Jesus is so cool in the images he uses to communicate.
In the gospel passage today (John 15:1-8), Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (You can read the entire passage below.)
Our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay tells us that Jesus often uses images that are familiar to the people of his day that are part of their religious heritage. Time and time again, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God. “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel” Isaiah 5:1-7). “Yet I planted you a choice vine,” says Jeremiah to Israel (Jeremiah 2:21). Ezekiel, in turn, likens Israel to a vine in Chapter 15 and in 19:10. “Israel is a luxuriant vine: said Hosea in 10:1. “Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt,” they sang in Psalm 80 as they remembered their deliverance from Egypt.
One of the glories of the temple was the great golden vine in front of the Holy Place. It was considered a great honor if you were rich enough to give gold to mould a new bunch of grapes or even a single grape to that vine.
Then Barclay gives us a bit of interesting exegesis. Jesus calls himself the true vine. The point of that word alethinos, true, real, genuine is this, he says: “It is a curious fact that the symbol of the vine is never used in the Old Testament apart from the idea of degeneration. The point of Isaiah’s picture is that vineyard has run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation has turned into ‘degenerate and become a wild vine.’ It is as if Jesus said: ‘You think that because you belong to the nation of Israel that you are a branch of the true vine of God. But the nation it is; a degenerate vine, as the prophets saw. It is I that am the true vine.” (Barclay / The Gospel of John, Volume 2, p. 173)
Now here are my own thoughts on today’s gospel.
Take a look at the image above. Every part of the vine, every grape, receives its life by being connected to the source of its life.
So, too, with us. I have some readers who are not professed Christians. But if you think about it, the message is the same: If we stay connected to the Source of life, whatever that is for you, then our lives will flourish and bear fruit.
But some of us are like withered branches. We have cut ourselves off from the source of life and we do not bring fruitfulness into our lives.
The following commentary I excerpted from the Magnificat liturgical magazine . . . .
He [Jesus’ Father] takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. (15:2)
In pruning, the vines were cut back so severely that they gave the appearance of lifeless stalks. When have you felt like that in your life? Did God ever generate new life from what seemed lifeless?
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that if we are bent on “diverse and trifling things,” our power is weakened and rendered less effective in doing good. And thus, God, to make us productive to do good often sends us trials and temptations, which if we overcome, we become stronger in doing good.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. (15:3)
Think of how you were changed and made better by a word someone spoke to you: a word of forgiveness, of correction, of insight, of encouragement, of love
Here’s Aquinas again: “The Word of God by its power moves our hearts, weighed down by earthly things, and sets them on fire.
Another medieval Scholar, Cornelius a Lapide, says: “Christ pruned the Apostles of their ignorance, a certain vain confidence, an over-reliance on sensible (physical) presence of Christ, and from faint-heartedness, which made them almost despair of their own salvation now that Christ was departing.”
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me. (15:4)
Of all the things our Lord could ask the night before he dies, he commands only this, “Remain in me”—the simplest thing of all.
~ Magnificat liturgical magazine / April 2018 ~ pp. 411-2
Take a few moments to consider the fruitfulness of your relationships. Are the people in your life growing because they know you and are in your life? Or are they withering up?
Stay connected. Stay connected with your family, your friends, the people you love and the people who love and care about you.
We want to be connected to the Internet, on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and other social media. But those connections are most often superficial.
What about connections of the heart? The ones that really matter.
What about your connection with the earth and the environment and with the creatures who share this world with you? Or does the world revolve only around you?
What about your connection with God and his desire that the whole church, indeed the whole world be connected in love.
Now here’s my prayer . . . .
Jesus, you use simple images to help us understand
what life for us can be like when we stay connected to You.
Wonderful life-surging energy flows through You as the Vine.
Let that same life-surging energy which is Your Holy Spirit
surge through us as well
and renew the face of the earth!
To You be glory now and forever!
CHRIST IS RISEN!
Now here;s the entire text of today’s Gospel . . . .
Jesus said to His disciples: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in Me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in Me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become My disciples.” (John 15:1-8)
And now, before you go, here’s a song for your reflection on your relationship with Jesus. Click here.
And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition / Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 p. 173.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter Good Shepherd Sunday
April 25, 2021
The Fourth Sunday of Easter has my favorite Gospel story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It’s my also my favorite image of Jesus. It’s the perfect image for us today.
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”
Jesus says “I am” 45 times in the gospel of John. Some of the outstanding ones are: I am the bread of life. (Jn 6:35) I am the light of the world (Jn. 8:12) I am the resurrection and the life (Jn 11: 25 and I am the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6).
Our scripture scholar-friend William Barclay points out that there are two Greek words for ‘good’. One is agathos that simply means the moral quality of the person; the other is kalos that means that in the goodness there’s a winsomeness that makes it lovely. When Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd, the word is kalos. There is loveliness in him. And yet we know that being a shepherd was (and is)a demanding task, a demanding vocation.
In Jesus’ time some looked down on shepherds as outcasts; they were not usually welcome in the towns. Their work was demanding and perilous. They were sometimes responsible for herds numbering in the thousands. They contested with hyenas, jackals, wolves, bears, human enemies, the burning heat of the day, and bitter cold of night. If something happened to a sheep, he had to produce prove it was not his fault. The law laid it down: If torn by beasts, let him produce the evidence.” (Exodus 22:13)
It took me a long time to realize that shepherds walked down the road ahead of their flock. And the sheep simply followed. They just responded to his voice.
In Mark 10:32, we’re told that the disciples were going up to Jerusalem “and Jesus was leading the way.” And of course, along the way, he was teaching and forming them.
Jesus distinguishes between true and false shepherds. The false ones are mere hired hands that don’t go out of their way to help the sheep. The good shepherd is the one dedicated to his sheep and their care.
The concept of the Messiah as the Good Shepherd appeared frequently in the Old Testament, notably in the prophet Ezekiel. All of Chapter 34 is dedicated to the Good Shepherd. Ezekiel warns of the peril of following false shepherds who lead their flocks astray. Seek the Good Shepherd who says, “The Lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal. . . . Thus shall they know that I the Lord, am their God, and they are my people.”
These words were as familiar to the Jews in the time of Jesus as they are to us. They, too, recognized the difference between a good shepherd and a hireling, who was more interested in his pay than the welfare of the flock.
What a wonderful model for leadership of any kind. Someone who is not coercing. Not goading. Not threatening.
Jesus just wants to lead the way. He wants to BE the way because he walked the path ahead of us. He knows what human life and death is about.
And more than that, he says “I know mine and mine know me.”
He’s talking about knowing us personally for who we are inside, who we really are. He delights in those under his care. He rejoices in us. He wants to be very close to us.
And he wants us to know him personally and intimately, too.
That’s enough. For those of us who know, who realize, that God loves us, lifts us up, supports us, wants us to be who we are, that is just enough.
This is the Jesus I know and love. Jesus has invited me into a personal relationship with him and that makes all the difference in the way I live and love.
I, too, have always wanted to shepherd like that. To be an example to others. To lead and to know and care for those in my life and those for whom I write.
This gospel says there’s a difference between a Good Shepherd and a hired hand who abandons the flock when things get rough. The Good Shepherd will leave the flock and search for the lost sheep and bring them home.
Earlier in this passage he says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” What greater blessing could there be than this: The shepherd knows my voice and I know his. The closer, the more intimate that relationship, the better we will comprehend the words of our Shepherd: “No one can take them out of my hand.”
Jesus is not only the shepherd, he is the sheepgate. The sheep go in and out of the pasture and are safe.
Jesus is the Gate to the spiritual world. Because he claims us as his own, we are safe.
Those who dabble in mystical experience such as LSD and guided meditations of one sort or another are not protected in the spiritual word. Jesus is the only protected Door or Gate to the spiritual world.
Jesus says it was the Father who gave the sheep to him. And that Jesus received his confidence from the Father. Thus, you see, Jesus was secure, not in his own power, but in God’s.
The picture seems a bit one-sided. The Good Shepherd is doing all the giving, all the caring, all the protecting. The sheep just receive.
Now isn’t that the relationship we strive for with our God? We have received everything from God; should we not give all in return? Our love, too, needs to be unconditional, our loyalty without compromise, our thoughts, words and deeds in accord with the will of God.
Now ask yourself this question: Am I, in turn, a Good Shepherd?
If you have children or others under your care, ask yourself: Do I shepherd well those who are under my care? Do I shepherd by leading? Or by goading? How can I model my leadership style on Jesus as the Good Shepherd?
I love this image of Jesus. He’s my model of what a priest should be like — he’s a model of what a parent or a teacher or a coach, or even a good statesman should be. I just hope that I can continue to be a good shepherd.
Pope Francis has challenged his priests to go out among their flocks and “be shepherds with the smell of your sheep.”
And now my prayer . . . .
many of us have the role of shepherding others,
whether we be priests or religious or parents, teachers, coaches,
public servants or even the Leader of a Nation.
May we rejoice in that sacred honor and privilege
and do it well, not for profit but for love.
May we never betray that trust.
May we always delight in also being cared for by You.
To You be honor and glory and praise!
CHRIST IS RISEN!
Now before you go, enjoy this version of Psalm 23. Be sure to enter full screen. Click here.
And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.
Have a great day as we continue to celebrate our joyous Easter season.
The Second Sunday of Easter ~ April 11th, 2021~ “Peace be with You!”
Here we are continuing to celebrate the fifty days of the Easter Season as most of us are still locked down similarly to the way the apostles were on that first Easter. let’ see if we can learn from their experience today as we continue to cope with this ongoing coronavirus that’s invading and infecting all our lives.
The Apostles were very disturbed after the crucifixion. Their life with Jesus ~ their hopes and dreams for the future ~ seemed to be totally shattered. They were afraid that the leaders would come for them and crucify them as well. How have your hopes and dreams been averted in the past year?
These issues were so strong in them that they could not believe the message that the Women brought to them that Jesus had been raised. They were not at peace.
They were distressed and fearful, huddled together in the Upper Room behind locked doors. They were depressed and distraught that the One they had come to love had been murdered. They were afraid that the religious leaders would come after them as well.
William Barclay, the Scripture scholar says that “they met in something like terror.” They knew the envenomed bitterness of the Jewish leaders who had plotted his execution and feared they would be next.
They really needed some peace. So the first thing Jesus says when he appears to them is “Peace be with you.”
Thus, peace is an Easter gift. It’s a gift that we can claim and pray for too.
I’m not talking about peace between Israelis and Palestinians or Republicans and Democrats. It means more than “May you be saved from times of trouble or conflict.” It means much more than that. It means, “May God give you every good thing.”
Jesus said when he appeared to them in the locked room, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
There’s a parallel between the sending out of the Church by Jesus and his being sent by the Father. John’s Gospel makes clear that the relationship between Jesus and God shows Jesus’ perfect obedience and perfect love. Jesus could be God’s messenger only because he rendered to God that perfect obedience and perfect love. It follows that the Church is fit to be a messenger and an instrument of Christ only when it perfectly loves him and perfectly obeys him. The Church must never be out to propagate man-made policies. The Church fails whenever it tries to solve some problems in its own wisdom and strength and leaves out of account the guidance of Christ.
“And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit . . . .”
Barclay suggests that when John spoke in this way, he was thinking back to the story of the creation of humankind. “And the Lord God formed man out of dust from the soil and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
And we can compare this to the story of the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel when he heard God say to the wind, “ Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live.”
The coming of the Holy Spirit is like the awakening of life from the dead.
. . . . Until Jesus appeared to them. They no longer had to rely on faith, which was lacking for all of them, not just Thomas. They had to experience the Risen One for themselves.
Then enter Thomas. He is not at peace. He says that unless he puts his finger in the nail-marks and his hand into his side, he will not believe.”
Thomas is honest.
Thomas needed to be convinced. He absolutely refused to say that he understood what he did not understand or to say he believed what he did not believe. There was an uncompromising honesty about him.
But when he was sure, he went all the way, My Lord and My God,” he proclaimed!
At this point, Thomas is overwhelmed. A week earlier he had said he would not believe. The truth of it all came home to him: so different from other men, he is the same one they used to be together with, who was put to death a short time ago. And Thomas surrendered. “You are my Lord and my God!” Thomas believed.
But then Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
These words are really extraordinary, according to Bread and Wine author Romano Guardini. Thomas believed because he had been allowed to “see.,” to see the hands and the side and to touch the blessed wounds, yet he was not blessed.
Blessed indeed are those whose who have yet learned to believe!” Those who ask for no miracles, demand nothing out of the ordinary, but find God’s message in every day life. Those who require no compelling proofs, but remain in a certain ultimate suspense, so that faith may never cease to require daring.
And those are called blessed who make the effort to remain openhearted. Who seek to cleanse their hearts of self-righteousness, obstinacy, presumption, and the inclination to “know better-than-others.”. Who are quick to listen, and are humble and free-spirited. Who are able to find God’s message in the gospel of he day, or even from the sermons of preachers with no message in particular, or in phrases from the Law they’ve heard a thousand times, phrases with no charismatic power about them, or in the happenings of every day life that always end up the same way: work and rest, anxiety—and then again some kind of success, some joy, and an encounter, and a sorrow.
Blessed are those who can see the Lord in all those things!
~ Romano Guardini / Bread and Wine “Believing is Seeing” pp.. 119- 123,
There’s a message for us in what Father Guardini says here for all of us as we ” stay in place” bored perhaps, day-in- day-out, not knowing when our lives will return to normal, or if there will be a “normal.” A message of patience and love.
As for me, I consider myself a Witness to the Resurrection. I KNOW my Redeemer lives. I KNOW his love for me in the present moment. He is sometimes as close to me as my very own heartbeat. Not that I’m always aware of him. No, I am a sinful man who has made many mistakes in the fifty -two years of my priesthood. But I know that I love him and I know at the bottom of my heart that Jesus loves me. And, with all my heart and soul, I want you, my dear readers, to know in the bottom of your own hearts the deep, deep love and affection that Jesus has for YOU, too!
I praise and thank God and his Son Jesus Christ our Lord for the gift the peace he has given me.
AND MAY THE PEACE OF THE LORD BE WITH YOU AS WELL!
Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. It is originally based on the Devotion to the Divine Mercy that Saint Faustina Kowalska reported as part of her encounter with Jesus, and is associated with special promises from Jesus and indulgences issued by the Church. Jesus associated with this devotion. A simple prayer associated with this devotion is “Jesus, I trust in you.” A simple act of abandonment is enough to overcome the barriers of darkness and sorrow and desperation. The rays of God’s divine mercy will restore hope. Hope to those who feel overwhelmed by any burden, especially the burden of sin.
And now, here is a powerful song to pull all of this together ~ Click here.
Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen, and there’s another song just behind it.
And here are the Mass readings, if you’d care to reflect on them. Click here.
William Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition / Westminster Press – Philadelphia – 1975/ pp. 272-4.
Good Friday April 2, 2021
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
–excerpts from Isaiah 53.
Well here we are at Good Friday once again and life seems so surreal for all of us still in the midst of this Coronavirus crisis. For our Jewish neighbors Passover last Sunday without the possibility for most of them to celebrate according to law and custom by family gatherings. It must have been really hard for them. And the same thing will hit a lot of us Christians two days from now on Easter Sunday when most of us cannot gather with family either!
However, it is possible for us to have a good Good Friday and that’s the point of this blog. I selected some material that really helped me when I read it. It’s an article from my favorite Lent / Easter spiritual reading companion that now has a broken spine like an old man called Bread and Wine, It’s an article entitled Naked Pride by the Rev. John Stott, a distinguished Anglican priest and theologian. So, as we wait this crisis out, let’s put our fears and anxieties aside and open ourselves for some deeper prayer and learning this most sacred of days, would you so? Here we go . .
The essence of sin is human beings substituting themselves for God while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us all. Humans claim prerogatives that belong to God alone while God accepts penalties that God should not have to endure—only humans.
As you and I gaze upon the cross this Good Friday— either one in your home or the one at the end of your rosary or just the one printed in this blog if you have no other—we can gain a clear view both of God and ourselves. Instead of inflicting on us the judgment we deserved, God in Christ endured that sentence in our place. Hell is the only alternative. This is the “scandal”; i.e. the stumbling block of the cross.
For our proud hearts rebel against it. We cannot bear to acknowledge either the seriousness of our sin or our utter indebtedness to the cross. Surely there must be something we can do to make amends? If not, we give the impression we’d rather suffer our own punishment rather than of seeing God through Christ bear it in our place.
Our author tells the story of a play by George Bernard Shaw entitled Major Barbara (1905) about an incident at the alleged West Ham shelter in which Bill Walker, “a rough customer” arrives one cold January morning drunk. He gets himself into trouble there and seizes a girl by the hair and strikes her, cutting her lip. He’s mocked by the other residents because he didn’t have the courage to take on the “bloke” that he’s jealous about. Bill’s conscience and pride nag him until he can no longer bear the insult. He decides, in a kinda cockney accent, to spit in the guy’s eye, or if not, “git me aown fice beshed.”
But his opponent refuses to cooperate, so Bill returns shamefaced. He comes back to the group and lies, telling everybody, he spit in his eye to which one of the girls calls out, ‘Glory Allelloolier!”
The girl who was injured tells Bill that she’s sorry and he didn’t really hurt her, which makes him angrier still. “Aw down’t want to be forgiven by you or by anybody. Wot I did Aw’ll pay for.
He tries another ruse. He offers to pay a fine that one of his mates just incurred and produces a sovereign.
“Eahs the manney. Take it; and let’s ev no more o your forgivin and pryin and your Mijor jawrin me. Let wot Aw dan be dan and pid for; and let there be and end of it. This bloomin forgivin and neggin and jawrin mike a menn thet sore that iz lawf’s a burden to im. Aw won’t ev it. Aw tell yer. Avve offered to py. Aw can do more. Tike it or leave it. There it is.”—and he throws the sovereign down.
And so, our author sums up . . .
The proud human heart is thus revealed. We insist on paying for what we’ve done. We cannot stand the humiliation of acknowledging our bankruptcy and allowing somebody else to pay for us. The notion that that somebody else should be God himself is just too much to take for some people. We would rather perish than repent, rather lose ourselves than humble ourselves.
Rev. Stott, an Anglican priest, and renowned theologian, states that only the gospel demands such a self-humbling on our part. No other religion or philosophy deals with the problem of guilt apart from the intervention of God, and therefore, they come to a “cheap” conclusion. In them, you and I would be spared the final humiliation of knowing that the Mediator has borne the punishment instead of us! We would not have to be stripped absolutely naked.
But . . . but we cannot escape the embarrassment of standing absolutely naked before God.
Think about that for a moment. You and I will have to take off our shoes and socks. Our shirts and pants or our dresses.
Our undershirts or our bra.
Our skivvies. And stand absolutely naked with your private parts and all.
Rev. Stott continues: It’s no use trying to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our attempts at self-justification are as ineffectual as their fig-leaves. We have to acknowledge our nakedness and gaze on the Lord wearing our filthy rags instead of us.
And then . . . and then allow him to clothe us with his own righteousness and light.
Nobody has ever put it better than Augustus Toplady in his immortal hymn Rock of Ages . . . .
Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to your Cross I cling
Naked, come to for dress
Helpless, look to you for grace
Fool, I to the fountain fly
Wash, Savior, or I die.
And now here’s my prayer . . . .
Dear God, We give you thanks for sending your Son to us.
He has lived among us ~ become one with us ~ borne our griefs.
He became obedient unto death to bear our sins and pay our debts.
Yet we were ungrateful and turned our backs to goodness and love.
Forgive us, Lord for the hardness of our hearts.
Turn us back to you to accept you love and forgiveness.
And please, Lord, guide us through this terrible plague!
Be especially with those who are sick
and those who courageously care for them.
And let us once again share in the joy of your Risen Life!
We ask this as we ask all things through Jesus Christ our Lord!
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.
John Stott Naked Pride In Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter Plough Publishing co. pp. 217-221. From “The Cross of Christ” by John R. W. Stott Copyright 1986 John R.W. Stott. Interunivarsity Press P. O. Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515
From “The Cross of Christ” by John R. W. Stott Copyright 1986 John R.W. Stott. Interunivarsity Press P. O. Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515
“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. “~ John 12:1-3
Yesterday we found Jesus mobbed but probably exhilarated by the crowds as he made his entry into the great holy city of Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
This day, Monday, weary from all the excitement and eager once again to be welcomed by his beloved friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus, he makes the short trip to Bethany with his disciples.
Apparently he was expected; a dinner party had been arranged and Jesus was to have quite an intimate surprise ~ right there in front of God and everybody. Martha and Mary were sisters; Martha was the practical one; she was always busy in the kitchen preparing the meals. Mary loved Jesus in a special way; she was often at his feet listening to his wonderful words.
This day, in front of the guests, she got down, washed Jesus’ dusty, tired, bare feet and massaged them–all the while, soothing them and caressing them.
Suddenly she got up, went to a nearby shelf and got a beautiful alabaster bottle filled with the finest aromatic spikenard. She broke it open! and the whole house was instantly transformed by its wonderful aroma!
She poured it liberally over the Master’s feet. (And as we know Judas objected strenuously ~ but let’s not go there for the moment.
(Permit me this Ignatian-style reflection ~ a bit R-rated.)
A sensual woman caresses a 33-year old man with perfumed oil. The oil squishes down between his toes; it soothes his weary feet. She rubs it in circular motions around the ankles.
Then Mary teases him dripping some, drop ~ drop ~ drop on his shins, watching the glistening oil slither down his feet.
She leans back on her haunches and waits to get his reaction.
He grins, and raises his eyeballs toward the ceiling.
Then she pounces on him and rubs his feet firmly and furiously and backs away again, then just looks at him and smiles.
He returns the gaze, obviously, very pleased, very delighted, very relaxed.
Then she leans forward and begins to dry his feet with her hair!
This process takes a long time.
Oil takes a long time to come out, just being dried by hair, as lovely as Mary’s is.
Now, dear friends, you can’t get more sensuous than that!
I wonder what the Lord of the universe might have been thinking and feeling during this most intimate of male / female encounters? Would this most unusual, very creative experience be as intimate, as soul-connecting as intercourse itself?
I wouldn’t even dare to imagine. Take a moment of silence right now and ponder those thoughts and let him have his own thoughts and feelings in your own mind and heart. (That is what Ignatian imaginative Scriptural prayer is: You reflect on the Scripture in your imagination and see how the Lord speaks to you; try reading this passage again and see what turns up for you.)
The sacred text doesn’t say, but we can intimate from what we already know that Jesus is already very comfortable with Mary who used to sit gaga-eyed at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42.)
Was it sexual? No. But it sure as h- was sensual!
Did he enjoy the experience?
You bet he did!
Jesus was a whole, integrated man.
Was he embarrassed to have that happen in front of the others? Quite sure not.
He was with people he could “let his hair down” with, although Mary probably got a good talkin’ to by her sister in the bedroom later! Jesus, unlike many of us, was not afraid to be himself, in every circumstance
That Monday of that of Holy Week two Millennia ago was a day of relaxation for our Lord. He seemed to have the ability to be able to make the present moment a sacrament as he put aside concern about the events that lie ahead.
In William Barclay’s commentary on this passage, he has a series of little character sketches.
First, Martha. She loved Jesus, but she was a practical woman and the only way she could show her love was by working with her hands by cooking and serving. She always gave what she could.
Then there’s Mary. We see three things about her love in this story. We see love’s extravagance. She took the most precious thing she possessed and spent it all on Jesus. We see love’s humility.It was a sign of honor to anoint someone’s head, but she anointed Jesus’ feet. And then we see love’s unselfconsciousness. Mary wiped his feet with her hair. In Palestine no woman would appear in public with her hair unbound. That was a sign of an immoral woman.Mary never even thought of that. Mary loved Jesus so much that it was nothing to her what the guests might have thought.
But there’s something else here. The house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. Many Fathers of the Church have seen a double meaning here. That the whole Church was filled with the sweet memory of Mary’s action.
Then there’s the character of Judas. We see Jesus’ trust in Judas. As early as John 6:70, John shows us Jesus was well aware that there was a traitor within the ranks. It may be that he tried to touch Judas’ heart by making him treasurer. And here, in the house of Jesus’ friends, he had just seen an action of surpassing loveliness and he called it extravagant waste. Judas was an embittered man and took the embittered view of things.
And the scene ends with the mob coming to see Lazarus and the chief priests plotting to kill Jesus.
But Barclay doesn’t end here. He tells us that there’s one great truth about life here. Some things we can do almost any time, but some things we will never do, unless we grasp the chance when it comes. We are seized with something that seems important to do, but if we put it off, we say, Oh I’ll do it tomorrow and it never gets done.
This Holy Week resolve to do something that you have put off doing for someone~ an act of kindness or forgiveness, or asking for forgiveness.
help us, too, to live in the present moment as Jesus did
~ not thinking about what comes next.
Help us to fully give ourselves to the moment we are in,
embracing it, with eyes and ears wide open to it,
putting all other concerns aside.
For that moment is where life happens;
we may not get another!
And now before you go, here’s the song “Said Judas to Mary. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings: Click here
William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition / Westminster Press / Philadelphia Pa 1975 / pp. 108-112.
You might like to know that the sourceof spikenard is Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant of the Valerian family that grows in the Himalayas. It is a source of a type of intensely aromatic amber-colored essential oil, spikenard.
March 28, 2021
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 ~ with limited attendance because of the Pandemic but people can pick up their blessed palms at some other time, and I’m sure many others will be watching streamed Masses from home as they’ve become accustomed to this past year.
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 according to Mark . . .
When Jesus and his disciples drew near to Jerusalem,
to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives,
he sent two of his disciples and said to them,
“Go into the village opposite you,
and immediately on entering it,
you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat.
Untie it and bring it here.
If anyone should say to you,
‘Why are you doing this?’ reply,
‘The Master has need of it
and will send it back here at once.'”
So they went off
and found a colt tethered at a gate outside on the street,
and they untied it.
Some of the bystanders said to them,
“What are you doing, untying the colt?”
They answered them just as Jesus had told them to,
and they permitted them to do it.
So they brought the colt to Jesus
and put their cloaks over it.
And he sat on it.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road,
and others spread leafy branches
that they had cut from the fields.
Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!
Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:1-10)
As William Barclay notes, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar I’ve been referencing, 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. The whole city of Jerusalem was awash with visitors in preparation for the Passover.
Barclay also notes that thirty years later a Roman governor had taken a census of the number of lambs slain for Passover and noted that number to be about a quarter of a million. Now, Passover regulation stated that a party of a minimum of ten are 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.)
Barclay notes they greeted him as they would a pilgrim, “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.”
They shouted, “Hosanna!” The word means, “Save now!” as well as “praise.” and that was a cry that a people addressed to their king or their god. (Interesting ~ I wasn’t aware of 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 . It becomes somber as the ministers at the altar and the congregation prepare for the solemn reading of the long reading of the Passion ~ this year from the Gospel of Mark, 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:
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 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 Jones’s. 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 here is 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
To You, Lord Jesus, be glory and honor forever! Amen.
Before you go, dear friends, here is a section of Handel’s Messiah appropriate for this day “He was despis-ed.” Click here. Have a fruitful Holy Week. I will publish again throughout the week.
Here are the today’s Mass readings. Click here. I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire passion story according to Mark.
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 Mark/ The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975
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.
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
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
The Feast of St. Joseph ~ Friday, March 19, 2021
With a Father’s Heart: that is how Joseph loved Jesus, whom all four Gospels revealed him as “the Son of Joseph.”
We know that Joseph was a lowly carpenter betrothed to Mary He was a “just man”, ever ready to carry out God’s will as revealed to him in the Law and through four dreams. After a long and tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, he beheld the birth of the Messiah in a stable, since “there was no ,
Joseph had the courage to become the legal father of Jesus, to whom he gave the name revealed by the angel: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”.
In the Temple, forty days after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary offered their child to the Lord and listened with amazement to Simeon’s prophecy concerning Jesus and his Mother. To protect Jesus from Herod, Joseph dwelt as a foreigner in Egypt. After returning to his own country, he led a hidden life in the tiny and obscure village of Nazareth in Galilee, far from Bethlehem, his ancestral town, and from Jerusalem and the Temple. When, during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary lost track of the twelve-year-old Jesus, they anxiously sought him out and they found him in the Temple, in discussion with the doctors of the Law.
After Mary, the Mother of God, no saint is mentioned more frequently in the papal teaching than Joseph, her spouse.
Now, I would like to share some personal reflections, says Pope Francis, on this extraordinary figure, so close to our own human experience. My desire to do so increased during these months of pandemic, when we experienced, amid the crisis, how “our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are sure,ly shaping the decisive events of our history. Doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious, and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone… How many people daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic, but shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer. How many are praying, making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all”. Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble.
Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.
1. A beloved father
St. Paul VI pointed out that Joseph concretely expressed his fatherhood “by making his life a sacrificial service to the mystery of the incarnation and its redemptive purpose. He employed his legal authority over the Holy Family to devote himself completely to them in his life and work, a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home”.
Thanks to his role in salvation history, Saint Joseph has always been venerated as a father by the Christian people. This is shown by the countless churches dedicated to him worldwide, the numerous religious Institutes, Confraternities and ecclesial groups inspired by his spirituality and bearing his name, and the many traditional expressions of piety in his honor. Innumerable holy men and women were passionately devoted to him.
Every prayer book contains prayers to Saint Joseph. Special prayers are offered to him each Wednesday and especially during the month of March, which is traditionally dedicated to him.
As a descendant of David from whose stock Jesus was to spring according to the promise made to David by the prophet Nathan and as the spouse of Mary of Nazareth, Saint Joseph stands at the crossroads between the Old and New Testaments.
2. A tender and loving father
Joseph saw Jesus grow daily “in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor”. As the Lord had done with Israel, so Joseph did with Jesus: he taught him to walk, taking him by the hand; he was for him like a father who raises an infant to his cheeks, bending down to him and feeding him.
In Joseph, Jesus saw the tender love of God: “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him”.
Only tender love will save us from the snares of the accuser.
3. An obedient father
As he had done with Mary, God revealed his saving plan to Joseph. He did so by using dreams, which in the Bible and among all ancient peoples, were considered a way for him to make his will known.
Joseph was deeply troubled by Mary’s mysterious pregnancy. He did not want to “expose her to public disgrace”, so he decided to “dismiss her quietly”
In the first dream, an angel helps him resolve his grave dilemma: “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” Joseph’s response was immediate: “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him” Obedience made it possible for him to surmount his difficulties and spare Mary.
In the second dream, the angel tells Joseph: “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him. Joseph did not hesitate to obey, regardless of the hardship involved: “He got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod”.
In Egypt, Joseph awaited with patient trust the angel’s notice that he could safely return home. In a third dream, the angel told him that those who sought to kill the child were dead and ordered him to rise, take the child and his mother, and return to the land of Israel. Once again, Joseph promptly obeyed. “He got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel”.
During the return journey, “when Joseph heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. After being warned in a dream” – now for the fourth time – “he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth”.
The evangelist Luke, for his part, tells us that Joseph undertook the long and difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be registered in his family’s town of origin in the census of the Emperor Caesar Augustus. There Jesus was born and his birth, like that of every other child, was recorded in the registry of the Empire. Saint Luke is especially concerned to tell us that Jesus’ parents observed all the prescriptions of the Law: the rites of the circumcision of Jesus, the purification of Mary after childbirth, the offering of the firstborn to God
In every situation, Joseph declared his own “fiat”~ his own “Let it be done!” ~ His own Yes!, like those of Mary at the Annunciation and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
In his role as the head of a family, Joseph taught Jesus to be obedient to his parents, in accordance with God’s command.
During the hidden years in Nazareth, Jesus learned at the school of Joseph to do the will of the Father. That will was to be his daily food. Even at the most difficult moment of his life, in Gethsemane, Jesus chose to do the Father’s will rather than his own, becoming “obedient unto death, even death on a cross”. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews thus concludes that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered”
All this makes it clear that “Saint Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood” and that in this way, “he cooperated in the fullness of time in the great mystery of salvation and is truly a minister of salvation”.
4. An accepting father
Joseph accepted Mary unconditionally. He trusted in the angel’s words. “The nobility of Joseph’s heart is such that what he learned from the law he made dependent on charity. Today, in our world where psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so evident, Joseph appears as the figure of a respectful and sensitive man. Even though he does not understand the bigger picture, he makes a decision to protect Mary’s good name, her dignity and her life. In his hesitation about how best to act, God helped him by enlightening his judgment”.
Often in life, things happen whose meaning we do not understand. Our first reaction is frequently one of disappointment and rebellion. Joseph set aside his own ideas in order to accept the course of events and, mysterious as they seemed, to embrace them, take responsibility for them and make them part of his own history. Unless we are reconciled with our own history, we will be unable to take a single step forward, for we will always remain hostage to our expectations and the disappointments that follow.
The spiritual path that Joseph traces for us is not one that explains, but accepts. Only as a result of this acceptance, this reconciliation, can we begin to glimpse a broader history, a deeper meaning. We can almost hear an echo of the impassioned reply of Job to his wife, who had urged him to rebel against the evil he endured: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”
Joseph is certainly not passively resigned, but courageously and firmly proactive. In our own lives, acceptance and welcome can be an expression of the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude. Only the Lord can give us the strength needed to accept life as it is, with all its contradictions, frustrations and disappointments.
Jesus’ appearance in our midst is a gift from the Father, which makes it possible for each of us to be reconciled to the flesh of our own history, even when we fail to understand it completely.
Just as God told Joseph: “Son of David, do not be afraid!”, so he seems to tell us: “Do not be afraid!” We need to set aside all anger and disappointment, and to embrace the way things are, even when they do not turn out as we wish. Not with mere resignation but with hope and courage. In this way, we become open to a deeper meaning. Our lives can be miraculously reborn if we find the courage to live them in accordance with the Gospel. It does not matter if everything seems to have gone wrong or some things can no longer be fixed. God can make flowers spring up from stony ground. Even if our heart condemns us, “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything”.
Here, once again, we encounter that Christian realism which rejects nothing that exists. Reality, in its mysterious and irreducible complexity, is the bearer of existential meaning, with all its lights and shadows. Thus, the Apostle Paul can say: “We know that all things work together for good, for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).
Nor should we ever think that believing means finding facile and comforting solutions. The faith Christ taught us is what we see in Saint Joseph. He did not look for shortcuts, but confronted reality with open eyes and accepted personal responsibility for it.
Joseph’s attitude encourages us to accept and welcome others as they are, without exception, and to show special concern for the weak, for God chooses what is weak. He is the “Father of orphans and protector of widows” who commands us to love the stranger in our midst I like to think that it was from Saint Joseph that Jesus drew inspiration for the parable of the prodigal son and the merciful father (cf. Lk 15:11-32).
5. A creatively courageous father
If the first stage of all true interior healing is to accept our personal history and embrace even the things in life that we did not choose, we must now add another important element: creative courage. This emerges especially in the way we deal with difficulties. In the face of difficulty, we can either give up and walk away, or somehow engage with it. At times, difficulties bring out resources we did not even think we had.
As we read the infancy narratives, we may often wonder why God did not act in a more direct and clear way. Yet God acts through events and people. Joseph was the man chosen by God to guide the beginnings of the history of redemption. He was the true “miracle” by which God saves the child and his mother. God acted by trusting in Joseph’s creative courage. Arriving in Bethlehem and finding no lodging where Mary could give birth, Joseph took a stable and, as best he could, turned it into a welcoming home for the Son of God come into the world. Faced with imminent danger from Herod, who wanted to kill the child, Joseph was warned once again in a dream to protect the child, and rose in the middle of the night to prepare the flight into Egypt.
A superficial reading of these stories can often give the impression that the world is at the mercy of the strong and mighty, but the “good news” of the Gospel consists in showing that, for all the arrogance and violence of worldly powers, God always finds a way to carry out his saving plan. So too, our lives may at times seem to be at the mercy of the powerful, but the Gospel shows us what counts. God always finds a way to save us, provided we show the same creative courage as the carpenter of Nazareth, who was able to turn a problem into a possibility by trusting always in divine providence.
If at times God seems not to help us, surely this does not mean that we have been abandoned, but instead are being trusted to plan, to be creative, and to find solutions ourselves.
The Gospel does not tell us how long Mary, Joseph and the child remained in Egypt. Yet they certainly needed to eat, to find a home and employment. It does not take much imagination to fill in those details. The Holy Family had to face concrete problems like every other family, like so many of our migrant brothers and sisters who, today too, risk their lives to escape misfortune and hunger. In this regard, I consider Saint Joseph the special patron of all those forced to leave their native lands because of war, hatred, persecution and poverty.
At the end of every account in which Joseph plays a role, the Gospel tells us that he gets up, takes the child and his mother, and does what God commanded him. Indeed, Jesus and Mary his Mother are the most precious treasure of our faith.
In the divine plan of salvation, the Son is inseparable from his Mother, from Mary, who “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son until she stood at the cross”.
We should always consider whether we ourselves are protecting Jesus and Mary, for they are also mysteriously entrusted to our own responsibility, care and safekeeping. The Son of the Almighty came into our world in a state of great vulnerability. He needed to be defended, protected, cared for and raised by Joseph. God trusted Joseph, as did Mary, who found in him someone who would not only save her life, but would always provide for her and her child. In this sense, Saint Joseph could not be other than the Guardian of the Church, for the Church is the continuation of the Body of Christ in history, even as Mary’s motherhood is reflected in the motherhood of the Church. In his continued protection of the Church, Joseph continues to protect the child and his mother, and we too, by our love for the Church, continue to love the child and his mother.
That child would go on to say: “As you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”. Consequently, every poor, needy, suffering or dying person, every stranger, every prisoner, every infirm person is “the child” whom Joseph continues to protect. For this reason, Saint Joseph is invoked as protector of the unfortunate, the needy, exiles, the afflicted, the poor and the dying. Consequently, the Church cannot fail to show a special love for the least of our brothers and sisters, for Jesus showed a particular concern for them and personally identified with them. From Saint Joseph, we must learn that same care and responsibility.
6. A working father
An aspect of Saint Joseph that has been emphasized from the time of the first social Encyclical, Pope Leo XIII Rerum Novarum, written in 1891, is his relation to work. Saint Joseph was a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family. From him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labor.
In our own day, when employment has once more become a burning social issue, and unemployment at times reaches record levels even in nations that for decades have enjoyed a certain degree of prosperity, there is a renewed need to appreciate the importance of dignified work, of which Saint Joseph is an exemplary patron.
Work is a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the Kingdom, to develop our talents and abilities, and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion. It becomes an opportunity for the fulfillment not only of oneself, but also of that primary cell of society which is the family. A family without work is particularly vulnerable to difficulties, tensions, estrangement and even break-up. How can we speak of human dignity without working to ensure that everyone is able to earn a decent living?
Working persons, whatever their job may be, are cooperating with God himself, and in some way become creators of the world around us. The crisis of our time, which is economic, social, cultural and spiritual, can serve as a summons for all of us to rediscover the value, the importance and necessity of work for bringing about a new “normal” from which no one is excluded. Saint Joseph’s work reminds us that God himself, in becoming man, did not disdain work. The loss of employment that affects so many of our brothers and sisters, and has increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, should serve as a summons to review our priorities. Let us implore Saint Joseph the Worker to help us find ways to express our firm conviction that no young person, no person at all, no family should be without work!
7. A father in the shadows
The Polish writer Jan Dobraczyński, in his book The Shadow of the Father, tells the story of Saint Joseph’s life in the form of a novel. He uses the evocative image of a shadow to define Joseph. In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way. We can think of Moses’ words to Israel: “In the wilderness… you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you travelled. In a similar way, Joseph acted as a father for his whole life.
Fathers are not born, but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person.
Children today often seem orphans, lacking fathers. The Church too needs fathers. Saint Paul’s words to the Corinthians remain timely: “Though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers”. Every priest or bishop should be able to add, with the Apostle: “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel”.
Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Perhaps for this reason, Joseph is traditionally called a “most chaste” father. That title is not simply a sign of affection, but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness. Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery. God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the center of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.
Joseph found happiness not in mere self-sacrifice but in self-gift. In him, we never see frustration but only trust. His patient silence was the prelude to concrete expressions of trust.
Our world today needs fathers. It has no use for tyrants who would domineer others as a means of compensating for their own needs. It rejects those who confuse authority with authoritarianism, service with servility, discussion with oppression, charity with a welfare mentality, power with destruction. Every true vocation is born of the gift of oneself, which is the fruit of mature sacrifice. The priesthood and consecrated life likewise require this kind of maturity. Whatever our vocation, whether to marriage, celibacy or virginity, our gift of self will not come to fulfilment if it stops at sacrifice; were that the case, instead of becoming a sign of the beauty and joy of love, the gift of self would risk being an expression of unhappiness, sadness and frustration.
When fathers refuse to live the lives of their children for them, new and unexpected vistas open up. Every child is the bearer of a unique mystery that can only be brought to light with the help of a father who respects that child’s freedom. A father who realizes that he is most a father and educator at the point when he becomes “useless”, when he sees that his child has become independent and can walk the paths of life unaccompanied. When he becomes like Joseph, who always knew that his child was not his own but had merely been entrusted to his care. In the end, this is what Jesus would have us understand when he says: “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven”.
In every exercise of our fatherhood, we should always keep in mind that it has nothing to do with possession, but is rather a “sign” pointing to a greater fatherhood. In a way, we are all like Joseph: a shadow of the heavenly Father, who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt 5:45). And a shadow that follows his Son.
* * *
“Get up, take the child and his mother” (Mt 2:13), God told Saint Joseph.
The aim of this Apostolic Letter is to increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal.
Indeed, the proper mission of the saints is not only to obtain miracles and graces, but to intercede for us before God, like Abraham and Moses, and like Jesus, the “one mediator”, who is our “advocate” with the Father and who “always lives to make intercession for [us]).
The saints help all the faithful “to strive for the holiness and the perfection of their particular state of life”. Their lives are concrete proof that it is possible to put the Gospel into practice.
Jesus told us: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29). The lives of the saints too are examples to be imitated.
Given in Rome, at Saint John Lateran, on 8 December, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the year 2020, the eighth of my Pontificate.
Let us now make our prayer to him:
(I will pray in my own words. . . )
I remember, dear St. Joseph, when we were in grade school
We were prompted to put J.M.J. on the top of every composition.
That meant we were dedicated all out work to Jesus, Mary and to you, Joseph.
I doubt we thought a lot about all that. But it was nice. In 2008,
I arrived at the Benedictine Monastery in Abiguiu, New Mexico
on the Feast of St. Joseph and we were treated to a feast.
Dear St. Joseph, my own father was mostly silent as apparently you were.
He never took me fishing, though he went fishing once in a while.
He got me to shingle the roof of our house and work up a sweat
during the summers I was home from the seminary.
I guess he was a pretty good Dad. He used to give great bear hugs.
Dear St. Joseph, please watch over our country ~ especially until we conquer this pandemic,
And now, before you go, here’s a lovely song to and about St. Joseph with a some lovely images to go with it. Click here.
And here are the Mass readings for the Feast of St. Joseph, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT ~ JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE March 7, 2021
THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT ~ JESUS CLEANSES THE TEMPLE ~ March 7, 2021
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, Jesus 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 quite interesting in John’s chronology of the life of Jesus is quite different from the other three gospels. In them Jesus is depicted as going to Jerusalem only once—the Passover feast in which he was crucified, and his only visit to the holy city other than the one when he was a boy. But in John we find Jesus making frequent trips to Jerusalem, no fewer than three for Passovers. Barclay notes there’s no real contradiction—only different points of view.
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 $100,000 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 sometimes I 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.
Secondly, 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).
Thirdly, the Temple authorities were making the Court of the Gentiles into an uproar and a rabble where no one could pray. The lowing of the oxen, the bleating of the sheep, the cooing of the doves, the shouts of the hucksters, the jingling 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). pp.105 – 114.
Bishop Robert Barron:
The most fundamental vocation of human beings is to give God right praise. In this act of adoration we become rigthtly 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?”
And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.