Wednesday of Holy Week

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Wednesday of Holy Week
Isaiah 50:4-9  +  Matthew 26:14-25
April 8, 2020

… from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

Recent scandals in the Church prompt reflection upon the person of Judas Iscariot.  Why did Jesus choose him to be an apostle?  Didn’t Jesus know that Judas would betray Him?  Or is that precisely why He chose Him?

Divine Providence is difficult to parse.  It’s difficult, and perhaps even pointless, for us to reflect upon Judas from God’s providential point of view.  However, the Church does call us to reflect upon Judas from our own point of view:  that is, as sinners like Judas.

Can each of us imagine hearing Jesus say about oneself:  “It would be better for that man if he had never been born”?  Surely such words only apply to the worst of sinners, such as Judas?  In fact, Jesus did not choose Judas for eternal damnation:  rather, Judas chose that for himself.  Likewise, each of us chooses each of our sins.  It’s in the face of one’s sins that one has a choice to remain in sin, or to turn to Jesus as the one through whom we can find forgiveness.  Even and especially in our sins, Jesus wants us to turn to Him.  Yet we remain free until death to make the choices that we will.

Lent 6-3

Tuesday of Holy Week

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Tuesday of Holy Week
Isaiah 49:1-6  +  John 13:21-33,36-38
April 7, 2020

So Judas took the morsel and left at once.  And it was night.

On the last two days of Lent before the Sacred Triduum starts, the Gospel Reading focuses on Judas Iscariot.  Yet while tomorrow’s passage from Matthew looks solely at Judas, today’s passage from John also looks at Peter, another apostle who will betray Jesus.

Jesus is God.  As a divine person, He could at any moment during Holy Week have turned away from the path leading to Calvary.  Even on the afternoon of Good Friday as He hung upon the Cross, He could have miraculously escaped, transporting Himself far away to safety:  indeed, even to Heaven.

All that is to say that Jesus is the primary “actor” in the drama of Holy Week.  The acts that Jesus did or did not carry out during Holy Week determined man’s salvation.  Any other “actor” within this drama is a second-string player.

Why, then, do the Gospel Readings today and tomorrow focus more upon those who betrayed Jesus than on Our Savior Himself?  The answer is that the Church is calling you to recognize yourself in Judas and Peter.

In the sinful persons of Judas and Peter we witness two different types of betrayal:  Judas by deed, Peter by word; Judas with a kiss, Peter by turning his back.  Judas cries, “Hail, Rabbi!”, while Peter cries, “I do not know the man!”

There are many different ways in our lives by which we betray Jesus.  But there is only one way for the chasm between our sins and God’s love to be bridged, and that is Jesus’ self-sacrifice upon the Cross.

Lent 6-2

Monday of Holy Week

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Monday of Holy Week
Isaiah 42:1-7  +  John 12:1-11
April 6, 2020

Here is my servant whom I uphold, / my chosen one with whom I am pleased….

The Old Testament’s Book of the Prophet Isaiah contains four brief passages called “servant songs”.  Isaiah never names the servant who is described.  But in the earliest years of the Church, these servant songs were sung in praise of Christ, who fulfilled during Holy Week what they proclaim.

The First Reading on Monday of Holy Week presents the first of these four servant songs.  We might imagine God the Father speaking these words of His only-begotten Son, whom He sent from the paradise of Heaven into our world of sin and death.

Jesus is a servant.  All the words that Jesus speaks and all that He does and bears this week reveals Him as a servant.  Yet He’s a servant in a two-fold way, and we ought at the beginning of Holy Week reflect upon both of these.

Whom is Jesus serving through the sacred events of Holy Week?  Secondly, He is serving us.  All that He speaks, does, and suffers is for us:  to bring us salvation.

First, however, Jesus is serving His heavenly Father.  During Holy Week it’s easy for us to lose sight of God the Father.  Our view can become myopic, focused simply upon Jesus saving us.  But in saving us from the power of sin and death, Jesus is preparing us for new life.  This new life is given to us even during our earthly days through the gifts, the fruits, and the grace of the Holy Spirit.  But this new life in this world is only a foretaste of eternal life with our Father in Heaven.  Jesus is serving His Father during Holy Week because God the Father longs for each us to enter into His company.

Lent 6-1

Palm Sunday [A]

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Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord [A]
Matthew 21:1-11  +  Isaiah 50:4-7  +  Philippians 2:6-11  +  Matthew 26:14—27:66
April 5, 2020

“Who is this?”

+     +     +

click HERE to hear Scott Hahn’s reflection for this Sunday (2:59)

click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this Sunday (6:37)

click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Sunday

click HERE to watch the homily of Archbishop Charles Chaput for this Sunday (6:36)

+     +     +

click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2017 homily for this Sunday

click HERE to read Pope Benedict’s 2011 homily for this Sunday

click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2002 homily for this Sunday

+     +     +

references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 557-560: Christ’s entry into Jerusalem
CCC 602-618: the Passion of Christ
CCC 2816: Christ’s kingship gained through his death and Resurrection
CCC 654, 1067-1068, 1085, 1362: the Paschal Mystery and the liturgy

+     +     +

The rubrics for Palm Sunday indicate that a homily need not be preached.  A period of silence may be observed after the Passion instead.  The reason for the exception on Palm Sunday isn’t directly stated in the Roman Missal.

We might guess that the reason for this exception is the sheer length of this Sunday’s Gospel texts.  Not only is the Gospel of the Passion itself extremely long.  In fact, there are two Gospel Readings proclaimed on Palm Sunday:  the first is at the start of Mass, recounting Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.

However, we might guess that there’s an additional reason why the priest is permitted not to preach a homily on Palm Sunday.  The Gospel Reading of the Passion is the very heart of Jesus’ Good News.  What could a homilist possibly add to the proclamation of the Gospel narrative?  What more is there to say?

Yet this second guess ought to be challenged.  In fact, there is something more to be said, because the temptation is to admire the Gospel of the Passion without entering into it:  that is, to look up to Jesus as if His Cross were a pedestal.

The homilist on Palm Sunday, then, preaches to each member of his congregation about her need to enter personally into the Gospel of the Passion.  Each congregant needs to make the narrative of the Passion her own.  Each needs to bear the conviction that when Jesus died on the Cross, He died for that individual.  In a church like the Catholic Church, which has on earth more than one billion members (and that’s not to mention those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith), it’s easy to feel lost in the crowd.

Each individual member of the Mystical Body of Christ is loved by Christ as if she or he were the only person He died for on the Cross.  The Church has always taught this, but in recent times St. John Paul II used the language of personalist philosophy to explore the meaning of the Gospel in general, and in particular the need for each Christian to encounter the crucified and Risen Christ as an individual rather than as an historical figure or a distant deity.

We might wonder how it’s even possible for the one single person of Jesus Christ to individually relate to, much less personally love, more than a billion individuals at the same time.  While this might seem impossible, it’s not something that you need to comprehend fully but simply to believe and experience.

It’s this relation between the individual and Christ Jesus that makes a disciple into a saint.  This connection is what makes a disciple strong enough to persevere in following Jesus all the way to the top of Calvary, with eyes fixed upon Jesus and His Cross instead of upon oneself and one’s desires.

The Second Reading for Palm Sunday helps us glimpse, if not fully comprehend, how Jesus Christ can relate to each individual member of the Church, including yourself.

In theology, the Second Reading is summed up by the Greek word “kenosis”.  In English this word is translated rather awkwardly as “self-emptying”.  We might say that it’s the virtue of humility in a complete, personalistic sense.  That is to say, kenosis is not just the performance of a humble action, but the humbling of one’s whole self in a permanent yet on-going manner.

In the case of the divine Person of Jesus, He chose not to cling to His divinity.  We see this at the Annunciation, when He took upon Himself a human nature, with all its weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  But as the following thirty years of His life passed, His kenosis continued as He put His divine Self entirely at the service of His earthly mission.

Yet the whole of Jesus’ earthly life was oriented by God towards a single hour:  the hour of Divine Mercy on the afternoon of Good Friday.  The kenosis of the Incarnation and public ministry were designed to lead individuals to Calvary:  not just the individual apostles, disciples and others who lived in the Holy Land 2000 years ago, but each individual living today as well, including yourself.

It’s at the Cross and through the Cross that Jesus Christ relates to each individual.  Through the Cross, the individual can enter into the mystery of Christ’s kenosis, sharing directly in Jesus’ Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension.  It’s not in spite of your sins that Jesus chooses to relate to you, but through your sins.  The depth of your human sins reveals the depth of His divine love.

Lent 6-0A

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

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Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Ezekiel 37:21-28  +  John 11:45-56
April 4, 2020

So from that day on they planned to kill him.

This morning’s Gospel Reading bears a sense of anxious anticipation.  Its final verse leaves us on the edge of our pew:  “They looked for Jesus and said to one another as they were in the temple area, ‘What do you think?  That he will not come to the feast?’”

Just a few verses before, St. John the Evangelist explains the reason for the heightened sense of anxiety:  “So from that day on they planned to kill him.”  The motive for this plan of the chief priests and Pharisees is the focus of this morning’s three readings.

Both this morning’s First Reading and Responsorial Psalm come from books of Old Testament prophets:  the First Reading, from Ezekiel; and the Psalm, from Jeremiah.  Both look to Israel’s future, when a shepherd king would reign over a united Israel.  The Responsorial is very strong in describing this shepherd

Yet the language of king is only implied, although in two ways.  First, Ezekiel prophesies about Israel being restored to one kingdom.  However, second and more intriguingly, Ezekiel prophesies that “there shall be one prince for them all”:  not one “king”, but one “prince”.  Twice in the verses that follow, Ezekiel identities David as this prince.  Through the prophet the Lord declares:  “My servant David shall be prince over them, and there shall be one shepherd for them all”; in the Holy Land, Israel shall dwell “with my servant David their prince forever.”

Everything that Ezekiel and Jeremiah prophesy about this shepherd king is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.  More specifically, Jesus fulfills His earthly mission as Christ the King upon the Cross on Good Friday.  Jesus is drawing close to “His hour”.  Through the New Passover—the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—we are able to enter into Jesus’ life and saving mission.

Lent 5-6

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

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Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Jeremiah 20:10-13  +  John 10:31-42
April 3, 2020

“If I do not perform my Father’s works, put no faith in me.”

Some disagree with the saying, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, claiming that a little is better than none.  They do not see that those having the little often self-righteously and proudly conclude they know it all.

The Pharisees, purported Scripture scholars and experts in the Mosaic Law, fell into this latter category.  When Christ revealed Himself to them as the Messiah, though they had well documented knowledge of the miracles He had performed, they immediately rejected the evidence, accused Him of blasphemy and prepared to stone Him.

What rendered them more dangerous than their intellectual presumption, and perhaps their fear of losing authority and position, was their faithlessness, their lack of God’s light and love.  In this, Christ Jesus is their opposite, and this opposition to the Pharisees is what each of us must imitate:  knowing that in God, we have everything we are, and that all we are, God calls us to give:  for the sake of others, and for the greater glory of God.

Lent 5-5

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

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Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Genesis 17:3-9  +  John 8:51-59
April 2, 2020

“Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.”

While yesterday’s Gospel Reading looked in part upon Abraham, today’s Scriptures double down on this focus.  Today both the First Reading and Gospel Reading look at “our father in faith”.  In fact, it is Abraham as father that is the specific focus.

In the First Reading, God changes Abram’s name to “Abraham”.  This new name can be literally translated as “father of many”.  But God’s own explanation of why he’s bestowing this new name is worth our attention:  “for I am making you the father of a host of nations.  I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings shall stem from you.”  You could use any one of these four phrases for meditation, especially in terms of how this call from God to Abraham foreshadows the mission of Jesus Christ, who fulfills Abraham’s call in a new way.

Yet there’s another important aspect of God’s covenant with Abraham that’s not captured by these four phrases.  Later in the First Reading, God vows:  “I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now staying, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession”.  The Holy Land for the people of the Old Testament was a geographic place upon the earth, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the Temple at the capital’s center.  This is where we Christians need to understand the “Holy Land” of God’s covenant with Abraham in a new way:  the Holy Land is Heaven; its capital is Christ, the Head of the Church; and the Temple is the Cross on Calvary, from which Christ’s self-sacrifice radiates throughout human history, leading the faithful of Christ’s Mystical Body into the heavenly embrace of God the Father.

Lent 5-4

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

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Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Daniel 3:14-20,91-92,95  +  John 8:31-42
April 1, 2020

“…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Historically, freedom for the Jews was based upon two figures of their past.  First, descent from Abraham—their father in faith—was considered the foundation of the People of God.  Second in importance was adherence to the Law of Moses, who led God’s People from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  Yet the Gospel accounts show that many in Jesus’ day who were living in the Holy Land were in fact slaves.

Jesus, we might say, taught that authentic and lasting freedom comes from adherence to the truth.  More significant than this teaching, however, is  that Jesus revealed Himself to be Truth incarnate.  As we draw closer to Holy Week, we might anticipate Pontius Pilate’s feckless query:  “Truth?  What is truth?”  In our own culture, it’s claimed that truth can be manufactured according to one’s own will, if one even wishes to bother with the idea of “truth”.  The human person, in this false view of reality, is free to manipulate truth at will.  Jesus reveals a much more demanding relationship between truth and freedom.

Jesus declares “to those Jews who believed in him, ‘If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”  Each person who seeks to follow Jesus must reckon with this declaration by first believing in Jesus.  Through belief—that is, through faith—the Christian disciple can remain in Jesus’ word.  In all things, Jesus’ word is a call:  a call to self-sacrifice for the love of God and neighbor.  Living out this truth is the only means by which to find authentic and eternal freedom.

Jesus Christ - "Ecce Homo"