to that question cannot be a theoretical answer beginning with the word “Because . . .”. It has to be a practical answer—an answer from experience.

At the center of the Christian faith is the history of Christ’s passion. At the center of the passion is the experience of God endured by the godforsaken Christ. Is this the end of all human and religious hope?

Or is it the beginning of the true hope, because it is the beginning of a life that has death behind it and for which hell is no longer feared!

At the point where men and women lose hope, where they become powerless and can do nothing more, the lonely, assailed and forsaken Christ waits for them and gives them a share in his passion.

The passionately loving Christ, the persecuted Christ, the lonely Christ, the Christ despairing over God’s silence, the Christ who in dying so totally abandoned—for us and for our sakes—is like the brother or friend to whom we can confide, because he knows everything and has suffered everything that can happen to us—and more.

In our hopes about life, in our love in living and our activity, we participate in his passion for the kingdom of freedom

Our disappointments, our loneliness, and defeats don’t separate us from him; they draw us more deeply into communion with him. And with the final unanswered cry, “Why, my God, why?” we join in his death cry and await the resurrection.

This—is what faith really is: believing, not with head or lips or out of habit, but believing with one’s whole life.

Good Friday is the most comprehensive and most profound expression of Christ’s fellowship with every human being.

In him the despair that oppresses us becomes free to hope. The arrogance with which we hinder ourselves and other people melts away, and we become open as vulnerable as he was.

What seemed so meaningless and irreconcilable—our hope and Christ’s cross—belong together as a single whole, just as do the passionate hope for life and the readiness for disappointment, pain and death.

Beneath the cross of Christ hope is born again out of the depths. The person who has once sensed this is never afraid of any depths again. His hope. Has become firm and unconquerable: “Lord, I am a prisoner—a prisoner of hope!”

As I said when I introduced this article, I was blown away by it, and I hope you have been nourished by it as well. It has changed my whole perspective on Good Friday and my own understanding of Christ’s passion and my own participation in it. I will help to deepen your faith.

And now my prayer .  .  .

Dearest Lord,

Today everywhere in the world there are people

who are forsaken, abandoned, alone, afraid, dying, mourning the loss of loved ones. 

And we cry: “Why, God, Why?”   Be with them, Lord. Help us to help them.

And this Good Friday I feel closer to you because of what I’ve read, Lord. 

May it deepen our to faith and strengthen our solidarity with my sisters and brothers. 

Thank you, Lord, because you’ve  did it! It’s done! You saved us. Thank you ever so much!!!  

And now, before you go, here’s the hymn from Bach’s Passion “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” ~ Click here. 

Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are the readings from today’s service of the Word, including the Passion story according to St. John. Click here.

Jurgen Moltmann / “Prisoner of Hope” / Bread and Wine – Readings for Lent and Easter                                                                          Plough Publishing House /  Walden NY / 2003 

 

 

The Sorrowful Mothers of the World

The Sorrowful Mother (The Pieta) – Michelangelo –

In the millennial year of 1500 when he was 24 years old

HOLY WEEK 2018

While I was on my retreat the first week of Lent 2009,  one of my prayer assignments was to sit before a statue of the sorrowful mother.  I have always had a devotion to Mary, the mother of the Lord,  and on that balmy afternoon against the background of the cypress swamp I reflected on all the mothers I have tried to console throughout the forty years of my priesthood.  I record for you now  the prayer which was my journal note for Father Don the next day.  Several of those women mentioned in the prayer are still in my life today.  I dedicate this blog as I remember them with love.

Be sure to read the commentary about the 24-year-old Michelangelo and his first sculpture which follows.  He chiseled his understanding of human grief, tap by tap,  for two years.  It is a magnificent meditation.  Ponder it yourself.  And unite your own prayer to our Lady to his this Holy Week.  There is also a very different image of grief below that I photographed from a book.

Dearest Lady,
mother of Jesus, whose tender love
brought Love Itself into our world,
may those who have never known
the tender embrace
of their own mother’s love
receive the same tender care and  love you wish for each of them. . .
for each of us . . .
as you offered the stern, yet tender love of a Jewish mother upon
Jesus, the Son of God
who was nourished at your tender breasts,
cradled in your arms,
bounced upon your knee;
whose booboo was kissed by your lovely mouth,
whose dead body you received come down from the Cross:
You were the one from whom
Jesus learned the joys of human love.

Dearest Lady,
Simeon said, holding your little Child in his arms,
that a sword would pierce your soul.

Did you have any idea what he meant?
Did you follow Jesus throughout his ministry?
Where you among the women who took care of him
and the others?
If so, where did you stay?
Or did you stay at home in Nazareth?
Did you go out to visit him when you could?
To listen to him preach?

Were you in the midst of the crowds
who pressed around him?
Did you have a chance to be alone with him for a while?
Did you give him any motherly advice?
Did you wash his clothes,
fix his favorite meal when he was on the road?

Did you gain a sense of foreboding as you listened
to the murmurings of hostility beginning to grow toward him?
What did you do with that concern?

I think perhaps you knew.                                                                                                                                                               You could see  where this was going to end,
because you kept all those foreboding things Simeon told you
in your heart.
Sorrow and sadness must have entered your heart
long before that fateful Friday.
But probably not much worry or anxiety because
I think you must have said over and over:
Be it done unto me according to Your word.
Be it done.
Thy will be done.

A mother can never be prepared to lose her son.

Fran, whose son Jimmy died at the hands of a drunk driver;

Chris who loved two children within her belly.

Dearest Lady, I think of  mothers I have known

who’ve watched their children die.

My cousin, Lynda, whose beautiful child Robbie
who bore her father’s and my name
died in a fire at age three.
I don’t think his mother ever got over that sadness.
I think of Marie whose paralyzed son was in prison
who couldn’t find a priest to console her after his wrongful death.

I think, dear Lady, that you unite yourself with other mothers who suffer at the bedside of a sick child.

I think of Monica whose son Andrew died of AIDS;
Rosemarie, whose very popular high school senior John died of a brain tumor,                                                                                                         and wrote a book to work out her grief;
Florence, the mother of my best priest-buddy Phil who died suddenly at age 47.
“What a dirty trick!” she wailed at God;
the woman whose name I have long forgot whose surfer-son drowned in a storm in my first week of priestly ministry;                                                                                                                                                    mothers I’ve known whose sons who couldn’t escape from addiction;                                                                                               Monique whose son despaired and ended his life, leaving his children.

How can any of us really know what a mother must feel
who must outlive her child?

What of all the mothers of the kids shot at Marjory Stoneman High School?

Or the darling little children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut before that? Or at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado twenty years ago next month?

Or the mothers of many black men  who are violated by police like Stephon Clark in Sacramento shot 20 times in his own back yard with only a cell phone in his hand, 

And I think of all the mothers of the world who are condemned to watch their children die of malnutrition.

And the mothers who are being deported by the Trump administration, leaving behind their American-born children.

And terrified mothers try to comfort their children  caught in war-torn countries, especially in Syria.

Dearest Lady,

I have loved you since my boyhood.
I brought you flowers in springtime
to express my devotion.  Still do.
Today, I contemplated the sorrowful image
a sculptor captured in white marble.
When I gazed into the eyes of that chiseled image
for just a moment, I knew what you must have felt,
what my friends must have felt,                                                                                                                                                        what these other mothers must be feeling even now.                                                                                                                 And that moment was gift.
A gift I will always remember.

Dearest Lady,
as you yourself shared in Jesus’ passion,
I ask you to be with all those whose hearts are
broken in sorrow.

Receive today

all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters

on this planet,
born and unborn.
Draw us all into that one great mystery of divine~human love
which is the glory of our Christian faith:
the birth, suffering, death and resurrection
of the son of a young beautiful woman,
Son of God,
our Brother,
our Redeemer.
Our Friend,
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

+ + + + + + +
From: ‘Guide to Saint Peter’s Basilica ‘
This is probably the world’s most famous sculpture of a religious subject.

Michelangelo carved it when he was 24 years old, and it is the only one he ever signed. The beauty of its lines and expression leaves a lasting impression on everyone.

With this magnificent statue Michelangelo has given us a highly spiritual and Christian view of human suffering. Artists before and after Michelangelo always depicted the Virgin with the dead Christ in her arms as grief-stricken, almost on the verge of desperation. Michelangelo, on the other hand, created a highly supernatural feeling.

As she holds Jesus’ lifeless body on her lap, the Virgin’s face emanates sweetness, serenity and a majestic acceptance of this immense sorrow, combined with her faith in the Redeemer. It seems almost as if Jesus is about to reawaken from a tranquil sleep and that after so much suffering and thorns, the rose of resurrection is about to bloom. As we contemplate the Pieta which conveys peace and tranquility, we can feel that the great sufferings of life and its pain can be mitigated.

Here, many Christians recall the price of their redemption and pray in silence. The words may be those of the “Salve Regina” or “Sub tuum presidium” or another prayer. After Peter’s Tomb, the Pieta Chapel is the most frequently visited and silent place in the entire basilica.

It is said that Michelangelo had been criticized for having portrayed the Virgin Mary as too young since she actually must have been around 45-50 years old when Jesus died. He answered that he did so deliberately because the effects of time could not mar the virginal features of this, the most blessed of women. He also said that he was thinking of his own mother’s face, he was only five when she died: the mother’s face is a symbol of eternal youth.

Before you go, here’s the Stabat Mater,  the traditional mourning song to Our Lady. Click Here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. The translation of some of the verses follows.

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.

Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother’s pain untold?

For the sins of His own nation,
She saw Jesus wracked with torment,
All with scourges rent:

She beheld her tender Child,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with thine accord:

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord. 

With Love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

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.

The Fidelity of Jesus ~ May we be faithful too!

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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.

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