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"

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

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Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Numbers 21:4-9  +  John 8:21-30
March 31, 2020

“When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM….”

It’s questionable whether, when Jesus told the Pharisees that they would realize Jesus’ identity when they lifted up the Son of Man, they understood that He was foretelling His being lifted up on the Cross.  Yet perhaps the Pharisees had already at this point plotted the death of Jesus in detail.

There’s no question, however, that the Pharisees were unable to understand what Jesus on this occasion was claiming about Himself.  Twice in today’s Gospel Reading Jesus uses the divine name of “I AM”—the divine Name that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush—to identify Himself.  But Jesus does not reveal His divine identity for His own sake.

Jesus took on human nature so that through it, He could redeem fallen man.  We might wonder just how closely today’s First Reading was chosen to point to Jesus’ words in the Gospel passage.  In that light, we ought to recall what Jesus proclaimed just five chapters earlier in John 3:14-15:  “‘just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.’”

Jesus seems, very unflatteringly, to be identifying Himself with a serpent in the desert.  If this seems an odd comparison, recall St. Paul’s words in the Second Reading on Ash Wednesday:  “For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin”

God the Father making His divine Son to be sin, as incredible as it seems, was done for a divine purpose, as the evangelist explains after Jesus connects His future self-sacrifice with Moses’ lifting up the serpent:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” [John 3:16].

Lent 5-2

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

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Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Daniel 13:41-62  +  John 8:1-11
March 30, 2020

“Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

When Jesus commands the woman caught in adultery not to “sin any more”, He has clearly judged that she is a sinner.  But He has not condemned her.  That distinction between judgment and condemnation is important in our day because some suggest that one should never judge others.

When one human person bears authority over another, she or he has the right to judge the other.  Whether it’s a parent judging her child’s actions, a courtroom judge overseeing a legal case, or a teacher judging the behavior of students, it’s part of the natural order of things for one person to judge another.

The same is true in the supernatural order of things.  For example, the word “bishop” literally means “overseer” (or alternately, “supervisor”), and a necessary part of his oversight is making judgments about those under him.  Another example is the priest in the confessional.  While it’s largely up to the penitent to “self-report” his or her sins, the priest may judge by means of discreet questions the seriousness of confessed sins and whether the penitent is truly contrite.

In the case of today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus twice judges the woman caught in adultery.  On the one hand, He judges that she is a sinner.  But on the other, He judges her to be contrite and ready to reform her life.  To that latter end, He lets her go.  He does the same for us when we also are contrite and ready to move beyond our sins.  Yet He also gives us His grace to help us in the often difficult work of moving out of and beyond our sins.

Lent 5-1

The Fifth Sunday of Lent [A]

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The Fifth Sunday of Lent [A]
Ezekiel 37:12-14  +  Romans 8:8-11  +  John 11:1-45

So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

+     +     +

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

CCC 992-996: the progressive revelation of resurrection
CCC 549, 640, 646: raisings a messianic sign prefiguring Christ’s Resurrection
CCC 2603-2604: the prayer of Jesus before the raising of Lazarus
CCC 1002-1004: our present experience of resurrection
CCC 1402-1405, 1524: the Eucharist and the Resurrection
CCC 989-990: the resurrection of the body

+     +     +

We often hear predictions about what the future holds for mankind.  Especially impressive seem promises of medical advances.  It’s true that we can look back at the past hundred years and marvel at how modern medicine has saved countless lives.  Some might even want to call these recent medical discoveries “modern miracles”.

But as we hear about what our future holds, we’re promised even greater “miracles”.  We hear about cures for diseases that people have said would never be cured.  One doctor has claimed that sometime in this century people will be able to live to the age of two hundred.

Don’t you wonder how many people would actually want to be two hundred years old?  In other words, doesn’t there comes a point where most people realize that death is a natural part of life?  Death ends our life on earth, but only so that we can live somewhere else.  Where we live after death is up to God and us.

By contrast, if death is not something natural, what sort of miracle did Jesus work in today’s Gospel Reading?  In other words, is Lazarus still walking around the Middle East today?  Can you go and visit him?  Obviously, Lazarus died a second time at some point after Jesus raised him from the dead.

So does the fact that Lazarus died a second time mean that Jesus’ miracle was a failure?  What was the point of Jesus’ miracle?  Was he trying to “save” Lazarus from death?  No.  Instead, this miracle is a sign:  it points beyond itself.

Lazarus, raised from the dead, points our attention to Jesus.  This miracle is a sign that reveals that Jesus is more powerful than death, and that if we believe in Him, He can guide us beyond death.  If we don’t have faith in Jesus, death is fatal.

Today’s Gospel Reading invites us to identify with Lazarus, a dead man.  This is not an exciting role.  Lazarus says nothing and does nothing but walk out of his tomb, covered with burial cloths.  The past two weeks’ Gospel Readings portrayed two other persons—the Samaritan woman, and the man born blind—meeting Jesus and being healed by Him.  But the problem of Lazarus is not thirst or blindness, but death.

Yet there’s also another difference between the narratives about the Samaritan woman and the man born blind and the narrative about Lazarus.  The Samaritan woman and the man born blind are healed and then bring others to believe in Jesus.  But in today’s Gospel Reading, it is not the person who is cured who brings others to put their faith in Jesus.  Instead, it’s the sisters of Lazarus whose actions lead others to Christ.

If it weren’t for the steps that Martha and Mary took, Lazarus most likely would never have been raised from the dead.  It’s not that Jesus wouldn’t have known of Lazarus’ death and wouldn’t have wanted to raise Lazarus from the dead.  But in the Gospel Reading, we notice a curious hesitancy on the part of Jesus, as if He’s waiting for the right circumstances to work this miracle.  The intercession of Lazarus’ sisters seem one such circumstance.

Through the intercession of Martha and Mary, Jesus teaches us a lesson in faith.  He doesn’t teach us that death and suffering will never touch us.  Rather, He teaches us that death does not have the last word.

The miracle that Jesus worked in raising Lazarus from the dead was not so much for Lazarus himself:  after all, what did he gain from it but a few more years of life in this valley of tears?  Is that really preferable to Heaven?  So then, the miracle that Jesus worked was done for the sake of those who witnessed this miracle.  It was for those who realized that Jesus is the Lord of life and death, and that if we place our faith in Jesus, the suffering we experience in this world will itself die, ending along with our lives on earth, while we ourselves—through faith in Jesus—will rise with Him to eternal life.


Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

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Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Jeremiah 11:18-20  +  John 7:40-53
March 28, 2020

Then each went to his own house.

This morning’s Gospel Reading is fairly unusual in that Jesus neither appears nor speaks.  The passages focuses upon the reactions of various persons to Jesus, or rather, to what He had just said.  In fact, the first sentence of today’s Gospel Reading begins, “Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said….”  So to make sense of today’s passage, we need to recall yesterday’s.

In yesterday’s Gospel Reading, Jesus only spoke three sentences:  “You know me and also know where I am from.  Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true.  I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.”  It’s these statements that give rise to the varied responses from the persons in today’s passage.  They argue with each other about Jesus’ origin, which in turn bears on His identity.

These persons’ confusion about where Jesus is from and who He is explains the final sentence of today’s Gospel Reading:  “Then each went to his own house.”  That might well seem an anodyne statement, but it’s symbolic of a more important truth:  that only Jesus can unite God’s people in the same “house”.  While the literal meaning of the word “house” in this final sentence is certainly an earthly dwelling place, its spiritual meaning is the House of God, which is another way of speaking about the Mystical Body of Christ.  Only by agreeing upon the true identity of Christ can God’s people find their true home in the Church.

Lent 4-6

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

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Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Wisdom 2:1,12-22  +  John 7:1-2,10,25-30
March 27, 2020

So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon Him, because His Hour had not yet come.

Today’s Gospel Reading might not seem very dramatic.  There is more said about Jesus than there is said by Him.  A good part of the reading is the evangelist describing Jesus’ moving about and avoiding conflict.  Yet the final sentence of this passage heightens the setting of all that is said and done here.

In the Gospel Readings this past Tuesday and Wednesday, we heard two reasons for His enemies to threaten Him.  Today’s passage sees Jesus acting and speaking in the face of this danger.  Yet despite attempts to arrest Jesus, “no one laid a hand upon Him, because His Hour had not yet come.”

This “hour” is key to St. John’s account of the Gospel.  The evangelist isn’t referring to a chronological hour of sixty minutes.  He’s talking about the point within human history when God will destroy the power of sin and death.  Each of the signs that Jesus works during the “Book of Signs” foretells the events of Jesus’ Hour, and all of His teaching describes His reason for undertaking His Hour out of love.

Crucifixion 8

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

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Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Exodus 32:7-14  +  John 5:31-47
March 26, 2020

“…these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”

Jesus’ words today seem somewhat harsh, as they often seem in St. John’s Gospel account.  Jesus’ words to the Jews confirm that they are lacking in faith, unwilling to believe in the Good News that Jesus is preaching.  As we, the members of the Church, draw closer to Good Friday, we ought to ask whether we fully believe in the power of the Cross in our lives.  Do we believe that in suffering we can find redemption?  Do we believe that there is a meaning to all the suffering that we are constantly experience (often, of our own making)?

Jesus asserts that there is meaning in suffering, and that His Cross most perfectly reveals that meaning.  But to those with weak faith, Jesus’ words don’t suffice, so He offers four witnesses who testify to the Truth of who Jesus is.  John the Baptist, the miracles of Jesus, the Scripture, and God the Father each testify to what Jesus is saying, just as they will each testify to the sacrifice that Jesus will offer on Good Friday.  Saint John the Baptist, Jesus’ miracles, and the Scriptures all foretold the mystery that Jesus would in time reveal on the Cross, but it is God the Father Himself who will give ultimate meaning to the Cross.  The Father grants this meaning in raising Jesus from His suffering and death.

In saying all this in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus is preparing us to receive the Eucharist:  that is, to share in the Sacrifice of the Cross sacramentally.  He knew that many people would reject His teaching on the Eucharist, and that in doing so they would be rejecting Jesus Himself.  In the Cross we find our redemption, and in the Holy Eucharist we have the opportunity to willingly and lovingly participate in Christ’s self-offering to the Father.  We must have the confidence that the Father loves us—his adopted sons and daughters—as He does His only-begotten Son.  In our own lives, we must have confidence that our sacrifice will be acceptable to God the Father.

Lent 4-4

The Annunciation of the Lord

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The Annunciation of the Lord
Isaiah 7:10-14;8:10  +  Hebrews 10:4-10  +  Luke 1:26-38
March 25, 2020

… the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel….

In the person of Jesus Christ, God and man are united.  This is the good news that Saint Gabriel came to announce to Mary:  that she would bear in her womb the one through whom all human beings could find eternal life.  The profundity of this news overwhelmed Mary, and made her fearful.  What would this mean for her life?

Throughout the world and throughout history, human beings have sought to find meaning in their lives in many ways.  Similarly, human beings have always searched for love in their lives.  We know that there are many different things which people in the world call love, but Jesus Christ and the Church He established upon this earth clearly teach us that there is only one real type of love.  It is that love which over many years would lead Mary to Calvary.  Only this real love is strong enough to destroy death.

If Mary had understood the fullness of her vocation, she would likely have feared the annunciation of Saint Gabriel even more than she did.  Both the Annunciation and its consummation on Calvary are sacred events which call us to consider how God expects us to accept the Holy Spirit in humble submission to the will of God.  Mary is the greatest disciple of Our Lord.  Beyond her questions she says “Fiat”:  “let it be done unto me according to your word”She accepts the fullness of the Holy Spirit and bears the Body of Christ.  She is the model for us who strive faithfully to say, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

Those who have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and have had them strengthened in Confirmation turn to Mary, asking her intercession during their journey towards Calvary, and asking for perseverance to pray beneath the Cross.  As each of us shares in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, may we be transformed in mind and heart, in order to bear the real love of Christ in the world:  in the midst of those around us who are seeking God more deeply in their lives, or who do not yet know Him.

Annunciation - Fra Angelico

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

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Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Ezekiel 47:1-9,12  +  John 5:1-16
March 24, 2020

Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath.

It was divine love that moved Jesus to heal the sick man in today’s Gospel passage.  It was this love that motivated Jesus to risk incurring the wrath of the Jewish people by healing this man on the Sabbath.  Sadly, even the man who is healed by Jesus does not quite understand Him.  When the healed man is confronted by the Jews about the “inappropriateness” of this miracle being performed on the Sabbath, he does not give faithful witness to Jesus’ love for Him.  Instead, he lamely tries to pass the buck to Jesus so that he himself is not blamed.

The irony of these events is that there is no “blame” here, except for that manufactured by those who wish to condemn Jesus.  Nonetheless, this guilt, like the true guilt of all mankind, is passed on to Jesus, and He accepts it, for He can make all things new in Himself.  He can even use an occasion such as this to bring glory to God.

Saint John is not, in narrating this “third sign” of the Book of Signs, focusing upon a miracle of physical healing, though that is what this passage seems to be about at first glance.  Certainly the man in today’s Gospel passage is healed of his ailment.  But on the other hand he incurs a much more serious moral ailment in accepting false guilt for Jesus’ miracle and passing that guilt along to Jesus.

It is in the Temple that Jesus confronts this man for a second time—as He spoke twice to the royal official in yesterday’s gospel.  In the first encounter between these two men, Jesus speaks the truth but is not understood.  In the second encounter, something even more powerful takes place.  It is in the Temple—the scene of today’s First Reading—that Jesus speaks a much more important truth, reminding the healed man that he has sins that must be given up.

It was not for physical healings that Jesus came into this world.  The Word of God became flesh so that He could offer His Flesh and Blood on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Christ healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda