Today’s gospel reading is another section of Jesus’ Last Discourse at the Last Supper, as recorded in John’s Gospel. And, as Jesus was talking with his own disciples, it helps us to think about our own relationship with the Lord.
Are we close to him? Do we allow him to get close to us? Or do we keep him at arm’s length?
Some of us don’t want to deal with the Lord as a friend. For some, he is more of an impersonal “boss,” a Ruler who compels us to impersonally obey – “from a distance,” as Bette Midler once sang.
For others of us, he is our “best friend,” our dear brother,” “our shepherd.”
I’d like to invite you, right now, to think about your relationship with the Lord.
In the church before the Second Vatican Council, our Lord seemed to be distant from us, unapproachable. He was someone to be feared. He seemed to be someone who would send us to hell if we ate more than a quarter of a hotdog on Friday or had bad thoughts. And so we returned the favor; we kept Jesus outside of us, not close enough for us to invite him into our souls. Many of us kept him out of sight and out of mind. And in the old church, some folks would put off dealing with Christ or the Church until their deathbed.
After Vatican II for a while there were some renewal movements that brought people close to Jesus. I made a Cursillo (Little course in Christianity) back in 1971, just two years after my ordination. It had a very significant impact on my life in that it helped me bring others to Christ.
Four years later, I encountered the Lord up close and personal in a meditation I experienced on a retreat. That moment changed my life. From that day in February 1976, Jesus has been close to me, even though I have not always been close to him.
Jesus is now my best friend. I let him into my soul. I don’t exclude him from areas of my soul that are still in disarray. I let him “listen in” on my thoughts that he would not quite approve of. I am not afraid to let him know me – as I am, for I know he accepts me as I am. I don’t have to hide things from him. I feel his love, a love that embraces all of me – just as I am ~ warts and all. When we allow ourselves to get close to Jesus, we get to know ourselves better too. We don’t hide things from ourselves so much.
Some people, on the other hand, keep Jesus on the periphery of their lives because they know that if they let him in close, they’ll have to change and they’re not ready to change, so they keep the Lord at bay. Sometimes Jesus comes knocking at the door of our soul and we turn him away. What indignities we put the Lord through!
What I’ve found, however, that Jesus will be for us, as he was for the woman caught in adultery. He accepted the woman as she was and allowed her to change because she realized his love.
To know the personal love of the Lord is a wonderful, exhilarating experience. It’s an experience that you too can have – perhaps on your own with the Spirit’s help, or with the help of a friend and guide.
Then you’ll want to live your whole life in friendship with the Lord. You don’t have to wait until you die to live fully reconciled with Christ. You don’t have to wait until you die to experience holiness and wholeness. Jesus offers his very own life and love to you right here, right now!
Now let us take a close look at today’s gospel. There are three sections that are appropriate for our discussion. As I said, it’s still part of the Last Supper discourse.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and make our dwelling with him.
Our own soul becomes the dwelling place for God and God will abide with us forever.
St. Thomas Aquinas says that three things are necessary for a person who wants to see God: we must take a step to draw near to God; and we must lift our eyes in order to see God; and we must take time to look, for spiritual things cannot be seen if we are absorbed by earthly things. Where do you look? In the Scriptures. In nature. In your own family. In the people you meet every day. In the slightest little thing. In the present moment.
Accepting the reality of God’s dwelling with us and within us is the heart of the gospel.
It’s an invitation we should not decline lightly.
I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
The Spirit consoles us in our sadness over our past sins. He leads us to the Son. He makes us sharers in divine wisdom and knowers of the truth. In a hidden way he aids our remembrance because, being love, he excites us. He teaches us the hidden ways of God. He inspires us. He is the source of all creativity and the bestower of manifold gifts.
Even more intimate than Jesus’ abiding with us is the Holy Spirit who is as close to us as our own breath. Let us prepare ourselves to celebrate once again the feast of Pentecost in which we celebrate the Spirit’s work in us and among us.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
A true and abiding relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit brings an abiding peace. Even though all the issues of our life may not be totally resolved, we will be at peace with ourselves, we will be at peace with God. In the Bible the word for peace, shalom, never means simply the absence of trouble. It means everything that makes for our highest good. The peace Jesus offers us is the peace of conquest. No experience of life can take it from us and no sorrow, no danger, no suffering can make it less.
In another Easter gospel, Jesus says,
I am the Vine and we are the branches.
Live on in me, as I do in you.
No more than a branch can bear fruit
of itself apart from the vine,
can you bear fruit apart from me.
I am the vine, you are the branches,
The one who lives in me and in him
Will produce abundantly,
For apart from me you can do nothing.
There you have it. We are called to a real intimacy with Jesus. He can be a part of us and we, a part of him.
Let him into your life.
Talk to him about matters of your heart.
Let him in on your most secret thoughts.
Let Jesus be your friend – all the days of your life.
To bring others to Jesus and to bring Jesus to others has been at the heart of my priestly ministry, celebrating the fifty years since my ordination this past week. There has been no greater work for me than this.
I pray as you prayed that night with your friends.
I thank you for your love and friendship all these years;
I pray for all the people I’ve served through the years,
bless them, Lord, wherever they are.
And I thank you for wonderful inspiration of the Holy Spirit that has informed my life in so many ways.
I ask you, Jesus, to draw someone who’s reading this blog to yourself.
Let them know your love; touch them and draw them to yourself.
And send down your Spirit upon us once again; renew your Church,
and splash the Spirit all over our country, for we surely need a good dose of it as on the first Pentecost!
To You, Jesus, be all Glory and Honor and Praise! Amen.
Now, before you go, here’s a beautiful song with a slide show to accompany our theme of Intimacy with God. Click here, Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full-screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
And remember this weekend is also Memorial Day weekend. So lest we forget, when you go to Church please remember in your prayers those who died in the service of our country. And now here’s a tribute to our fallen heroes of all our wars. And let us pray we are not about to get into another one! Click here.
Acknowledgment: Magnificat Liturgical Magazine / May 2016 / Lectio Divina notes for the Sixth Sunday of Easter / p. 21.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter ~ May 12, 2019
Good Shepherd Sunday ~ Mother’s Day
Have you ever thought about how shepherds manage their sheep? The sheep follow their shepherd, who walks in front of them. They are not goaded like cattle. Cowboys herd cattle from behind, pushing them forward. Not so with sheep.
If you think about Jesus as the Good Shepherd, you’ll find him walking ahead of us along the way. He shows us the way. He’s been there ahead of us. In Mark 10:32, we are 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.
Apparently, it is the voice of the shepherd that controls the sheep. “My sheep hear my voice,” says Jesus. The sheep distinguish the voice of their one only shepherd from that of others. They only follow the one whose voice they recognize. I know that’s true of my little dog Shoney. He listens to my voice and responds to my directions (except he’s on a leash and can’t wander too far.)
In another place Jesus distinguishes between true and false shepherds. The false ones are hired hands that won’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.” And, of course David was the Shepherd King of Israel, having written our beloved Psalm 23 ~ “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
The words of Ezekiel were very familiar to the Jews. 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.
While we love the image of the Good Shepherd, most of us lack firsthand acquaintance with either a shepherd or with sheep. But picture this as shown to us by William Barclay. . .
The life of a shepherd in modern Palestine was very hard. He was never off duty. The sheep were bound to wander, and had to be constantly watched. On the narrow plateau the ground dipped sharply down to the craggy deserts and the sheep were liable to stray away and get lost. The shepherd’s task was not only constant but dangerous, for he not only had to guard the flock but to protect them from wild animals and thieves and robbers. He was out there with them in all kinds of weather, day and night.
As Barclay writes, quoting Sir George Adam Smith, who travelled in Palestine, “On some high moor, across which some at night hyenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, and looking over his scattered sheep, everyone of his flock on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.” Constant vigilance, fearless, courage, patient love for his flock: were the necessary characteristics of the shepherd.
And so listen for the Voice of your Shepherd. What greater blessing could there be than this: The shepherd knows my voice and I know his. There is instantaneous, constant communication as we seek to become one with this Good Shepherd. 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.”
As I have always insisted, a deep, abiding personal relationship with Jesus is possible for each one of us! It is possible for you, simply for the asking! Reach out to Jesus today. He is your Lord, yes! But he wants to be your friend! Don’t be afraid! Just reach out to him. He is very near you. He already knows you through and through.
Jesus says he is not only the shepherd, but he is the sheepgate. The sheep go in and out of the pasture and are safe.
When the sheep came into the enclosure, the shepherd would lie down at the entrance, thus, literally becoming the Gate, or the Door!
Jesus is the Gate to the spiritual world. Because he claims us as his own, we are safe.
William Barclay has this to add about this passage. . . .
~ Jesus promised eternal life. If someone became a member of his flock, all the bitterness of life would be gone and they would know the splendor and magnificence of the life with God.
~ He promised a life that would know no end. Death would not be the end but the beginning; they would know the glory of the indestructible life.
~ He promised a life that was secure. Nothing could snatch them from his hand. Not that it would save them from sorrow or suffering. Even in a world crashing to disaster they would know the serenity of God.
Jesus says it was the Father who gave the sheep to him. And thus Jesus received his confidence from the Father. He was secure, not in his own power, but in God’s. And the Gospel passage ends with the words, “The Father and I are one,” which calls to mind his intense prayer at the end of the Last Supper, according to John, “Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)
There’s another meaning here, too, I think. A lot of people experiment with other matters in the spiritual world that are not so safe. Like hallucinogenic drugs or seances and tarot cards or fortune-telling, or calling on the spirits. These are not protected and can be very dangerous!
But let’s look at the other side of this. The Good Shepherd seems to be 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, should be unconditional, our loyalty without compromise, our thoughts, words and deeds in accord with the will of God.
And then ask yourself this question: Am I, in turn, a Good Shepherd?
This Sunday we also celebrate Mother’s Day. Certainly mothers are shepherds, aren’t they? They’re constantly shepherding their child or children to the bathroom or to school. So we honor all our mothers and grandmothers and aunts and everyone who cares for children this weekend! We offer our prayers them for the hard work they must do and in thanks for the greatness of their love and service.
But if you do 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 adapt my leadership style to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Then, and only then, will we be able to say, “I know my Shepherd, and my Shepherd knows me.”
Christ is Risen!
Now, before you go, here’s a version of our beloved Psalm 23, “Shepherd Me, O God,” that has the flavor of Jesuit spirituality as well. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series – revised edition / the Gospel of John: Volume 2 / The Westminster Press Philadelphia – 1975 / pp. 55-60; 72-75.
This is the third Resurrection appearance in the Gospel of John and it’s a charming story.
The guys had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Heard this story before? This is a replay of their very first meeting in Galilee. Jesus suggests they cast their nets to the starboard side. (They don’t recognize him quite yet.) When they do as he says, they haul in a great number of fish.
And John says, “The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”
Then good ol’ impetuous Peter hastily throws on a tunic and jumps into the water dragging the net full of fish.
John, who uses symbolism all through his writing, notes that there were 153 large fish and the net was not broken. (We’ll discuss this a bit later.)
Then John writes, “Jesus said, ‘Come and have some breakfast.’ And he took bread and gave it to them, and gave them fish in the same way.” And he adds, “ This was the third time Jesus showed himself to the disciples after he had been raised from the dead.
Barclay notes that the catch is not described as a miracle as it frequently happens on a lake. A person standing on the shore can often see a shoal of fish more clearly than those in the water. And it may have been because of the grey dark that they didn’t recognize him. But the eyes of the youngest disciple John were sharp.
Now to the meaning of the 153 fishes. In the Fourth Gospel, everything has meaning. Barclay gives lists of “many ingenious suggestions for this symbolism.” But I will choose only the one that makes the most sense as given by St. Jerome.
He said that in the sea there were 153 kinds of different fishes; and the catch is one which includes one of every kind of fish; and therefore the number suggests that some day all men of all nations will be gathered together in Jesus Christ.
We may note further that all these fish were gathered in this net and it wasn’t broken. The net stands for the Church; and there is room for all people of all nations in the Church.
Here John is telling us in his own vivid yet subtle way of the universality of the Church. There is no kind of exclusivity in her, no kind of color bar or selectiveness. The Church is as universal as the love of God in Jesus Christ.
But there is more.
“ When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
Jesus said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
First, we must note the question Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me more than these?” As far as the language goes, it could mean two things equally well.
It may be that Jesus swept his hand around the boat and its nets and equipment and the catch of fishes and said to Peter, “Simon, do you love me more than these?”
Are you prepared to give up a steady job and reasonable comfort in order to give yourself forever to my people and my work? This may have been a final decision to give all his life to the preaching of the gospel and the caring for Christ’s folk.
Or it may be that Jesus looked at the rest of the little group of the disciples and said to Peter, “Simon, do you love me more than your fellow disciples do? It may be that Jesus was looking back to the night when Peter said, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” It may be that he was reminding Peter how once he thought he alone could be true and how his courage had failed. It is more likely that the second meaning is right, because Peter does not make comparisons anymore; he is content to say, “You know that I love you.
Jesus asks the question three times—as Peter denied the Lord three times.
Jesus is gracious in his forgiveness. He gave Peter the chance to affirm his love and to wipe out the memory of the threefold denial by a threefold declaration of love.
Thus, we must note what love brought Peter.
~ It brought him a task. “If you love me,” Jesus said, ”then give your life to shepherding the sheep and lambs of my flock.”
We can prove that we love Jesus only by loving others. Love is the greatest privilege in the world, but it brings great responsibility.
~ It brought Peter the cross. Jesus said to him . . . .
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
The day came when, in Rome, when Peter did give his life for his Lord; he, too, was nailed to the Cross, and he asked to be nailed head downward, for he said he was not worthy to die as his Lord had died.
Love brought Peter a task, and it brought him the cross.
Love always involves responsibility, and it always involves sacrifice. We don’t really love Christ unless we are prepared to face the task he has prepared for us and the Cross he has given us.
Lord Jesus, you know that I love You.
As your priest, I have tried to feed the people I’ve served as best I could.
Sometimes, I have failed, as Peter did.
You have given me crosses to carry throughout my life.
Sometimes, I was petulant and not carried them graciously.
I have tried to love, Lord.
Increase my capacity to love and to serve, even as I grow older.
This evening, Lord—as always, Lord Jesus,
I just want you to know that I love You.
Please be with those who do not know Your love.
And now, before you go, here’s the beloved Latin American song about the Jesus on the seashore ~ Pescadores de Hobres. Click here.
Or “Worthy is the Lamb” from Revelations taken from today’s second reading that truly honors our Risen Lord. 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 / The Westminster Press / Philadelphia / 1975 -pp. 284-6.
The Second Sunday of Easter ~ 2019 ~ “Peace be with You!”
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.
These issues were so strong in them that they could not believe the message that the Women brought 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.”
Barclay says Jesus gave the disciples the commission the Church must never forget. God sent him forth, so he sent them forth. And our scholar notes three things . . .
First, it means Jesus needs the Church, as St. Paul called “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.
“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.
. . . . 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 me, 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 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,
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 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 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.
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.
Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord
April 21, 2019
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. As Mr. Trump would tweet. “Terrible!”
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 to pay their rent?
Old people wasting away in nursing homes?
Immigrants afraid of being deported?
Children in Yemen in bombed-out rubble?
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 of the Lord’s Passion ~ April 19, 2019
Like a sapling he grew in front of us,
Like a root in arid ground…
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering ….
And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings in peace
and through his wound we were healed
–excerpted from Isaiah 53.
I was blown away by an article I pondered in the volume of Lenten readings that sustain me every year called Bread and Wine. This one is by a German theologian Jurgen Moltmann who was a prisoner of war in WWII. It’s entitled Prisoner of Hope . . . .
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus went into the garden of Gethsemane, taking only three of his closest friends with him and “became greatly distressed and troubled” as Mark writes. “My soul is very sorrowful even to death,” he said, and begged his friends to stay awake with him.
Often, Jesus would withdraw at night to pray alone in order to be united with God whom he so intimately called “my Father.” Here, for the first time, Moltmann suggests, he doesn’t want to be alone with God. He seeks protection among his friends. Protection from whom?
And then comes the prayer that sounds like a demand, “Father, all things are possible to you, remove this cup from me.” (Mark 14:16)—spare me this suffering.
Christ’s request is not granted. God, his Father, rejected it. Elsewhere, we are always told “I and the Father are one.” But here Christ’s communion with God breaks down. Christ’s true passion begins with the prayer in Gethsemane that was not heard.
Of course, there was the simple human fear of pain, But Moltmann believes it was a quite different fear that the only begotten Son could be “forsaken’, “rejected”, even “cursed’ by the Father. He’s not afraid for his life. He’s afraid for God and the Father’s kingdom whose joy he had proclaimed to the poor.
This suffering from God himself is the real torment of Christ’s passion. Martin Buber called it the eclipse of God. Who could not be paralyzed by it? His friends were protected from it by a profound sleep.
Moltmann says the Luther bible heads this chapter with the title The Struggle in Gethsemane. The struggle with whom? Christ’s struggle with himself? His struggle with death? It’s the struggle with God. This was the real agony. He overcame it through his self-surrender.
That was his victory—and our hope.
At the end of Christ’s Passion, on Golgotha, the place of execution, we hear a despairing cry to God . . .
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice ‘Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani
MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!’”
For three hours he hung nailed to the cross, apparently in silence, locked in agony and waiting for death. And then with this cry, that expresses the most profound abandonment by the God on whom he pinned all his hopes and for whom he was hanging on the cross.
What Christ was afraid of, what he wrestled with in Gethsemane, what he implored the Father to save him from, was not spared him. It happened on the cross. The Father forsook ~ abandoned the Son and “God is silent!” The Son was forsaken by the Father, rejected and cursed, as Professor Moltmann suggests in this article. He bore the judgment in that everyone is alone and in that no one can stand.
(If you’re getting bored with this reasoning—please hang in there! I think you’ll be astonished how it will apply to you personally!)
Is there an answer to why God abandoned him? Is there an answer to the agonizing questionings and disappointment of death: “My God, Why? Why?”
As a priest I know that a real answer to that question cannot be a theoretical answer beginning with the word “Because . . .”. It has to be a practical answer—an answer from experience.
At the center of the Christian faith is the history of Christ’s passion. At the center of the passion is the experience of God endured by the godforsaken Christ. Is this the end of all human and religious hope?
Or is it the beginning of the true hope, because it is the beginning of a life that has death behind it and for which hell is no longer feared!
At the point where men and women lose hope, where they become powerless and can do nothing more, the lonely, assailed and forsaken Christ waits for them and gives them a share in his passion.
The passionately loving Christ, the persecuted Christ, the lonely Christ, the Christ despairing over God’s silence, the Christ who in dying so totally abandoned—for us and for our sakes—is like the brother or friend to whom we can confide, because he knows everything and has suffered everything that can happen to us—and more.
In our hopes about life, in our love in living and our activity, we participate in his passion for the kingdom of freedom.
Our disappointments, our loneliness, and defeats don’t separate us from him; they draw us more deeply into communion with him. And with the final unanswered cry, “Why, my God, why?” we join in his death cry and await the resurrection.
This—is what faith really is: believing, not with head or lips or out of habit, but believing with one’s whole life.
Good Friday is the most comprehensive and most profound expression of Christ’s fellowship with every human being.
In him the despair that oppresses us becomes freedom to hope. The arrogance with which we hinder ourselves and other people melts away, and we become open and vulnerable as he was.
What seemed so meaningless and irreconcilable—our hope and Christ’s cross—belong together as a single whole, just as do the passionate hope for life and the readiness for disappointment, pain and death.
Beneath the cross of Christ, hope is born again out of the depths. The person who has once sensed this is never afraid of any depths again. His hope has become firm and unconquerable: “Lord, I am a prisoner—a prisoner of hope!”
As I said when I introduced this article, I was blown away by it, and I hope you have been nourished by it as well. It has changed my whole perspective on Good Friday and my own understanding of Christ’s passion and my own participation in it. I hope it will help to deepen your faith.
And now my prayer . . .
Today everywhere in the world there are people
who are forsaken, abandoned, alone, afraid, dying ~ mourning the loss of loved ones.
And we cry: “Why, God, Why?” Be with them, Lord. Help us to help them.
And this Good Friday I feel closer to you because of what I’ve read, Lord.
May it deepen our faith and strengthen our solidarity with our sisters and brothers.
Thank you, Lord, because you’ve did it! It’s done! You saved us. Thank you ever so much!!!
And now, before you go, here’s the hymn from Bach’s Passion “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” ~ Click here
Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are the readings from today’s service of the Word, including the Passion story according to St. John. Click here.
Jurgen Moltmann / “Prisoner of Hope” / Bread and Wine – Readings for Lent and Easter Plough Publishing House / Walden NY / 2003