Pentecost Sunday ~ Let God’s Spirit empower Us and give Us many gifts!

The Great and Glorious Feast of Pentecost 

Sunday May 28, 2023

In our last blog, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus.

After Jesus left the disciples, he gave them and us, the commission to “make disciples of all nations”. And in today’s reading from Acts, we find them “together in one place”, and . . . 

“[Then] suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,

and it filled the entire house in which they were. 

Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire which parted

and came to rest on each one of them. 

And they were all filled with the holy Spirit

and began to speak in different tongues, 

as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim (Acts 2:1-21.)

(We’re told the mother of Jesus was at the Pentecost event as well.) No longer afraid, they courageously preached the message that Jesus established a new order for people’s lives. They began gathering the church.  The Acts of the Apostles is in effect the gospel of the Holy Spirit.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.”

“When the day of Pentecost came it found the brethren gathered in one place.  Suddenly from up in the sky there was a noise like a strong driving wind.”

The Holy Spirit is associated with that wind.  The wind that blows where it wills. The wind that stirs things up and gets people moving.

The word for “wind” in Hebrew is “Ruah” — the same as the word for “breath.”

Often at night as I’m sitting in my chair, or laying in bed, I’ll  just pay attention to my breathing for a while. Sometimes I imagine that the Holy Spirit is the breath entering me, and when I exhale, I’m breathing out the Holy Spirit as well.

What a wonderful image is breath!  Breath is life itself.  No breath, no life in the body.

The mighty wind of Pentecost stirred things up and the church was born.  The apostles and the others who were part of their company, including the women were given enthusiasm. The origin of the word comes from the Greek–en-theos–meaning–“in God”.  So, the original sense of the word is that enthusiasm is a divine gift.

In the beginning of scripture, there’s a story about the tower of Babel–a story that tries to explain why there are so many different languages on the earth and why we cannot understand each other–why there’s so much discord,  so much disharmony, so much hate.

The story has God confusing the languages of people at Babel  (Gen. 11: 1-9) and from that day onward they were scattered.

On the day of Pentecost the opposite happened.  People were gathered together.  Parthians and Medes and Elamites; people from Cappodacia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia and Egypt  — all heard the apostles speaking to them in their own languages.

On the day of my ordination, I was filled with enthusiasm.  It was the day before Pentecost, May 24, 1969. (This year –I’m beginning my 54th year of priestly service.)

I was reminded of this prophecy of Joel back then . . . .

I will pour out my spirit upon all humankind.

Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

your young men shall see visions.

Even upon the servants and handmaids,

in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28, 29)

Those were the days immediately following the Second Vatican Council.  There was a lot of enthusiasm all over the Church.  Those of us who were young, had wonderful opportunities to serve.

The enthusiasm that poured onto me and into me  lasted the first full three years of my priesthood.  The Spirit really touched my ministry, as he did with another priest who was ordained with me.

Nine years later, the opposite happened.  My life crashed in upon me. And I was reminded of still another scripture about the Spirit — the prophecy of the dry bones.

“Dry Bones hear the word of the Lord:  “See I will bring spirit into you that you may come to life again.   Breathe into these slain, O Spirit, that they may come to life.” (Ezekiel 37: 1)

That’s what Pope Francis is trying to do. Breathe new life into the Church that the Holy Spirit will draw the church together in a new way.

There is still something else to note from the Pentecost story.  Tongues of fire rested individually on the heads of each person as is visualized in the image above. The Spirit of God has a special relationship with each of us, just as the Father and the Son do.  The Spirit will enliven us according to the gifts and talents that each of us possess.

So this Holy Spirit does wondrous things for us!

The Spirit is the source of inspiration for all who would design and create.

“There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries, but the same Lord;  there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in every one.  To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

In the seminary I learned to pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit before each class.  And for me it was a powerful devotion.  I realized that the work I produced was more than the sum of its parts.  I realize that is still true some 60 years later.  If we seek and cooperate with God’s grace, wonderful things can and will happen that are so far beyond what we ever imagine!

It is clear that I needed to bring the Holy Spirit to the foreground of my life again and again.  I would like to have a vibrant and vital relationship with the Holy Spirit from moment to moment.  In each instant, I hope that I will discern and still follow the Spirit’s lead.

And so, an important role of the Holy  Spirit is to encourage gifts. To invite risk. To reach out beyond safe boundaries, as Pope Francis is encouraging his priests to do. To make connections. To unite. To celebrate diversity. The story of Pentecost states that the Spirit of God is uncontrollable – by us. It comes as a “strong driving wind’ and “tongues [on] fire! Or in “Trekkie” language, to go “where no one has gone before.”

The greatest saints did just that! Catherine of Sienna (a woman religious!) chastised the pope and she was only 33 years-old when shed died. Francis Xavier undauntedly stepped off the boat in Japan into a culture very foreign to him. A peasant girl named Joan rallied the French army to victory and was burned at the stake because of it. Katharine Drexel stepped beyond boundaries to treat Blacks and Native Americans as persons. And a supposed “care-taker pope” John XXIII shocked everyone by calling a solemn Council of the Church.

They improvised! They pushed the boundaries of the established ways of doing things! They were not afraid to do things differently. They were bold and convicted in the confidence they received from the Spirit of God – just like the apostles at Pentecost. They were the innovators, the Reformers. The ones who led and changed the Church. They listened to the Holy Spirit who prompted / disturbed / prodded / led them/ inspired them / and who became their “Defense Attorney” or Advocate, i.e. “Paraclete.” They simply learned to trust that they were tuned into God from moment to moment who would guide them in what to say and do at the appropriate time.

Our world, our country desperately needs people with that kind of enthusiasm and conviction today. I pray that as I  have entered  my 54th year of holy priesthood, I may still have some of that enthusiasm and joy and conviction to serve God’s holy people! Please pray me!

Now, I’m not quite done with you yet, on this long post on this Memorial Day weekend, dear friends, because there’s one more important word to offer. I often rely on A book of Lent and Easter reflections, and I’m going to end with a powerful word from a German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, who has some rather damning words to say on our political scene today, although he was writing decades ago.

The Feast of Freedom by Jurgen Moltmann

Moltmann is against a Christianity that focuses on the next world, rather on this world.

We’re to get up out of our apathy and the cynicism of prosperity” and fight against “death’s accomplices here and now.

“This faith sees the raising of Christ as God’s protest against death, and against all the people who work for death; for the Easter faith recognizes God’s passion for the life of the person who is threatened by death and with death. It is proved here and now, through the courage for revolt, the protest against deadly powers, and the self-giving of men and women for the victory of life.

“Weary Christians have often enough deleted this critical and liberating power from Easter. Their faith has then degenerated into the confident belief in certain facts, and a poverty-stricken hope for the next world, as if death were nothing but a fate we meet with at the end of life. But death is an evil power now, in life’s very midst. It is the economic death of the person we allow to starve; the political death of the people who are oppressed; the social death of the handicapped; the noisy death that strikes through napalm bombs and torture; and the soundless death of the apathetic soul.

“ It is impossible to talk convincingly about Christ’s resurrection without participating in the movement of the Spirit “who descends on all flesh” to quicken it. This movement of the Spirit is the divine “liberation movement,” for it is the process whereby the world is recreated. In a world of politics that dislikes “diversity”, and wants to put librarians in jail, we might want to listen more attentively to what the Holy Spirit might be saying to us this Pentecost and beyond!

Taken from Jürgen Moltmann’s Book The Power of the Powerless (123-126)

And may we celebrate today the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in the Church, in our world and in, indeed, all of creation!

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,

and enkindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.

and You shall renew the face of the earth.

May it be so.  May it be so.

Now, here’s the ancient Sequence for the Feast ~ or if you will, a poem that occurs within the Mass . . .

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.

And before you go, here is Carey Landrey’s “The Spirit is a’movin’ ” that he sang for my ordination. Be sure to turn up your speakers .

Click here.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.

And here today’s Mass readings.

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/052823-Day.cfm

With love, 

Bob Traupman,

Contemplative Writer

You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth!

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The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord  ~ May 21st, 2023

We’re coming to the conclusion of our Easter season now. I’ve enjoyed writing these Easter blogs for you because it’s impacted my own spirituality as I was researching and writing for you.

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery.  First was the Resurrection six weeks ago on Easter Sunday in which Jesus conquers death for us and reveals that life will never end.

Then there is the Ascension in which Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand (designated, you may remember as “Ascension Thursday,” but to get more people to celebrate it, the feast was transferred in most dioceses to the following Sunday–May 21st.)

And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind on Sunday, May 28th.

All three experiences are intertwined; they reveal different aspects or facets of the same reality.  The Scriptures separate them over 50 days to afford us the opportunity to reflect on each aspect of the one Easter mystery.

Now, let us look at today’s feast, the Ascension.

At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostle (first reading ~ Acts 1:1-11), written by the same author as Luke’s gospel, describes the experience:

Jesus told them not to depart from Jerusalem but to . . . .

“ . . . .wait for the promise of the Father of which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water but in a few days you  will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

He was, of course, referring to Pentecost . . . Then he said,

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you

AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth.”

What do you think it would’ve been like to have been there?

As we read  the last words of Jesus to the men he had chosen to carry on his mission—men he had fondly gathered, camped out with, ate with, slept with, talked and joked with, and formed to carry on his mission. This last meeting with Jesus,  Scripture scholar William Barclay says, he did three things:

~ He assured them of his power. (Matthew says they doubted.)

~ He gave them a commission. He sent them out to make all the world his disciples.

~ He promised them a presence. It must have been a staggering thing for eleven humble Galileans to be sent forth to the conquest of the world. Even as they heard it, their hearts must have failed them. But no sooner than the command was given, than the promise was fulfilled. They were sent out—as we are—on the greatest task of history, but with them there was the greatest presence in the world.

And we remember, they went out to the ends of the earth as they knew it, and all were martyred for their faithfulness and zeal, except for one.

Then, Acts says,  “Jesus was lifted up, a cloud took him from their sight.”

(However, in today’s Gospel from Matthew, the “lifting”  is not mentioned,  just the commissioning.)

They stood there, awestruck, spellbound .

Then two men dressed in white garments stood beside them and said,

“Men of Galilee, why are standing there looking at the sky?

This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.

This feast is about heaven, but also about earth.

Pope Frances tells us, “The Ascension of Jesus into heaven acquaints us on this deeply consoling reality of our journey in Christ, true God and true man,, our humanity was taken up to God. Christ opened up the path to us. If we entrust our life to him. If we let ourselves be guided by him, we are certain to be in safe hands. This is why Pope Benedict XVI wrote, to it would be a mistake to interpret the Ascension as “the temporary absence of Christ from the world.” Rather, “we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him.” Heaven is a person. Jesus himself is what we call heaven.”           ~ From the introduction to Mass for the Ascension /  Magnificat May 2023 issue p.280

Jesus is taken into heaven; that is, he returns to his Father where sits at the Father’s right hand.

And the second reading from Ephesians states that. . . .

God the Father “put all things beneath Christ’s feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”(Ephesians 1:23)

Thus, there is a cosmic dimension to Christology.  The great mystic and theologian Father Teilhard de Chardin  talked about “Christogenesis” – the entire universe evolving by the power of Christ’s all-embracing love.  When Chardin was far away from bread or wine and could not celebrate Mass, he talked fervently and passionately about the  “Mass on the world – that the whole planet was the body of Christ.

So we think about Jesus as Lord of the Universe,  and we pray  that our Lord and our Blessed Lady would watch over us all.  And so the Feast of Ascension is also about earth.

The angels ask the disciples — Why are you standing there looking up in the sky?  You and I have work to do!

YOU MUST BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

A witness is one who experiences with one’s own eyes and ears what has taken place.

A witness is one who has filtered through one’s own senses what their account of the truth is.

I consider myself a witness to the resurrection.  I have had enough experiences of risen life, even, it might seem,  of mystical experience that I am convinced that Jesus is real, that he lives and reigns, that he empowers us through his Spirit. Throughout my life I have found myself immersed in the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This is true also, because Jesus has allowed me the ability to share his life with others, and they with me.  Many others have deepened and enriched their faith as the Holy Spirit worked through my priesthood.

I will celebrate  the 54th anniversary of ordination next Wednesday,  May 24th, and I thank you. my readers, for sharing my priestly ministry with me as long as you’ve been with me.

Brothers and sisters, we have work to do.  We are put on notice in the scriptures of today’s feast.

Next Sunday we will attend to the third aspect of the Easter mystery ~ Pentecost ~ the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all humankind.

During the coming week may we pray that the Holy Spirit would renew each of us individually, the whole Church of God and indeed the whole world.

Christ is Risen!

Now, before you go, here’s a rousing version of the wonderful hymn, Crown Him with many  Click here.   Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

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

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

I will not leave you orphans ~ I will come to you!

 

THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

May 14th, 2023

Ordinarily, many people try to make some provisions for those we will leave behind when we die. Jesus, who became one with us in our human family and was fully engaged in all that we are and do, was no exception.

Some of us are concerned with anticipating and attending to the financial needs of loved ones and, to that end, we pass on to them whatever wealth we’ve accumulated through the years. Sensitive to the emotional well-being of our dear ones, we may also leave messages not only a last testament but a note, a letter or even a personal journal or a videotape. Admittedly, none of these efforts, can negate the stark reality of death, but all may, in some small way, diminish its pain.

Before he departed from his disciples in death, Jesus also attempted to ease the burden of those whom he would leave behind, not by providing for their financial, emotional or psychological needs but by seeing to their spiritual well-being. Indeed, Jesus left behind his very self so that his presence would continue to embrace, enable and empower his followers. Three weeks ago on Easter’s Third Sunday, the risen Jesus, as recorded in Luke’s gospel, explained that his abiding presence could be known and experienced in the breaking open of the scriptural word and in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist. As they realized  his presence among them, the disciples burned with love and affection in their hearts.

Six weeks ago, on Easter’s second Sunday, the risen Jesus ,as recorded in the gospel of John, breathed upon his own and said that from then on they would be inspired and impelled by his abiding presence to bring peace and forgiveness to world.

In today’s gospel, John tells us that the abiding Spirit of Jesus within every believer sets each of us at odds with the world. It is a Spirit of truth whom the world does not recognize or accept. Nevertheless, and despite all odds, that Spirit has been promised us; that the Spirit will remain with us as Jesus’ living legacy until he returns.  Jesus will not leave us orphans!

That Spirit was described by Jesus as another Advocate.  Thus, the Holy Spirit as our advocate is one who represents our interests, like a defense attorney who is sincerely concerned with our well-being. As our Advocates, the Son and the Spirit will support us in all our efforts, strengthen us against every adversary, and sustain us through every trial. It is the Holy Spirit who will assure the permanence and the power of the community’s faith in the risen Jesus. For Jesus solemnly promises that he will not leave us orphans.

An interesting anecdote: From the 1850’s through the 1920’s, “Orphan Trains” carried almost 400,000 children from New York City to adoptive families in the Midwest. These children, often given up by newly arrived and desperate immigrants or found living in the streets, were resettled with families who could feed and clothe them and who welcomed their presence on the still underpopulated frontier of a growing nation. The pathos of the trains’ departures was repeated at stops along the way, when children would be taken off and “displayed” for prospective adoptive parents.

Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them orphans. We have been chosen! And like an older brother, Jesus is going ahead to prepare a home for us. And an unbelievable gift is about to be given us! What Christ has by nature, we are granted as gift—a share in the divine life – in the interior life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Their love surrounds us, supports us, nourishes and sustains us. When the Father sees us, hears our prayers, God sees and hears the divine Son. We are not orphans; we are God’s beloved children, and our train is bound for glory! Pentecost is in two weeks.

Jesus, we’re moving to the close of our Easter season now.  

We feel the excitement in the air ~ and some sadness too.  

You spoke these words to your disciples at the Last Supper;

they would not have understood at the time what you were saying or what you meant.  

You also said,

Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and  reveal myself to him.(14:21).”  

Help us to observe your commandments, Jesus.  They are simple: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  

And allow us to know you and the Father.

To you and the Father and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, be all honor and glory, now and forever. 

Amen.

And now before you go, since this is also Mother’s Day, here’s a hymn to Our Lady. Click Here.

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

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

This Sunday is also Mother’s Day. We wish our mothers, grandmas, aunts–living or deceased , friends, intendeds– a very special day!  But how?  The business folks would have us spend lots of $ on our mothers. For what? Stuff they probably don’t want or need anyway. My suggestion is to get a single rose, give them a big hug–if you’re able, and do something simple and creative. And don’t forget to honor Our Blessed Mother too!

How ’bout putting a comment on my blog and let me know what you think.

With love, 

Bob Traupman 

Contemplative Writer

The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ I am the Way and the Truth and the Life ~for us!

 

The Fifth Sunday of Easter 

May 7th, 2023

Many of us are struggling in one way or another–many of us financially–because of concerns about work,  illness , addictions, retirement, or . . . So we might gladly hear as good news Jesus’ opening line in today’s gospel:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.

This passage appears very shortly before the apostles’ life began to cave in (John 14:1-10). When he speaks of “his Father’s house” he’s talking about heaven, of course, and when he says there are “many dwelling places—or as Barclay calls them, “abiding places,”—Clement of Alexandria thought that there were degrees of glory, rewards and stages in proportion to a man’s achievement in holiness in this life.

Barclay suggests to us that there’s something attractive here. A lot of us think heaven is boring and static! There’s something attractive at the idea of a development which goes on even in the heavenly places.

And if there are many dwelling places in heaven, it may simply mean there’s room for everyone; an earthly house can become overcrowded especially when we were in those coronavirus days, with short tempers and all.)

It was Jesus real purpose “to prepare a place for us.” One of the great words that is used to describe Jesus is prodromos (Hebrews 6:20). It’s translated as forerunner. In the Roman army they were the reconnaissance troops that went ahead to blaze the trail.

And then Jesus said: “Where I am, there you will also be.” Here is the great truth put in the simplest way:

For the Christian, heaven is where Jesus is!”

Again and again Jesus had told his disciples where he was going, but somehow they never understood. “Yet a little while I am with you, and then I go to him who him that sent me (John 7:33). Even less did they understand that the way he had to take was the Cross.

At this moment the disciples were bewildered men; they followed him, yes, but they didn’t quite get what was going on. But there was one among them who would never say he understood what he did not understand.

You might guess who that one was.

Thomas, of course!

Thomas said, “Master, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?

And Barclay says, that no one should ever be ashamed to express one’s doubts for it is amazingly true that he who seeks to the end will find—and  it’s so wonderful that Thomas’ question provoked one of the greatest things Jesus ever said:

“I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”

That is the great saying to us, but it would be still greater to the Jew who heard it for the first time.

The Jews talked a great deal about the ways of God. “You shall walk in the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you Dt. 5:32,33). “Teach me your way, O Lord. (Psalm27: 11). 

So what did Jesus mean when he said he was “the Way”?

Jesus doesn’t tell us about the Way; He is the Way. He will take us where we need to go!

Jesus said, “I am the Truth.

How many people have told us they have told us the truth—car sales persons, politicians, insurance brokers, realtors, bankers, journalist, husbands, wives, children and doctors who have lied to us instead.

But Jesus is the Truth. Moral truth cannot be conveyed solely in words; it must be conveyed by example. It finds its realization in him.

Jesus said, “I am the Life.”

The writer of Proverbs said, “The commandment is the lamp, and the teaching a light; and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). “You show me the path of life. (Psalm16: 11).

There is only one way to put all this: “No one, said Jesus, comes to the Father except through me. Jesus alone is the way to God. In him we see what God is like, and he alone can lead us to God’s presence without fear and without shame

.And so, once again, dear sisters and brothers, I call you, I invite you to an intimacy with Jesus who is our Way, our Truth and our Life.  

Last week we reflected on Jesus in his image as the Good Shepherd, walking the road ahead of us, protecting us from harm as the Sheep-gate. If you feel afraid or hesitant to draw close to him, don’t be. Sometimes people who’ve been hurt by love are even afraid of God too. That’s understandable. Just don’t be afraid! There is nothing to be afraid of.  Put your big toe in. The water’s warm. You’re in for the biggest surprise of your life!

Gentle Jesus, I thank you for guiding me along the way of my life,

I thank you for leading me on my life-long search for You, my Truth;

may I finally be united to you, my Life!

But most of all, I beg of you, to be with all of those who are struggling this day in any way, those who are sick, those who take care of them, those who worried about their jobs and finances, those in leadership positions of any sort.

May Our Blessed Lady watch over us all! Amen!  

And now before you go, here’s the song ” I am the way and the truth and the life.Click Here. 

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

With love, 

Bob Traupman 

Contemplative Writer

William Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2                                Revised Edition / Westminster Press – Philadelphia – 1975/ pp. 154-9.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fourth Sunday of Easter ~ Are you a Good Shepherd?

The Fourth Sunday of Easter  Good Shepherd Sunday

April 30th, 2023

Dear Friends,

The Fourth Sunday of Easter has my favorite Gospel story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd–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 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 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, the shepherd had to produce proof 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. (And don’t we have some political leaders these days who take care of their of own interest, rather than their constituents?) The good shepherd is the one dedicated to his sheep and their care. (And the same with true  servants of the people. Are you watchful whom you elect?)

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.

Jesus 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 sheep-gate. 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 . . . .

Jesus,

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.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

The Third Sunday of Easter ~ You will know him in the Breaking of the Bread

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THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

April 23rd, 2023

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to take a walk with Jesus down a country road? Think about it. 

That’s what I’d like you to do with me now in your imagination. Let’s go back as  the two disciples walk with Jesus, and walk along with them.

I’ll reflect on the story, the fruit of my own imagination; but you’ll need to engage your own.  

(Please note: When I use the actual words from Scrip­ture, they appear in red type; the narrative appears in regular type and when I offer comments about the story, these appear in italics.)

“That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus.”

They were sad and downcastas they were discussing the events in Jerusalem over the previous three days.

Think about how Jesus’ disciples must have felt during the interim between Good Friday afternoon and when they were able to fully grasp that Jesus had risen. They were terrified the Jewish authorities would come after them as well. 

Now, think for a moment at a time when you were sad or despondent–when a loved one was sick, or dying, or you were worried about money or a job.

. . . . Then Jesus invited himself along and they began to converse with him as they walked.

They do not recognize him, and began telling Jesus about Jesus. “. . . a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.”  The ‘Lectio Divina’ from this month’s Magnificat says this was the beginning of  a great transformation  for the disciples; they are talking to him about their fears and disappointments. he is getting them out of their mental  and emotional  state.

They told him, “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” 

(Feel the depth of their disappointment and an­guish ~ and fear; they must have been heartsick.  What kept them from a sense of hope?)  What prevents you  from  living a hope-filled  life?

“They knew that women in their company had gone to the tomb early that morning and found the tomb empty, but had seen a “vision of angels who an­nounced that he was alive.”  But their senses were dulled and didn’t believe it? Do you, dear reader?

Then Jesus interjected, Oh how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the proph­ets spoke!’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” 

( What change was taking place in them?) Was it that they felt the warmth of his love?

When they reached their village, they pressed him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”

(How do you think the disciples were feeling at this point? Had a change or transformation occurred in them?)  ( I remember a conversation I had with someone on a train when I was a seminarian and he invited me to his home and I felt his love. I never saw him again; but I still pray for him.)

“So he went in to stay with them. And it hap­pened that, while he was at table. . .”

. . .Now they could see him directly, not alongside them, but across from them. . . 

“. . .He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.

A veil had covered their eyes, but now their eyes were opened and they recognized him—in the breaking of bread.”

And then they returned to the Eleven in the Upper Room and “recounted what had taken place along the way and how [Jesus] was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”

There was victory in their hearts!  The point here is that they had to share their experience! They had to “evangelize!”

Love of the holy Eucharist, down through the centuries the church has recognized the Lord—has rec­ognized itself—in the breaking of bread. This prompts a deep and abiding love for participating in the holy Eucharist. 

(What kinds of varied feelings do you have when you celebrate the Eucharist? What could deepen your love of the gathering, listening, sharing, singing that is the holy Eucharist?

And then this: The disciples realized “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

The two disciples came very, very close to Je­sus in their conversation on the way. It was an intimate moment they would always remember.

I can remember a good number of holy (that is, open and honest) conversations  with friends that changed my life and have given me the nourishment to grow and move on.

(Who are the people in your life who nourish and encourage you in conversation?)

Whom do you so nour­ish?  

And here’s a bit of a commentary . . . .

What a joy and a privilege it would be to share an evening meal with Jesus as the two disciples did after the memorable walk to Emmaus!  How blessed it would be to listen and learn as Jesus began with Moses and all the prophets to interpret every passage of scripture that referred to him.  What a gift to watch him take the bread, bless it, break it, share it. What a joy to feel our hearts burning within and our eyes open wide to recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

As we look back over the gospels, particularly that of the Lucan evangelist, we are reminded that Jesus afforded his contemporaries many such nourishing, enlightening and transforming experiences within the context of shared meals.  Indeed, throughout the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, meal sharing was a profoundly important event, one that sealed friendships, affirmed marital and family relationships, solidified political alliances and confirmed and celebrated one’s faith and worship (as in the Passover meal.)  (And it’s  so strange, these days, when so many of us eat our meals alone– or if we do have meals with others, people are often texting  or listening  to their  ipods. )

Israel’s wisdom literature is lavish in its banquet imagery.  Recall Wisdom’s invitation as recorded in Proverbs:  “Wisdom has built herself a house…she has prepared her table…Come eat of my bread, drink of the wine I have prepared for you.”  

Gradually the Israelite community who came before us in the faith began to envision the experience of salvation in terms of a great banquet prepared by God for all of humankind.

Also realized and clearly in evidence at those meals of old was the universal and welcoming love of God for all, especially sinners.

Jesus’ contemporaries would have shunned sitting down at someone’s dining room table with sinners; these they regarded as off the playing field of salvation.  Jesus deliberately associated with outcasts welcoming them and agreeing to be welcomed by them.  Indeed, he made it quite clear that some of these outcasts would come into the kingdom before the established religious leaders.  Recall Jesus’ willingness to be a guest in the homes of Levi and Zacchaeus, both of whom were hated tax collectors.  These would never have been welcomed into a respectable Jewish home.  Yet it was to these very people to whom Jesus extended the privilege and blessings of table fellowship.  It would be like Jesus going to the home of a homosexual or Muslim family today and eating and drinking with their friends.

Then recall that when Jesus hosted the multitudes and fed the 5000 in the deserted place, he did not first determine who was worthy of his food or his presence.  He fed them all, first with the nourishment of his teaching and then with bread and fish.  Given the enormity of the number who ate to their satisfaction, surely there were some in the crowd who fell short of the law’s standard, who sinned against their neighbors, who were remiss in some aspect of their lives.  Nevertheless, without hesitation or discrimination, Jesus welcomed and fed them all.

Now we come to this wonderful story of the breaking of the bread, this my favorite and beloved resurrection appearance of Jesus.  As in most of the resurrection appearances, the risen Jesus was not immediately recognized by his own.  Recognition came gradually and only with the insights afforded by faith. Though Jesus had been transformed by his resurrection and was not initially recognized, he was, nevertheless, the same Jesus who had walked with them, talked with them, and shared their lives while he was  among them before he was crucified.  He was the same Jesus who took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to feed the multitudes.

 He was the same Jesus who allowed himself to be taken and broken on the cross and who gave his life so that sinners may be blessed with forgiveness, freedom from sin, salvation.

I am a priest nearly 54-years now.  The holy Eucharist is my life and my salvation,  In fact, I am certain that I could not live happily without it – at least sanely.

Appreciate this great and wonderful experience, dear friends, that Jesus shares with us in his person even now, two thousand years after the Last (or the First) Supper.

One last question for you: when you finally get to walk into church again and walk up to the communion table and receive the Holy Eucharist again, how do you think you will feel?

What a beautiful experience it is to share in the breaking of the bread – whether there is a glorious celebration with trumpets and gorgeous music or with just one other person present.

Yes, appreciate this great and wonderful gift.

May we never take it for granted.

Lord Jesus,

We praise you and thank you for sharing with us

in every place and for all time

the gift of your sacred body and blood.  

May we always cherish such a wonderful gift

and never take it for granted.  

To You be all glory and honor

with the Father and the Spirit,  

now and forever. Amen. Alleluia! 

And now before you go, here’s a Eucharistic hymn for you, “One Bread, One Body.” Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers.  

And here  all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.

The Second Sunday of Easter “Peace be with You!” (Divine Mercy Sunday)

The Second Sunday of Easter 

April 16th, 2023   ~ “Peace be with You!”

The Apostles were  disturbed  and bewildered 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.

These issues were so strong in them that they couldn’t believe the message that the Women brought them that Jesus had been raised. They weren’t at peace.

They were distressed and fearful, huddled together in the Upper Room behind locked doors, that the One they had come to love had been murdered. They were afraid that the religious leaders would come for 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 as well.

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 all that is good.”  That’s what the Hebrew word  Shalom  means.

Jesus said when he appeared to them in the locked room, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.”

Barclay says Jesus gave the disciples the commission the Church must never forget. God sent him forth, so he sent them forth. And our Scripture scholar notes three things . . .

First, it means Jesus needs the Church, as St. Paul called  it (us) “the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23), to get his message across to the world. Jesus was dependent on the Church.

Second, it means the Church needs Jesus. A person who’s sent out, needs someone to send him; that person needs a message to take. Without Jesus, there’s no message. This means the Church is dependent on Jesus.

Third, 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.  (This is a message, I think,  to some  Evangelicals today who are mixed up with politics.)

“And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit . . . .”

Barclay suggests that when John spoke this 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 dead, 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.

 . . . . After 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 defiantly 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 devastated, or to use a slang term wasted. A week earlier he had said he would not believe. The truth of it all came home to him: 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 who have not seen, and have yet learned to believe!” Those who ask for no miracles, demand nothing out of the ordinary, but find God’s message in everyday life. Those who require no compelling proofs , but must 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 open-hearted. Who seek to cleanse their hearts of all self-righteousness, obstinacy, presumption, and 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 the 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,

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. I sometimes discover him as close to me as my own heartbeat. Not that I’m always aware of him. No, I am a sinful man who has made many mistakes in my close to fifty-four years of priestly ministry. But I know that I love him and I know for certain that Jesus loves me.

And, with all my heart and soul, I want you, my dear readers, to know the deep, deep love and affection that Jesus has for YOU, as well!

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!  Shalom!

And now before you go, a couple of things, first, today is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday.

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. For more information on how to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet Click Here.

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 great song just behind it.

And, finally here are the Mass readings for today.  Click here.

William Barclay The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2                                Revised Edition / Westminster Press – Philadelphia – 1975/ pp. 272-4.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord ~ Christ is Risen! Go tell it!

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord 

April 9th, 2023

Christ is Risen, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Over the past  few years, I’ve only shared an Easter poem of mine, but here’s a more nourishing reflection; maybe it’ll stretch you a bit, but I hope it inspires you and brings you joy to celebrate the feast with renewed faith and hope.

I’ve culled together excerpts of several of the great articles in the Lenten book Bread and Wine . . . .

Our first article by Brennan Manning states that over a hundred years ago in the Deep South, a phrase common in our Christian culture today the term “born again” was seldom used. Rather, the words used to describe the breakthrough into personal relationship with Jesus Christ were:

“I was seized by the power of a great affection!”

It was a profoundly moving way to indicate both the initiative of the almighty God and the explosion(!) within the human heart that occurs when Jesus becomes Lord. (B&W p. 224)

Now that, dear friends, is an amazing description of what should take place in the soul of our catechumens baptized at the Easter Vigils in churches all over the world and anyone who wishes to “become a convert”—as we used to say.

To continue the same theme in our second article, E. Stanley Jones brings out a theme that I’ve always stressed “The Christ of Experience.”  The early disciples had little ritual but a mighty realization. They went out–not remembering Christ–but experiencing him. He was a living, redemptive, actual presence–then and there. They went out with the joyous and grateful cry:

“Christ lives in me!”

The Jesus of history had become the Christ of experience. Some have suggested that the early Christians out-thought, out-lived and out-died the pagans. But that was not enough; they “out-experienced” them.

We cannot merely talk about Christ—we must bring him. We must be a living vital reality –closer than breathing and nearer than hands and feet. We must be “God-bearers.” (B&W pp.346-9)  We must “Go tell it!”

As a priest—and in my younger days when I taught young people and adults, I would use the phrase: “Experience precedes ( goes before) understanding.”  The point I wanted to get across was the same as Rev. Jones—the only true experience of our faith is to have Jesus in one’s heart. To know him, not just know about him. When I was growing up, all that was required was to regurgitate (spit out to the nun or teacher ) our  Catechism answers.

And in the 1980’s, when I first went to study about how the ancients conducted their Catechumenate—what we now call the “RCIA—or Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, I was amazed to find out that they did not teach initiants about the sacraments until what we call the Mystagoia Period, which is after they received the sacraments of Initian,  and during the six weeks of the Easter season.

Again, the point is that experience precedes understanding. You see, in the early Church, they guarded their experience of the Holy—the Eucharist. In fact, the catechumens today are still supposed to be dismissed from the assembly until they receive the  sacraments at the Easter Vigil.  (In our parish, they do it that way– but so many other parishes do not.) Oftentimes priests and parish educators settle for the minimum and, sadly many “converts” are not converted at all. They are not “seized by the power of great affection.” They do not experience the Lord Jesus in their heart and become “God-bearers.”

Now here’s more on the same theme by N. T Wright . . . . Listen to what St. Paul says taking the brutal facts of the cross and turning it inside out:

“God cancelled the bond that stood against us, with its legal demands: he set it aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col 2:14)

That is to say: The world, and the rulers of the world, had you in their grip. But Jesus took that bondage upon himself: it is all there in the charge that was nailed over the cross and in Pilate’s cynical use of his authority: “What I have written, I have written.” ~ INRI . Jesus took it on himself: and, being the one person who had never submitted to the rulers of this world, who had lived as a free human being, obedient to God, he beat them at their own game. He made a public example of them; God, in Christ, celebrates his triumph over the prince(s) of the world.

The cross is not a defeat but a victory. It’s the dramatic reassertion that God’s love is sovereign, that the rulers of the world don’t have the last word, that the kingdom of God has defeated the kingdom of Satan, that the kingdoms of the world, now become, in principle, the kingdom of our God, and of his Messiah and he shall reign for ever and ever and ever!  (B&W pp. 388-90)  

Now here’s the poem I wrote to celebrate this great feast . .  .

First day of the week now come

The dawn, now dawning

Women rushing with their spices

Quaking earth trembling, trembled

An angel dazzling, dazzled

Rolling back the stone

Do not be afraid! he said,

Do not be afraid! he said,

He has been raised!

He has been raised!

Go quickly!!

Tell it!

JESUS IS RISEN!

What did he say?

Do not be afraid?

Who me? Not be afraid?

People struggling with this Pandemic ~ still.

Tell the Reps and Dems:  Pray more.

And  those needing  rent &  jobs.

And  Ukraine? Jesus, please!

And our dearest children? gunned down ~ why? why?

Go quickly! 

Tell it!

Don’t Be Afraid!   

Yeah! Tell it!

To your neighbors, to America. 

And all the world!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

JESUS IS RISEN!

Before you go, here’s an artful Easter Sunday processional from the Princeton University chapel. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and be sure to enter full screen.

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

With Love,

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

Bread and Wine / Plough Publishing House / Walder NY 2003

 

 

Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord ~ Jesus is “handed over” for death for us!

Good Friday April 7th, 2023

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.

Our Jewish neighbors began their Passover celebration on Wednesday evening  and our Muslim friends are observing Ramadan this month–what a convergence! May Jesus bring  peace and harmony among all of us and impact an end to this awful war in Ukraine! 

I’m going to rely on two articles from my favorite Lent / Easter spiritual reading companion Bread and Wine that now has a broken spine in need of a chiropractor

 The first one was written by a favorite author, Henri Nouwen, that gives us the title of this blog– that Jesus was “handed over ” to death for us.  This happened in the garden of Gethsemane  when  he was arrested. And Nouwen noticed that not only is Jesus “handed over” to Judas, but also from God!  God did not spare his Son but “handed him over” to benefit us all  (see Romans 8:32). Many of us are “handed over” beyond our own wishes or wants too. The former president was just handed over  to the court beyond his own wishes, wants, desires and will.  When was the last time that happened to you?  It happened to me this past March 8th when I was told by the DVV that I could no longer drive. That’s kinda painful, ya know–as I’ve been driving  for 62 years, since I was seventeen. So, ask yourself, when was the last time you were handed over to someone or some event against your will?  And can you unite that experience to Jesus on the Cross?

Now this second article offers a very different point for our consideration. It’s an article entitled Naked Pride by the Rev. John Stott, a distinguished Anglican priest and theologian. . .

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 we gaze upon the cross this Good Friday— either one in our home or the one at the end of our 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”,which means, 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 to 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.” (Get my own face beaten.)

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 (prayin) 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 of Jesus 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 in spite 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 your love and forgiveness.

And please help us bring an end to this terrible war in Ukraine.

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!

Amen!

And now, before you go, here’s the hymn: He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Click here.

And now here are today’s readings: Click here.

If you would like a commentary on the Passion story of St. John’s gospel you can find it here:  click here

With love, 

Bob Traupman

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 //   Henri Nouwen, “From Action to Contemplation” from  “A Spirituality of Waiting by Henri J. M. Nouwen in the  The Weaving Reader, ed. by John Mogabgah, Copyright by the Upper Room, Used by permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 2023

This Blog is dedicated to the mothers of war-torn Ukraine and their children as they grieve for their children and those devastated by gun violence in our own country–most recently in Nashville, those who’ve been  killed in the earthquakes in the Turkey and Syria and the storms in our own country, as well as in  the senseless ongoing violence between Israeli’s  and Palestinian’s.

What wailing, what mourning , what sorrow, what tears can be shed to alleviate such suffering?

I was on my priest’s retreat the first week of Lent 2009, and  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 (this was 2009 –I’m in my 53rd year now, in 2023).

I record for you now  the prayer which was in my journal notes for Father Don the next day.  Several of those women mentioned in the prayer are still in my life today.  I dedicate this blog to them 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. 

Dearest Lady,
mother of Jesus, your 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 . . .
You gave the stern, yet tender love of a Jewish mother to
Jesus, the Son of God,
who was nourished at your tender breasts,
cradled in your arms,
bounced upon your knee;
whose booboos were kissed by your lovely mouth,                                         and whose dead body you received come down from the Cross: 
From you  and Joseph, 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 his friends?
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 , listening
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 forebodings 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.

A mother can never be prepared to lose her son.

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

Chris who lost two children within her belly.

Dearest Lady, I think of  other 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 ?

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

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  a gift for me.
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. 

(The photo above is of parents mourning one of their children gunned down at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct.)

With Love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer