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 Third Sunday of Easter ~ April 18, 2021
Here we read of St. Luke’s account of how Jesus came to his own when they were gathered in the upper room (Lk. 24:35-48)
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them
in the breaking of bread.
Pope Francis has warned of the danger of spiritual amnesia, of forgetting what the Lord has done for us. And of building a memory bank; and from that memory to go forward. And it would also be good for us to repeat the advice of Paul to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead,. . . .Remember Jesus who has accompanied me up to now, and will accompany me until that moment when I must appear before him in glory”
While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
“Peace be with you.”
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
he took it and ate it in front of them.
Notice it’s not a storm or other danger but Jesus himself that startles and terrifies them .Because their spiritual vision is not fully developed, and they don’t recognize him in the manner they were used to. So, they experience him as a threat, a potentially harmful presence, Do we sometimes experience something similar? We sometimes are afraid the Lord too–like Adam and Eve in the Garden.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish;
Archbishop Sheen often remarked that whenever Christ humbles himself and wants us to give us a great favor, he first asks for one. Christ humbles himself in way because he wants us to be unafraid to come to him, to ”feed” him with his love.
He said to them:
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,
that everything written about me in the law of Moses
and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And he said to them,
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.”
Our scripture scholar-friend William Barclay notes that that several things are stressed in this passage. . . . .
First, it stresses the reality of the resurrection. The risen Lord was no phantom or hallucination. The Jesus who died was in truth the Christ who rose again. Jesus asked his friends if they had anything to eat. They had some baked fish, and he ate it.
Second, it stresses the necessity of the cross. It was the cross to which all the Scriptures looked forward. The cross wasn’t forced on God. It was part of the plan of God in which we see his eternal love.
Third, it stresses the urgency of the task. The Church wasn’t to live forever in the upper room. It was sent out into the world. After the upper room came the worldwide mission of the Church.
And lastly, it stresses the secret power. They had to wait. There are occasions when the Christian may seem to be wasting time, waiting in wise passivity. Action without preparation must often fail. There’s a time to wait on God and a time to work for God.
The quiet times in which we wait on God are never wasted, for it is in these times when we lay aside life’s tasks that we are strengthened for the very tasks we lay aside.
Or to put it in the words of an ~ um~ “great” theologian:
Roses are reddish,
Violets are bluish.
If there was no Easter,
We’d all be Jewish!
This is not just a cute little rhyme. If Jesus had not been risen from the dead, we wouldn’t be here. Because our religion would be based on a huge deception that could not have been sustained for two thousand years.
I am convinced that Jesus is risen from the dead and that he lives and reigns right now in the center of the universes. And as I will show, Easter reveals itself in little things.
The resurrection reveals the existence of the spiritual world that exists alongside this physical world of space and time. The resurrection reveals the afterlife. The resurrection is the “engine” that powers the spiritual system of prayer that allows us to be dynamically connected to Jesus, his Father in heaven, and all of the universe.
The beauty of the resurrection is that WE are destined to rise with Jesus – and not only after our life, but right here, right now.
We share in Jesus’ resurrection.
St. Gregory the Great in the Sixth Century said,
“The body that rose again on the third day is ours.
The body that ascended above all the heights of heaven to the right hand of the Father is ours. If then we walk in his commandments, and are not ashamed to acknowledge the price he paid for our salvation in a lowly body, we too share in his glory.”
We talk about sharing in Jesus’ paschal mystery – Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. But mostly, we think about being united to Jesus in his suffering, in the suffering of the world.
It becomes a matter of faith for us until we experience resurrection ourselves.
For some of us, that will be in this life through certain spiritual experiences; for others, not until the next.
But we have difficulty celebrating Easter. We have difficulty sustaining it. The Easter season is 50 days long – ten days longer than Lent. It is meant for us to enjoy the resurrection, to celebrate it, to be transformed by it.
But we often truncate the joy of Easter. We cut it off before it really takes hold in our being and in our family life. Perhaps because we think we are not worthy of joy, that we don’t deserve it.
This Easter, may we learn to sustain it. Let us really live the season of Easter!
How? It’s really quite simple. Look for the little signs of life ~ like sighting your first tulip. Or here in Florida, like sighting your first beautiful white blossom on a Magnolia tree, or in South Florida the flaming red Royal poinciana trees.
Oftentimes, during Lent, I suggest people make a nightly inventory and look for the failures in love that happened during the day.
Today, I suggest that we also look for our little successes, our small victories in love, look for the little moments of joy that happen each day, and just take note of them. Let them weave their spell in your life! These little awarenesses are the signs of resurrection happening in our own life.
There are signs of new life emerging throughout the world for which I invite us to give thanks this day. Can you see the signs of new life in your family, in you?
For two thousand years we have celebrated the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
And so, keep an eye out for the butterflies. They are the natural symbols of the resurrection. When you see a butterfly think of that little creature as US! We will be transformed from all our nastiness and ugliness into a beautiful new, creature of God, free to dance joyfully in the spirit as Jesus danced from his grave!
And now, before you go, here is “The Lord of the Dance” Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of Luke-Revised Edition / Westminster / John Knox Press / Louisville,Ky pp.352-3.
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.
Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord
April 4th, 2021
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 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 similar to the Jurgen Moltmann I quoted in the Good Friday blog . . . .
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, outlived 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)
As a priest—and in my younger days when I taught young people and adults, I would use the phrase: “Experience precedes understanding.” The point I was trying to get across was the same as Mr. 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 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 after Easter!
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 after the Liturgy of the Word and at that time they are taught about the Word and only at the Easter Vigil do they come into the presence of our sacraments. But I’m not going to win that argument. Oftentimes priests 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 us 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, celebrate 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!
JESUS IS RISEN!
What did he say?
Do not be afraid?
Who me? Not be afraid?
People struggling with this Pandemic.
Others trying to pay their rent or find a job.
Old people wasting away in nursing homes.
Immigrants afraid of being deported?
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 the Australian young people’s group Hillsong singing “Worthy is the Lamb” with a stadium full of young people singing with them! 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.
Bread and Wine / Plough Publishing House / Walder NY 2003
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
The Sorrowful Mother (The Pieta) – Michelangelo –
in the millennial year of 1500 when he was 24 years old
HOLY WEEK 2021
As we face this terrible Coronavirus crisis that has so unsettled all are lives. and has caused so many deaths in our country.
This blog is a Holy Week prayer to our lady the Sorrowful Mother. The image is the most famous in the world the masterpiece chiseled by the young Michelangelo a half a Millennia ago. Even if you’re not used to praying to the Mother of Jesus, this is a good time to do so. Her prayers are powerful indeed. We haven’t gone through anything like this since the Bubonic plague in Europe in the Fourteenth Century.
While I was on my retreat the first week of Lent 2009, one of my prayer assignments was to sit before a statue of the sorrowful mother. I have always had a devotion to Mary, the mother of the Lord, and on that balmy afternoon against the background of the cypress swamp I reflected on all the mothers I have tried to console throughout the (then) forty years of my priesthood. I record for you now the prayer which was my journal note for Father Don the next day. Several of those women mentioned in the prayer are still in my life today. I dedicate this blog as I remember them with love.
Be sure to read the commentary about the 24-year-old Michelangelo and his first sculpture which follows. He chiseled his understanding of human grief, tap by tap, for two years. It is a magnificent meditation. Ponder it yourself. And unite your own prayer to our Lady to his this Holy Week. There is also a very different image of grief below that I photographed from a book.
mother of Jesus, whose tender love
brought Love Itself into our world,
may those who have never known
the tender embrace
of their own mother’s love
receive the same tender care and love you wish for each of them. . .
for each of us . . .
as you offered the stern, yet tender love of a Jewish mother upon
Jesus, the Son of God
who was nourished at your tender breasts,
cradled in your arms,
bounced upon your knee;
whose booboo was kissed by your lovely mouth,
whose dead body you received come down from the Cross:
You were the one from whom
Jesus learned the joys of human love.
Simeon said, holding your little Child in his arms,
that a sword would pierce your soul.
Did you have any idea what he meant?
Did you follow Jesus throughout his ministry?
Where you among the women who took care of him
and the others?
If so, where did you stay?
Or did you stay at home in Nazareth?
Did you go out to visit him when you could?
To listen to him preach?
Were you in the midst of the crowds
who pressed around him?
Did you have a chance to be alone with him for a while?
Did you give him any motherly advice?
Did you wash his clothes,
fix his favorite meal when he was on the road?
Did you gain a sense of foreboding as you listened
to the murmurings of hostility beginning to grow toward him?
What did you do with that concern?
I think perhaps you knew. You could see where this was going to end,
because you kept all those foreboding things Simeon told you
in your heart.
Sorrow and sadness must have entered your heart
long before that fateful Friday.
But probably not much worry or anxiety because
I think you must have said over and over:
Be it done unto me according to Your word.
Be it done.
Thy will be done.
A mother can never be prepared to lose her son.
Fran, whose son Jimmy died at the hands of a drunk driver;
Chris who loved two children within her belly.
Dearest Lady, I think of mothers I have known
who’ve watched their children die.
My cousin, Lynda, whose beautiful child Robbie
who bore her father’s and my name
died in a fire at age three.
I don’t think his mother ever got over that sadness.
I think of Marie whose paralyzed son was in prison
who couldn’t find a priest to console her after his wrongful death.
I think, dear Lady, that you unite yourself with other mothers who suffer at the bedside of a sick child.
I think of Monica whose son Andrew died of AIDS;
Rosemarie, whose very popular high school senior John died of a brain tumor, and wrote a book to work out her grief;
Florence, the mother of my best priest-buddy Phil who died suddenly at age 47.
“What a dirty trick!” she wailed at God;
the woman whose name I have long forgot whose surfer-son drowned in a storm in my first week of priestly ministry; mothers I’ve known whose sons who couldn’t escape from addiction; Monique whose son despaired and ended his life, leaving his children.
How can any of us really know what a mother must feel
who must outlive her child?
And I think of all the mothers of the world who are condemned to watch their children die of malnutrition.
And the mothers who are being deported by the Trump administration, leaving behind their American-born children.
And terrified mothers who try to comfort their children caught in war-torn countries, especially in Syria and the Rohigya people
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.
And that moment was gift.
A gift I will always remember.
as you yourself shared in Jesus’ passion,
I ask you to be with all those whose hearts are
broken in sorrow.
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 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.
“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.