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
March 24, 2021

“… 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 23, 2021

“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 22, 2021

“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

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 20, 2021

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

The Fifth Sunday of Lent [B]

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The Fifth Sunday of Lent [B]
Jeremiah 31:31-34  +  Hebrews 5:7-9  +  John 12:20-33

“If it dies, it produces much fruit.”

The Resurrection of Jesus is a sign, a foreshadowing, of what will happen to each one of us if we believe in Christ Crucified.  When your life on this earth is over, there will be a particular judgment of your life made by God, and your soul will end up in either Hell or Heaven (the latter, perhaps, via a temporary stay in Purgatory).

However, at the end of time, when Christ comes to the earth a second time, there will be another judgment.  This is a general judgment of all mankind.  This is the judgment that Jesus describes as the separation of the sheep from the goats.

Many people, though, including many Catholics, find a little confusion in this idea of a general judgment at the end of time.  “Why would people be judged again if they’re already in Heaven or Hell?”  An important part of the dogma of the general judgment is the truth that when the general judgment occurs at Christ’s Second Coming, the bodies of those who have died will be raised and re-united with their souls.

On this fifth Sunday of Lent, as we hear again a passage from Saint John’s Gospel account, Jesus presents us with His last teaching before we enter into Holy Week next Sunday.  The heart of Jesus’ teaching is simple:  “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.  But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”  Obviously, this passage refers both to Jesus and to us.

The end of today’s Gospel passage says plainly that these words of Jesus indicated the sort of death He was going to die.  His death was going to be followed by His Resurrection.  We could even say that His Death was the cause of His Resurrection.  But Jesus’ resurrection was not the only fruit of His Death.  If the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it produces much fruit.  The resurrection of every one who has faith in the power of Jesus’ Death is also a fruit of Jesus’ Death.  We hope that the resurrection of our own bodies at the Second Coming will also take place.

But if we imagine ourselves at the end of time, at the Final Judgment, hopefully we would be rejoicing in the judgment of all of God’s saints.  Hopefully each of us would, in a sense, be cheering for every other human person as they were judged.

From a human point of view, we might find the Final Judgment more difficult to undergo than our particular judgment at the moment of death.  That particular judgment, before God, is swift and sure:  after all, God already knows everything there is to know about us, even things we might try to forget.

But at the Final Judgment, when all mankind is judged, hopefully we will realize just how many people’s lives our actions—and failures to act—affect.  If we refuse to die to our selves—if we fail to develop the virtue of humility as the basis of our spiritual lives—then God’s grace will bear little fruit within us.  Just as serious, however, is the honest fact that our actions or inactions may not only bear little fruit in our lives, but may also keep others from bearing fruit in theirs.

Perhaps we would downplay the idea that our human lives are really bound together, that we really have an important effect on the spiritual well-being of others.  In John’s account of Jesus’ teaching that we have heard, it is no coincidence that it is Greeks—that is, foreigners—who approach Jesus, and that it is only through others, in this case through the apostles Philip and Andrew, that these foreigners are able to see Jesus, and hear Him teach the very heart of the Gospel that we are drawing near in Holy Week:  “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.  But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary
II Sam 7:4-5,12-14,16  +  Rom 4:13,16-18,22  +  Mt 1:16,18-21,24 [or Lk 2:41-51]
March 19, 2021

“Forever will I confirm your posterity ….”

In the midst of our ascent to Calvary, we pause to take a deep breath and sing of “the favors of the Lord”.  Like King David, we dare to chant that “through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness”.  On this feast of Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary, all of our readings draw our minds to the enduring nature of the covenant between the Lord and His People.

On a day-to-day basis, most of us have difficulty even remembering the small things that we promise to do for others.  Of course, all of the small promises that we make are concrete examples of the promises by which we have consecrated our lives to the Lord:  first in baptism, and then—many of us—by means of more specific vows or promises.

This promise of oneself—this faithful handing over of one’s own earthly life to another—is the greatest covenant we can establish as individuals.  It is by this that we become more than individuals.  As such, we bow in homage before the Lord who wishes to make this covenant with every human person.

It is specifically as the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary that we honor Saint Joseph today.  Today, in a manner of speaking, is a Marian feast.  It is the spousal nature of Joseph’s life that mirrors in his earthly life the enduring fidelity of the Lord.  From his place in Heaven, St. Joseph is the patron of the universal Church, that instrument through which the Lord wishes to make a covenant with each member of the human race, making each person a member of His divine Son’s Body.  It is the Church that proclaims to the world yet converted the faithfulness of the Lord, and it is to the Church that the Lord promises that He will strengthen us in all our trials.

The life of Saint Joseph is one of silent fidelity to the Lord.  We have in Scripture no words of St. Joseph recorded.  Even the words that are spoken by others to St. Joseph are words that measure by measure call for ever-growing trust in the Lord’s plan.  Step-by-step:  that’s the only way to reach Heaven.  As we continue to step up the path to Calvary, let us pray that Saint Joseph’s spousal trust and fidelity will be our own.

Holy Family - flight to egypt 05

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 18, 2021

“… 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

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

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Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Isaiah 49:8-15  +  John 5:17-30
March 17, 2021

“Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing”.

In these latter weeks of Lent, each weekday’s Gospel passage comes from St. John’s account of the Gospel.  These are proclaimed in sequential order, but they’re not always consecutive:  each does not necessarily follow the previous day’s passage.  For example, this Thursday’s Gospel passage ends with John 5:47, the last verse of that chapter.  The following day’s Gospel passage begins at John 7:1.

However, there are days within these latter weeks of Lent when the Gospel passages are consecutive.  In fact, from Monday through Thursday of this fourth week of Lent, the Gospel passages immediately follow one after the other.  This is especially important to keep in mind regarding today’s Gospel Reading.  In fact, for the sake of appreciating the context of today’s passage, we ought to back up to the latter two verses of yesterday’s Gospel Reading.

After Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda, the “man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well.  Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath.”  That sheds light upon the first two verses of today’s passage:  “Jesus answered the Jews:  ‘My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.’  For this reason they tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.”

So in yesterday’s and today’s passages, we hear two rationales for the attempts made to kill Jesus, attempts that reach success in His crucifixion on Good Friday.  It’s easy for us to explain these rationales as false:  after all, Jesus as God is Lord of the Sabbath, and Jesus didn’t make Himself equal to God but was begotten by God the Father from eternity as His co-equal Son.

However, better than our explanations are Jesus’ own words.  St. John’s account of the Gospel is especially rich in Trinitarian doctrine.  Reflect, then, upon Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel Reading as a way for you, as one of the Father’s adopted children, to learn more about the Father who in all things wants to draw you closer to Himself.

Easter 5-5 Trinity Botticelli

Holy Trinity with Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist and Tobias and the Angel (c. 1491–1493)
Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445–1510)

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 16, 2021

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