Lent 2017 (March 1 – April 12)
The Sacred Triduum (April 13-16)
Click on a date below for that day’s reflection:
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Joel 2:12-18 + 2 Cor 5:20–6:2 + Mt 6:1-6,16-18
March 1, 2017
“For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin….”
In today’s First Reading is a verse that’s also chanted within one of the antiphons for the Blessing and Distribution of Ashes. “Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, stand between the porch and the altar and weep and cry out: Spare, O Lord, spare your people”. This sentence speaks to the Old Testament priest’s role among God’s People. First, it reveals that the Old Testament priest physically stands between the porch and the altar—between God’s People and the place of sacrifice to God—to act as the Prophet Joel describes.
There, the Old Testament priest weeps and cries out on behalf of God’s sinful people. While this weeping and crying is not part of his official “job description”, which in fact centers on the offering of sacrifice, these actions are clearly bound up with the priest’s role as mediator. This is true because the sins of God’s People are the reason that he stands where he does: between them and the Lord God, weeping, crying, and finally offering sacrifice.
Yet while this Old Testament background is important, the Church proclaims this verse from the Prophet Joel today in order to point our attention to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
One phrase in particular from today’s Second Reading forces us to reckon with the depth of Jesus’ priesthood. What does Saint Paul mean when, speaking about God the Father and the Son, he states that “For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin”? This saving truth reminds us about three distinct forms of humility that Jesus accepted for our salvation, by which He stands between sinful man and the divine Father.
First, we need to reflect upon God the Son humbling Himself to become human at the Annunciation. Jesus stands between God and man as True God and true man. For scriptural meditation on this saving mystery during Lent, we might use the prologue of St. John’s Gospel account or the canticle of Christ’s humility found in the second chapter of Philippians.
Then, more than thirty years after His conception, this divine Word made Flesh offered up His life on the Cross. We need to reflect upon Jesus’ humility on Calvary. Upon the Cross, Jesus is not an Old Testament priest, crying and weeping and offering a dumb animal in sacrifice. In humility, the Word made Flesh sacrifices His own Body and Blood, soul and divinity. To reflect on this saving mystery, we might use the Passion narrative from any of the four Gospel accounts.
But be careful! Within this second form of Jesus’ humility is a third: a mystery that we must not underestimate. Again, in speaking about the Father sending His divine Son to save us, the Apostle declares: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin”.
Often when we meditate upon the Passion of the Christ—say, for example, during the Stations of the Cross—we are impressed by how awfully man’s sins affect Jesus. We might imagine the Cross as “containing” our sins, so that the physical weight of Jesus’ heavy cross symbolizes the spiritual weight of all mankind’s sins. Or we might imagine each lash from the Scourging at the Pillar as representing an individual sin. But while those images may help us meditate upon the meaning of the Passion, St. Paul is saying something even more profound.
God the Father made His divine Son “to be sin”: not only to carry sin, or be wounded by sin, but to be made sin. Jesus, who from before time began was true God, stands not only in the place of sinners, but in the place of sin. This is where He offers sacrifice as a new and everlasting priest. His stance between merciful grace and man’s sins brings together both in Himself, where the former destroys the latter, for us men and for our salvation.
Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Deuteronomy 13:15-20 + Luke 9:22-25
March 2, 2017
“‘Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.’”
The setting of the First Reading is the Exodus: a period in Israel’s history that corresponds to Lent. As the Israelites wandered for forty years, so the Church walks with Jesus through the desert of Lent. But the Exodus is a journey that courses between two even more significant events: Israel’s Passing Over the Red Sea to escape slavery, and Israel’s Passing Over the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land.
These three—crossing over the Red Sea, the Exodus, and crossing over the Jordan—can symbolize the whole Christian life: crossing over the Red Sea, our baptism; the Exodus, our Christian life on earth; crossing over the Jordan, our death and entrance into Heaven. The middle of these—the Exodus—corresponds, then, both to the Season of Lent and our Christian life on earth. Each illuminates the other.
“The whole of our Christian life on this earth is a Lenten journey.” That claim would seem depressing, but only if we didn’t fully appreciate what Lent signifies. If we focus on the deprivation involved in sacrifice, then we miss why we make the sacrifice. If we focus on Lent as an end in itself, we forget that Lent is actually a means to a greater end. Why make sacrifice during Lent? The end of this sacrifice is our rejoicing.
Friday after Ash Wednesday
Isaiah 58:1-9 + Matthew 9:14-15
March 3, 2017
“Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high!”
Does God need a hearing aid? If not, what accounts for some voices not being heard on high? Since it’s not due to some weakness in God’s hearing, it must be due to some weakness in our voice.
“Making your voice heard on high” has a two-fold meaning. Objectively, our words have to “befit” God: whatever we ask for must be truly good, capable of imaging God. Were we to ask God for something evil, the petition would fall on deaf ears (metaphorically speaking). Even more than simply not being evil, though , what we ask from or offer to Him also has to be something that God Himself wants. It must be in accord with His providential Will.
Subjectively, we ourselves must truly want and mean what we offer to God. That might seem foolish to suggest: how could we not do so? Yet if we examine our spiritual lives closely, we’re likely to see that in the name of being a “good Christian”, we go along with what others ask of us, or what we think is expected of us. We offer to God prayers that are not truly rooted in our own human will. This is not “befitting God” either, because in this a Christian presents a false self to God: in prayer—in offering up “my voice” to the Lord—the Christian is meant to give his true self to God.
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Isaiah 58:9b-14 + Luke 5:27-32
March 4, 2017
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.”
The older we get, the more often we find ourselves visiting the doctor. And the older we grow, the more types of doctors we visit, for ailments of different parts of our bodies. But the average Joe, when he begins to sense a serious sickness, weighs in his mind two counter-balancing dislikes. He weighs the potential for the sickness becoming worse against the hassle of scheduling a trip to the doctor’s office, with all that entails both beforehand and afterwards.
Consider all that as an analogy to sin. In today’s Gospel Jesus says that “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.” In the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus often condemns the self-righteous, who don’t believe they need a doctor: these are they who say regarding their spiritual lives, “I’m just fine!”
Jesus also shows, in His words and deeds, the need for a good shepherd to reach out to the lamb who is lame, lost or sick. Maybe the lamb even avoids the shepherd and pulls away when it sees the shepherd coming towards him: these are they who say, “Please don’t bother about little old me!”
The irony of today’s Gospel is that the self-righteous likely need Jesus more than those they accuse of sinfulness. We are all of us—sinful men, women and children—in need of a Savior.
The First Sunday of Lent [A]
Gen 2:7-9; 3:1-7 + Rom 5:12,17-19 + Mt 4:1-11
March 5, 2017
“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”
Today’s Responsorial is taken from Psalm 51. This psalm is, arguably, the most profound of the seven psalms that are traditionally called the Penitential Psalms [Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143]. For many centuries, the seven Penitential Psalms have helped Christians to focus on their need to accept God’s mercy, and to practice penance. Here at the beginning of Lent, you might consider copying one of the Penitential Psalms, carrying it with you throughout Lent, and praying it every day. If you’re unsure about which of these seven to choose, try Psalm 51.
Today’s Responsorial is drawn from just eight verses of Psalm 51. Consider each set of verses that the Church sings today between the repetitions of the refrain.
During the first set of verses, we repeatedly petition God. Four times the Church sings of our neediness. But these four needs are of a specific sort. We might say that they’re negative in nature. Of course, every need is negative in the sense that we’re asking for something we do not have: asking God to fill a void, whether it’s an empty pantry or an empty savings account.
But in this first set of verses, we ask God to have mercy on us, to wipe out our offense, to wash us from our guilt, and to cleanse us from our sin. What these four needs have in common is that we’re asking God to restore to us something that we once had but have lost.
The second set of verses complements the first. If we admit in the first verses what our need is, the second set of verses helps us answer the question “Why?” Why do we need what we are asking God for? Why did we lose what we once had?
The answer is that we need mercy, and our offenses wiped out, and our guilt washed away, and to be cleansed from sin because each of us has freely chosen to sin. Each of us has sinned, and each of us needs to admit this fact. What the Psalmist in the first set of verses implied, he makes plain in the second. The Psalmist admits in four different ways that he has sinned. He says: “I acknowledge my offense”, “my sin is before me always”, “Against you only[, God,] have I sinned”, and I have “done what is evil in your sight”. The Psalmist is willing to admit not only that he has a problem, but that he is the problem.
However, while the first half of today’s Responsorial confesses the loss resulting from our human sin, the second rejoices in what God offers us through Divine Mercy. This second half consists of seven petitions, and one promise. But these petitions aren’t like those in the first half. The first half’s petitions ask God to remove what is negative: to wipe out offense, wash away guilt, and cleanse one of sin.
But now in this second half the Psalmist asks God to restore and sustain what is positive. The Psalmist asks God to restore to him a clean heart, a steadfast spirit, and the joy of God’s salvation. He asks God to sustain in him God’s presence, His Holy Spirit, and a willing human spirit.
Finally, the Psalmist sings of his end. In the last two verses of today’s Responsorial, we hear the goal both of God removing from the Psalmist’s life what is negative, and sustaining within him what is positive. Here each of us needs to consider herself or himself to be the Psalmist. What is true of the Psalmist is true of each of us, especially in terms of our Lenten fasting, prayers, and almsgiving.
The final petition of the Psalmist is different from the others within the Responsorial. Now, the Psalmist sings: “O Lord, open my lips.” The Psalmist makes this petition with the aim of making God a promise: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.”
Praise of God is the end of mankind. Each of us during Lent needs to keep in mind that all our fasting, prayers, and almsgiving are oriented to this goal. This is what God created Adam and Eve for “in the beginning”. The final Adam, Jesus Christ, lives and dies upon this earth to restore to each of us the chance to fulfill this calling from God: to proclaim His praise all our days on this earth, and forever in Heaven.
Monday of the First Week of Lent
Leviticus 19:1-2,11-18 + Matthew 25:31-46
March 6, 2017
“‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ”
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus describes a real, future event: the Last Judgment that will take place at the end of time. To describe this future event, He uses the metaphor of sheep and goats. And then Jesus describes the difference between these sheep and goats. This difference is one of the most important teachings of the Gospel.
Historically, there have been many disputes between Protestants and Catholics about the role of faith, and the role of good works, in the life of the Christian. By which do we enter heaven? The Catholic Church, from the first century, to the sixteenth century, to today, has taught that—if you make it to Heaven—it will be because you bore both faith and good works. Each is indispensable, not only for personal salvation. Each of them is indispensable for the perduring of the other. Faith does not perdure unless it is manifested through good works. And works without faith are not good unto eternal salvation.
Jesus’ description today of the Last Judgment—which He spoke two days before the Passover during Holy Week (see Matthew 25-26)—makes it seemingly impossible to deny the role of good works in the Christian’s entrance into Heaven. Nonetheless, beyond any disputes that might still go on today, we need before disputing the meaning of the Christian Faith simply to live the Christian Faith. Jesus calls us to live the Christian Faith by seeking Him in the disguise of the poor, in all the forms that poverty takes.
Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Isaiah 55:10-11 + Matthew 6:7-15
March 7, 2017
“‘If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.’ ”
When we look at the Our Father in the context of Saint Matthew’s Gospel account, it’s striking that the first topic that Jesus discusses after ‘handing over’ this prayer to His disciples is the forgiveness of sins. This is not surprising, but it is striking. The Our Father is sometimes considered to be a compendium of the Gospel. And after giving us the “treasury” of the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord begins to teach by discussing the reality of sin.
Challenge those who dismiss either Lenten penance, or the Christian belief in sin itself. But recognize, at the same time, that Jesus’ words following today’s Gospel passage point us not only beyond our own sins, but even point us beyond the divine Love that we see when we look at the crucifix. Jesus points us outwards, to “those who trespass against us”. As Christians, we are defined not by our own sins, nor even—in the end—only by God’s love. In the end, we are defined by the manner in which we turn to others and forgive them as we have been forgiven by God the Father, by means of the very love by which He has forgiven us.
Wednesday of the First Week of Lent
Jonah 3:1-10 + Luke 11:29-32
March 8, 2017
“Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.”
In Catholic theology, typology is the study of types. A type is something (usually, someone) who foreshadows or pre-figures some future thing. A type of a person can foreshadow by means of some personal quality (for example, the physical strength of Samson might be said to foreshadow the spiritual strength of Christ; or the wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom who is Christ). A person who is a type can also foreshadow through the events of a narrative, as in today’s readings, where the narrative involving Jonah foreshadows the narrative of Holy Week.
Jonah foreshadows Jesus Christ. We see many things about Jonah and the events surrounding him that point to Jesus. But Jesus Himself mentions one thing in particular. He mentions for whom Jonah was a sign: “… Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites.” So will Jesus Himself, he explains, become a sign “to this generation.”
So He is for our generation, also. We can look back, then, to the Ninevites, as if looking in a mirror, and ask how our lives might be reflected in theirs. The Book of the Prophet Jonah is, in fact, very short. It is only four chapters long, and the chapters are 16, 11, 10 and 11 verses long, for a total of just 48 verses! Take some extra time over the next day, then, to read all 48 verses of the Book of Jonah.
Thursday of the First Week of Lent
Esther C:12,14-16,23-25 + Matthew 7:7-12
March 9, 2017
“‘Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.’ ”
Today Jesus gives us the “Golden Rule”. He gives a new focus for our moral choices, asking us to see ourselves in others. If we saw another person as “our self”, we wouldn’t make many of the choices that we do.
Unfortunately, we often don’t look on others as “our self”, and so Jesus, knowing how greatly we need help, offers a further perspective to help us in making moral decisions. Jesus asks us to think as a father thinks. More specifically, He is asking us to think as God the Father thinks.
How and why does God the Father give you gifts? He does not give you gifts in order for you to become popular. He does not give you gifts in order to make you more attractive. He does not give you gifts in order to make your life smooth. These things are not bad, but they are beside the point. Beside the point of life, that is.
God the Father gives you the gifts you need to accomplish your vocation: your reason for being in this world. If we believe this, then we will accept what God the Father gives us as gifts that are means to that end. It’s really no more complicated than what the Catechism taught us as children. “God made us to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world, so as to be happy with Him in the next.”
Friday of the First Week of Lent
Ezekiel 18:21-28 + Matthew 5:20-26
March 10, 2017
“‘You have heard that it was said….’ ”
In today’s Gospel passage, from very early in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives His first example of the “New Law”: the Law of Love, in contrast to Israel’s understanding of the Law of Moses. The examples that Jesus gives in this section of the Sermon on the Mount have a consistent structure: “You have heard that it was said…. But I say to you….”
As a background to today’s example, consider that our Christian Faith teaches that sins come only from the human will. There are indeed sins that proceed from anger, fear, boredom, and other emotions. But the “bad emotions” are not the sins. The “sins of anger” (or “of fear”, or “of boredom”) are the choices that we freely make when we choose to order our lives according to these emotions (that is, when we match our actions to our emotions).
Consider carefully what Jesus says: He does not say, “Whoever is angry with his brother is sinning.” Jesus says that when anger is within a person, that person will be “liable to judgment”, meaning that the freely chosen actions that flow out of a person filled with anger will be judged. A person with anger in his soul will be held liable for his choices, not only if he kills out of anger, but even if he speaks ill out of anger.
Note also: emotions come and go, but our choices remain. Among the many “sins of anger” (free choices that flow from a soul experiencing anger), one of the more powerful is the free choice to “nurture” or “nurse” the emotion of anger. In a normal human life, anger can leave one’s life just as quickly as it enters. But often, a person wants to use this emotion as a source of what he thinks is “strength”. This active nurturing of anger is a true and common sin.
With all this in mind, and in light of the Cross of Jesus Christ, we can reflect on this question: Do I ask God merely to take away my anger, or to help me act justly in the face of anger?
Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Deuteronomy 26:16-19 + Matthew 5:43-48
March 11, 2017
“‘But I say to you, love your enemies….’ ”
Today’s Gospel passage is from the first third of the “Sermon on the Mount”. This “inaugural address” is recorded (in full) only in Matthew, in chapters 5-7. Today’s Gospel passage forms part of a series in chapter 5 of five contrasts between the commands of the Law and Jesus’ commands to love. Each contrast uses a variation of the form, “You have heard it said… but I say to you.”
The contrast presented in today’s Gospel passage is the last of these five contrasts. You could easily argue that Jesus saved the hardest for last! How are we to love our enemies? The simple answer is: “Like Jesus on Calvary.”
We might begin by asking how our enemies got to be our enemies in the first place.
Sinners gain enemies because of their sins. So one way to shorten the list of our enemies is to sin less.
Jesus, of course, was sinless, but still had plenty of enemies. In fact, Jesus had enemies for just the opposite reason that sinners do: because of His unwillingness to compromise with evil. To whatever extent we may, through God’s grace, bear holiness in our own lives, we too will win enemies. These enemies we must love unto the Cross.
The Second Sunday of Lent [A]
Gen 12:1-4 + 2 Tim 1:8-10 + Mt 17:1-9
March 12, 2017
“And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with Him.”
The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary shed light upon who Jesus is, and upon His mission on earth. The scene narrated in today’s Gospel passage is the fourth Luminous Mystery. What does this mystery of Jesus’ Transfiguration reveal about Him and His earthly mission, and how does this mystery help us along our own Lenten pilgrimage?
Start at the end of the Gospel passage. Jesus commands Peter, James, and John not “to tell the vision [of the Transfiguration] to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” We can gather why the apostles must wait to tell about the Transfiguration from the way Peter responds to it. Jesus likely feared that others, when hearing of the Transfiguration, would think as Peter did when he said: “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here”. Peter wants them all to remain where they are. He doesn’t want this moment to pass. But the moment must pass. The glory of the Transfiguration is a means to the end that is Jesus’ death.
Consider the company that Jesus keeps high on that mountain. The three chief apostles witness the transfigured Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the Law of the Old Testament, while Elijah represents its prophets. Jesus, with face and clothes like the sun and light, in the midst of Moses and Elijah, evokes a promise that Jesus had made at the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” [Mt 5:17]. The vision of the Transfiguration helps us see what glory there will be when this fulfillment comes to pass, and helps us see what this fulfillment demands. But that fulfillment is not here and now on this mountain.
Jesus only hints at His fulfillment through His command to the apostles: “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” These are the very last words of today’s Gospel passage. We don’t hear the apostles’ response to Jesus speaking about rising from the dead. Yet even were you to open your bible and read what comes next, you’d find little to suggest that these apostles understand the Passion, death and Resurrection that are to come.
You and I, of course, know “the rest of the story”. You and I know that four weeks from now we will celebrate the death and Resurrection of Jesus, including His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His solemn institution of the Holy Eucharist, and His bitter Way of the Cross. You and I wouldn’t try to build three tents here and now on this mountain, keeping ourselves from the journey that leads to Easter.
Still, while it’s true that we know what happens next, aren’t you and I like these three apostles? We have no way of knowing what world events might shake the landscapes of our own nation, and of those nations that are friend and foe. We cannot know if severe weather might destroy the property and homes of loved ones and even of ourselves. We cannot possibly know whether a loved one, or ourselves, will be stricken during the next four weeks by a cancer, stroke, or heart attack, or by a personal calamity such as betrayal, as Jesus experienced not long after giving the Eucharist to the Church at the Last Supper. Such calamities, hardships and suffering easily tempt us not to move forward in life.
No matter what way in which you are challenged to move forward in faith, listen to God the Father speaking in today’s Gospel passage. He speaks from the clouds: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The Father helps us to see that the One who stands in glory in this vision, who will fulfill the Law and the Prophets, is not just a New Moses and a New Elijah. He is God’s own Son. His glory is His own, and it’s by His own divine strength that He will fulfill the Law and the Prophets, even if the form of that fulfillment—the form of the Cross—is not yet in view. Jesus by His divine strength wants to strengthen us in the midst of our own sufferings. Wherever we fall from the weight of our crosses, Jesus wants to meet us with His grace, comforting us with His words, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”
Monday of the Second Week of Lent
Daniel 9:4-10 + Luke 6:36-38
March 13, 2017
“‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’”
Repeat Jesus’ words throughout the day: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” As you do so, be sure to pause for emphasis when you come to the two words in the middle line. “…just as…” These two words—as small as they are—remind us of something central to Lent, and to being a Christian.
God does not ask us to be merciful according to our own personal time-tables, or to the degree that we feel like being merciful, or towards those whom we’re ready to show mercy. God asks us… now, to all who need mercy, to show mercy without measure. This is how the Father shows mercy.
We hear a plea for the Father’s mercy in today’s Responsorial Psalm, the refrain of which is: “Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins” [based on Psalm 103:10]. We give thanks during Lent that God the Father—through His Son—has not dealt with us according to our sins. We ask the Lord during Lent to open our hearts to the Gift of Jesus’ Cross.
We see the Father’s mercy in the person of Jesus. On the Cross, we see how merciful God the Father is. And so we beg God, through His grace, to help us be towards others… just as merciful as Our Father.
Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent
Isaiah 1:10,16-20 + Matthew 23:1-12
March 14, 2017
“‘You have but one Father in heaven.’”
Sometimes this verse is quoted against Catholics, who address their priests as “Father”. However, you don’t at the same time hear the New Testament Letter to Philemon quoted, where Saint Paul says, “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment” (verse 10). Are the words of Saint Paul un-biblical, and un-Christian?
Or ought we, rather, look at today’s Gospel passage in its own scriptural context? Scripturally, the first and last verses of today’s Gospel passage help us see the meaning of our Verse for Recollection. Jesus begins by pointing out the contradiction of the scribes and Pharisees. They legitimately hold the “chair of Moses”, but the choices of their lives are illegitimate. They do not practice what they preach. These first words of the passage present the problem.
The passage’s last words present the answer: “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Everything in between is a means to this end. Today, then, reflect on this question: “How often do I pray specifically to God the Father, and nurture my relationship with Him as if I were indeed a humble child?”
Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent
Jeremiah 18:18-20 + Matthew 20:17-28
March 15, 2017
“‘My chalice you will indeed drink….’”
As does yesterday’s, today’s Gospel passage focuses our attention on the virtue of humility. When Jesus prophecies to James and John “My chalice you will indeed drink…”, we may wince, given that we know “the rest of the story”. We know, unlike James and John, that Jesus’ “chalice” is His sorrowful Passion and Death. These words should provoke true pity in us for what James and John are asking.
However, the meaning of today’s Gospel passage is more than simply, “Be careful what you wish for….” Nor is the meaning limited only to James and John as apostles: Jesus’ words in this verse are for each of his followers, including yourself.
Every one of us, as a Christian, ought to strive to make James and John’s petition our own: not unknowingly—as their mother asked—but knowingly. Knowing that Jesus’ “chalice” is the Cup of Suffering, which collected His own Precious Blood from the Cross, we ask Jesus out of love to let us drink from this cup. The fruit of this chalice will strengthen us to walk with Jesus on our own Ways of the Cross, and through them to eternal life.
Thursday of the Second Week of Lent
Jeremiah 17:5-10 + Luke 16:19-31
March 16, 2017
“He is like a tree planted beside the waters.”
During the Season of Lent we often meditate on the image of a desert: whether the Sinai Desert, through which the Israelites wandered for forty years after their Passover, or the wilderness wherein Jesus prayed and fasted for forty days before His public life began, leading to the Passover of His Death and Resurrection. We might well consider Calvary to be a desert, also: if not physically, then morally and spiritually, since no place on earth in human history has ever been as close to Hell as Calvary.
The person whose hope is the Lord “is like a tree planted beside the waters.” When was the last time that you were profoundly thirsty? Of course I hope you haven’t, but have you ever experienced dehydration? What is such an experience a metaphor for in our spiritual life?
One of the truths that we see in meditating on the image of “a tree planted beside the waters” is that it is rooted—physically and metaphysically—in the soil. The “waters” (perhaps a river) soak through the soil, into the roots, and so nourish the tree. And so in the light of Jeremiah’s words from our First Reading today, you might pray over this question: “What is the soil of your spiritual life?”
Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Gen 37:3-4,12-13,17-28 + Mt 21:33-43,45-46
March 17, 2017
“‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ ”
Saint Thomas More said that no heresy is all falsehood. In a similar way, there is no sin that does not have either a good object as its goal, or an intention that is believed to be good. Of course, subjectively believing an intention to be good does not make it objectively good.
This is seen in today’s parable about the vineyard owner. We see a spectacularly poor “logic” on display in the reasoning of the vineyard workers. How could they imagine that by killing the owner’s son, they would acquire his inheritance? The father was still alive: did the workers imagine that the owner would forgive them for killing his son, and bestow upon them the vineyard? Or did they plan to take the vineyard by force? If the latter, they should have killed the father in addition to the son…
Every one of our sins is an offense against Jesus Christ, the Father’s only-begotten, who called Himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). We imagine that our sins will bring us a greater, longer or more satisfying life. Yet Jesus teaches us that we can only acquire His inheritance of divine Life from the Cross.
Saturday of the Second Week of Lent
Micah 7:14-15,18-20 + Luke 15:1-3,11-32
March 18, 2017
“‘“…your brother was dead and has come to life again….”’”
Many of the parables found only in the Gospel account of St. Luke are noted for demonstrating the virtues of mercy and compassion. Most noteworthy among these is the parable we hear in today’s Gospel passage: the Parable of the Prodigal Son. An icon or painting of the father embracing the returning son is often on view in confessionals or, during Lent, in vestibules, so closely identified is this parable with the virtues of mercy and compassion.
We usually consider the word “prodigal” to mean “wasteful”. In addition to this primary meaning, however, the word “prodigal” has another meaning: “lavish”. The words “wasteful” and “lavish” have something in common, of course, but we think of “wasteful” as being inherently negative, while being “lavish” can sometimes be positive.
The prodigal son has a prodigal father. This father in the parable is an icon of God the Father. The prodigal son’s father spares no expense is rejoicing over his son’s return. In this he symbolizes the joy of God the Father in one of his wayward children turning away from sin and back towards Him. The prodigal father extends his mercy, however, not only to those who turn back from a sinful life, but also to those—like the older brother—who themselves refuse to show mercy.
The Third Sunday of Lent [A]
Ex 17:3-7 + Rom 5:1-2,5-8 + Jn 4:5-42
March 19, 2017
“‘Is the Lord in our midst or not?’”
This year on the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent, our Gospel passage comes from the Gospel according to Saint John. Saint John’s Gospel account differs from Matthew, Mark, and Luke in many ways. One of the unique things about John that we will hear during these three Sundays is that John often expresses double meanings through the words and works of Jesus. For example, when Jesus cures a blind man, the evangelist goes out of his way to show how that cure—besides being a physical miracle—is also a sign that Jesus can cure a person’s spiritual blindness. Similarly, in John Jesus speaks with Nicodemus late at night about being “born again”, which Nicodemus misunderstands because he thinks Jesus means this literally.
In today’s Gospel passage from John is another conversation. Jesus meets a Samaritan woman, an outcast who represents every human sinner. At the very beginning of the conversation, Jesus asks her for a drink of water. Think about this: Jesus Christ, who is God, asks the outcast for what He does not have. Immediately, this sounds strange, that an all-powerful God would ask a sinful woman for a drink. Why would He do this?
Surely if Jesus had wanted He could have worked a miracle greater than the one God had worked through Moses in the desert, bringing water from the rock at Massah and Meribah. So given His divine omnipotence, what does Jesus need with this sinful Samaritan woman? What does Jesus need with us? He needs nothing. But He asks the outcast for something that He does not have, in order to give her something greater. Although Jesus needs nothing, He wants a great deal: that is to say, He wants every human soul to be His.
Here John’s double meaning begins to emerge. Jesus asks the outcast for what he does not have. He does not have the outcast’s soul. The Samaritan woman has chosen, over the years, to keep her soul to herself, to use herself and others for her own desires. But God wants her soul. Of course God could always have anything He wants, just as He could have produced a river in the desert to quench His thirst. But God chooses, at the moment a human life begins, to give that person freedom: the freedom to love Him completely, which in turn means the freedom to leave Him completely.
Each of us sinners chooses to use his freedom for his own sake, to serve his own needs and desires. But the more a person serves himself, the darker, the deader, and the harder his heart becomes. God, of course, is always free to take away our sins without our confessing them, but if He were to do that, He would also take away our freedom. God uses His divine freedom to withhold forgiveness, so that we may use our human freedom to ask His forgiveness.
Jesus, throughout His dialogue with the outcast, works at drawing forth a confession from the depths of her sinful heart, just as He asks her to draw water from the depths of the well. When the outcast finally recognizes her need for something greater than this world’s pleasures, she turns to God. From Him she seeks the joy which only He can pour down from heaven, the grace that floods the soul for the first time in the waters of Baptism.
Those of us who have already been washed in Baptism also admit our sins during Lent, availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Confession. But we might ask ourselves, “Why do we confess our sins?” After all, God already has knowledge of our sins. Then again, why would Jesus in today’s Gospel passage need to ask for something He already has access to?
We see that Jesus, in asking something of the Samaritan woman, is in fact offering her something. In her conversation with Jesus, she comes to recognize her own sinfulness, and from her heart flow tears of sorrow for her sins. From the hardened heart of an outcast flows her human love for God, and God in return offers a share in divine, eternal love. Tears of sorrow prepare souls to receive the flood-waters of God’s Divine Mercy.
God is working to call each of us into a conversation with Him. Jesus wants to speak to each of us, heart to heart. Each of us has the opportunity to approach Him and offer Him our sinful selves, knowing that there is no heart so hardened by sin that God does not want to draw human love from it, and fill it with His own divine love.
St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary
II Samuel 7:4-5,12-14,16 + Romans 4:13,16-18,22 + Matthew 1:16,18-21,24
March 20, 2017
“When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him….”
Saint Joseph has two feast days during the year: on May first we celebrate the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker, and on that day we reflect especially on how St. Joseph shows us what great dignity there is in such an ordinary thing as work. On March 19th, we celebrate Saint Joseph as the husband of Mary: we celebrate especially on this feast the fidelity—the faithfulness—that we see reflected in the life of this man Joseph. All of our readings on this feast draw our mind to the enduring nature of the covenant between the Lord and His People.
It is specifically as the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary that we honor Saint Joseph today, and 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 by 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 the Church that is given by the Lord the promise that He will strengthen us in all our trials.
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent
Daniel 3:25,34-43 + Matthew 18:21-35
March 21, 2017
“‘That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants.’”
Our Christian Faith here cuts like a two-edged sword. In the Lord’s Prayer, this double edge hinges on the tiny word “as”: we actually petition God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The risk inherent in this double edge is the point of Jesus’ parable, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Through Jesus’ Passion and Death, He has offered us the Gift of Re-Creation, redemption, and re-conciliation. But the very nature of this Gift is such that if we do not “pay it forward”, we ourselves lose the Gift.
In the face of sin and death in our own lives, then, we can choose either to act according to the logic of those who have harmed us, or according to the logic of the One who has gifted us with the Gift of Forgiveness. And we ask the Lord for the Holy Spirit’s gift of Joy, to give this Gift to others not begrudgingly as Saint Peter, but with the joy of Easter Sunday.
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
Deuteronomy 4:1,5-9 + Matthew 5:17-19
March 22, 2017
“‘I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.’”
We want to serve the Lord faithfully, and Jesus gives us a word of encouragement today. Jesus declares in the Gospel that everything we need to know has already been revealed to us: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” . To live out our Christian Faith is to allow the fulfillment of what has already been given to us.
Cardinal Newman once said: “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often” (An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine 1,1,7). To paraphrase this saying of Newman, then, if we feel that every day we are staring into the same old face of existence, and that the world has ground to a halt, then it is surely we who have stopped moving. If we feel bored, it is because we are tired and have stopped to rest, while the world is moving on.
As we continue on the Way towards the hill of Calvary, we want to become more like Christ. We seek to give ourselves to others without measure, and this means that we imitate the fidelity of God without measure and without counting the cost. To do this is nothing more than for us to “change into Christ”.
Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
Jeremiah 7:23-28 + Luke 11:14-23
March 23, 2017
“‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house.’”
As Americans, we can reflect on the profound examples of our Founding Fathers in establishing a human government founded on the rights and truths that come from God. History shows how their efforts were met with great opposition. Their example mirrors one of the truths that Jesus makes in today’s Gospel passage, summed up by the saying of Benjamin Franklin about the risks of the American Revolution: “We must all hang together, or we will all hang separately.”
Unity is one of the four marks of the Church that Jesus founded when He walked this earth. Entire books have been written to explore what this mark of unity does and does not mean. Jesus’ words at the end of today’s Gospel passage shed some light on the matter: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” The latter half of this sentence hints that the unity Jesus is calling for derives from the act of the will.
Unity—whether within the Church, within a family, within a diocese, or between an individual Christian and God—depends on human wills lining up with the divine Will. When human wills are in focus with the divine Will, those human wills become like a magnifying glass. The best example of a human person doing so is our Blessed Mother, who begins her canticle by praying, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Hosea 14:2-10 + Mark 12:28-34
March 24, 2017
“‘There is no other commandment greater than these.’”
The scribe’s insight, that “to love [the Lord] with all our heart, with all our thoughts and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves” are “worth more than any burnt offering or sacrifice”… is worth a closer look, because this insight helps us understand what Jesus did for us on Mount Calvary.
First: the idea that we are to love God completely had been memorialized centuries before Jesus, in the Shema. But… who is God? This is the question that shook the Jews’ faith when Jesus declared “I AM”. His words were blasphemy. But revenge was had by nailing Jesus to the Cross, for they proved Jesus wrong, since God—as we all know—cannot die.
That we are to love our neighbor as ourselves was no new insight. But… who is our neighbor? This is the question that shook the Jews’ faith when Jesus taught the parable of the Good Samaritan. But by crucifying Jesus, they made fairy tales of Jesus’ parables, since Jesus could not even save himself from death.
However, that these two insights together are “worth more than any burnt offering or sacrifice” is a new insight. Every member of the human race—except Jesus and Mary—is radically estranged from God not only by our sharing in the sin of Adam, but by our personal sins as well. In the person of Jesus these two commandments become one, and in the Cross of Jesus Christ, we see the perfect Sacrifice.
The Annunciation of the Lord
Isa 7:10-14;8:10 + Heb 10:4-10 + Lk 1:26-38
March 25, 2017
“‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.’”
Nine months before the Nativity of the Lord is celebrated on December 25, the Church celebrates His conception within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We should not be distracted by the fact that this solemnity of the Annunciation falls during the midst of the holy season of Lent. On the contrary, we ought to reflect on the relationship between today’s feast and the holy season within which it’s celebrated.
How are the Lord Jesus’ conception and His death related? Are they no more than ends of a spectrum? In fact, both are about new life. They draw out, and celebrate, the unity of the person of Jesus Christ: the unity of his humanity and divinity in His divine Person.
Yet consider also a related parallel: the relationship between the Annunciation and the Day of Pentecost. Both the Annunciation and Pentecost are about new life.
Both the Annunciation and Pentecost are feasts which reflect on the act of accepting the Holy Spirit in humble submission to the will of God the Father. Mary is the proto-type of the Church: she is our mother and the Mother of the Church. She who, after questioning, says “Fiat”, accepts the Holy Spirit and bears the Body of Christ within her own body. She is the model for us who will pray repeatedly throughout the Easter Season: “Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest, and in our hearts take up thy rest.”
The Fourth Sunday of Lent [A]
1 Sam 16:1,6-7,10-13 + Eph 5:8-14 + Jn 9:1-41
March 26, 2017
“He guides me in right paths for His Name’s sake.”
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is popularly called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. Every year on that Sunday the Gospel passage is taken from the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel account, where Jesus describes Himself at length as “the good shepherd” and even as “the gate for the sheep”. But today, on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we also hear about the Good Shepherd, though from the Old Testament rather than the New. Today’s Responsorial Psalm is the most beloved song of the Psalter: the 23rd Psalm.
At first hearing, it might not seem that this psalm connects with the other three Scripture passages proclaimed today. True, in today’s First Reading, the young man David is described as “tending the sheep”, and is plucked from this role to be anointed the king—that is, the shepherd—of God’s People. But for the most part, today’s Scripture passages focus on another theme: blindness.
Nonetheless, we should never underestimate the depth of Sacred Scripture. If we look closely, we might be able to see a connection between these two Lenten themes. Today’s First Reading is a good place to start looking for a connection between these themes of Our Lord as Shepherd, and ourselves as blind sinners. In fact, the First Reading focuses on both themes. Yet the conclusion of this passage is the anointing of young David as the king of Israel, so surely this theme of the shepherd/king is the passage’s chief point?
Well, consider something that happens earlier in the passage. Samuel seeks the Lord’s anointed from among the sons of Jesse, and he does find him, but it takes eight tries to do so. What is it that hinders Samuel’s search? It is his faulty sight.
Samuel judges wrongly because he is blind to the truth of what God’s shepherd looks like. The Lord explains this to Samuel as plainly as possible, saying: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” This blindness that the Lord exposes lies at the root of all our sins. This blindness can take many forms. But the Lord here is not just condemning the shallow outlook so common today, which believes that beauty is only skin deep and that only what our senses perceive truly exists.
The Lord here in our First Reading is condemning something more specific: the blindness that keeps us from seeing our shepherd. Samuel judges wrongly because he sees only the appearance, and looks for a man’s lofty stature instead of looking into his heart. But this blindness takes on an even more tragic form in today’s Gospel passage.
The Pharisees bear a double blindness. Not only are they spiritually blind, but they are also blind to the fact of their blindness. At least the man born blind knew he was blind! Yet the Pharisees, blind to their blindness, attempt to lead others spiritually in their zeal for the Jewish Law. In Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus is direct in calling the Pharisees “blind guides”, and notes that “if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” [Mt 15:14].
The Pharisees’ double blindness is spiritually a “dark valley”. They walk through it without a capable guide. Their zeal for the Law stems from the blindness that the Lord pointed out to Samuel: they look at the appearances of legal observance. Their blindness prevents them from seeing Jesus as Lord and Shepherd: as one who “looks into the heart”.
But as you and I reflect on these blind guides, we each need to ask two questions. First, am I blind like the Pharisees? Second, what hope is there for someone suffering from such a double blindness? The answer to the second can help us honestly answer the first.
The spiritually blind person has no reason for hope in himself. Hope for the spiritually blind rests in God alone. Their hope—our hope—rests in the truth that our Lord is a Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd “looks into the heart”, and sees only darkness there. But He wills to lead the blind from darkness into light.
The Pharisees can see into neither their own blind hearts nor the heart of Jesus. But Jesus sees into the Pharisees’ hearts, and seeing their blindness, will on Good Friday pour forth from His Sacred Heart the light of Divine Mercy. But will the Pharisees turn toward His light, or avert their gaze from Him?
Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Isaiah 65:17-21 + John 4:43-54
March 27, 2017
“Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth….”
In the First Reading, Isaiah reminds us that what we are getting ready for is something unprecedented. Lent is a preparation for the final days of Holy Week, called the “Sacred Triduum”. The Latin word triduum simply means “three days”. Within these three days, the Lord creates a new heavens and a new earth.
Our Gospel passage takes us one step closer to the Triduum. The passage hints at what Jesus is preparing to do for us, and why He would do so. The last verse of the Gospel passage tells us that this event was the “second sign”. There are seven signs that John relates to us in the first half of his Gospel account (John 2-12). Each of these seven prepares us for the Triduum.
To reflect on today’s “second sign”, listen closely to the royal official’s request: what exactly does he ask for? He asks Jesus to “come down and heal his son.” Does Jesus grant his request? No and yes. Jesus does not go down, and the official repeats his request: “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus again does not go down, nor does He need to: He simply says, “You may go; your son will live.” This sign teaches us something about our expectations of Jesus, and the truth that Jesus does not need our expectations.
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12 + John 5:1-16
March 28, 2017
“Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit.”
Today’s Gospel passage narrates the “third sign” of John’s account. Each of these seven signs (from John 2-12) bring us closer to Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection.
This third sign is like the second in that Jesus demonstrates the immediacy of His divine power. The ill man explains that he has not been cured because he cannot reach the healing waters. But Jesus does not help the man into the waters. He does not even explain that the waters are unnecessary for the man’s healing. Jesus simply says, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
This third sign is a turning point in John’s Gospel account. The last sentence of the passage ominously tells us that it was because of this sign that “the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath.”
The First Reading today, from Ezekiel, foreshadows the power of Christ on Calvary. The Jewish Temple often foreshadows Christ Himself (“in whom dwells the fullness of divinity”), the Church as the Body of Christ, or Heaven. But in Ezekiel 47 the focus is not so much the Temple itself as it is the water that flows abundantly from the Temple. In these words the Church prepares us for Good Friday and the water pouring from Christ’s side, that water symbolizing the healing of Baptism.
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Isaiah 49:8-15 + John 5:17-30
March 29, 2017
“‘My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.’”
It’s common for Jesus, following a miracle/sign, to teach at length. Today’s Gospel passage is part of a larger teaching discourse. What is Jesus teaching us here? The first two verses set up further conflict between Jesus and the Jewish officials. Through the rest of the passage, Jesus explores his claims.
In John 5:17-18, Jesus compounds the conflict between Himself and the Jewish officials not only by breaking the sabbath, but also by calling God His Father, “making Himself equal with God.”
Here is one of the most important themes of John’s Gospel account: the divinity of Jesus Christ. The prologue of John [John 1:1-18] illustrates this theme poetically, and today’s Gospel passage illustrates the same theme prosaically through Jesus’ own words.
One way of describing your spiritual life as a Christian is to say that the journey of your spiritual life is a journey into the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. This may seem like an abstract claim. In fact, it is profoundly personal. You grow as a Christian—and indeed, as a person—inasmuch as you grow into this relationship between Father and Son. Re-read today’s Gospel passage with this in mind: that it has something to reveal to you about the depths of your inner spiritual life…
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Exodus 32:7-14 + John 5:31-47
March 30, 2017
“‘But I have testimony greater than John’s.’”
Jesus mentions a number of “witnesses” that He has: John the Baptist; the works that the Father gave Him; “the Father who sent me”; and the Scriptures. And what do these witness to about Jesus: that He ran a red light? that’s He’s a nice guy? that He’s the son of Mary? Jesus elaborates for us, in speaking about the witness of His works: “these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”
If you were to ask the average Christian, “Why did Jesus die on the Cross?”, you might hear, “To wash away our sins.” This is true. But Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection accomplish more than this only. The Cross and Resurrection are the foundation of one’s Christian life.
The phrase “one’s Christian life” sounds a little abstract, but at the foundation of the Christian life is the truth that through Jesus Christ, we are sons and daughters of God the Father. There is nothing abstract about this relationship. The glory of the Resurrection is a glory that is promised to us as God’s sons and daughters. But what is most moving about this truth is that we already share in this glory, if but dimly, to the extent that we live our Christian life now as witnesses to Jesus Christ, the Father’s only-begotten Son.
Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Wisdom 2:1,12-22 + John 7:1-2,10,25-30
March 31, 2017
“…but no one laid a hand upon Him, because His Hour had not yet come.”
Today’s First Reading, from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom, sounds as if it could have been written by one of the four evangelists in the Passion narratives. The First Reading seems exactly what those who plotted Jesus’ death would have said as they explained to themselves their rationale for His crucifixion.
One way, then, to reflect on the powerful passage is to apply it as a salve against any persecution that you yourself may have faced (or face today) because of standing for the Truth who is Christ. Especially comforting is the final sentence, in which the biblical author offers commentary against the thoughts of the wicked.
However, during Lent it would be more fitting to take a different tack to the First Reading. Read through the words of the wicked as a sort of Examination of Conscience. Gossip, calumny and slander are sins that most Christians participate in either directly or indirectly. These three sins, and others related to them, are common enough to cause great harm to the Body of Christ, regarding both families and fellow parishioners. Reflecting on the First Reading, ask whether your any of your relationships with others, or even your opinions of them, demand purification.
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Jeremiah 11:18-20 + John 7:40-53
April 1, 2017
“‘…let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will be spoken no more.’”
Of the four major Old Testament prophets, Isaiah tends to be associated with the Season of Advent, and Jeremiah with Lent. The life of a prophet is never easy, but were we to define the prophet by hardships leveled against him, Jeremiah would be the prophet par excellence.
Worldly honor is an earthly good that many go to great lengths to protect. St. Thomas Aquinas cites honor as one of the goods in which fallen man falsely seeks happiness. The Angelic Doctor notes that this is putting the cart before the horse: “…honor is given to a man on account of some excellence in him…. Now a man’s excellence is in proportion, especially to his happiness, which is man’s perfect good….And therefore honor can result from happiness, but happiness cannot principally consist therein.” [Summa Theologica, II-I,2,2 sed contra].
Therefore, when the good of one’s honor is placed above God, a disorder is created. Jeremiah suffered calumny and many other attacks against his name (which symbolically represents one’s honor) because of his fidelity to God’s prophetic message. Recall the last of Jesus’ Beatitudes as recorded by St. Luke: “Blessed are you when people hate you…. Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.”
The Fifth Sunday of Lent [A]
Ez 37:12-14 + Rom 8:8-11 + Jn 11:1-45
April 2, 2017
“‘…whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live….’”
For whose benefit did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead? What did Lazarus himself gain? Wasn’t he better off—a step closer to Heaven—after leaving this world? From all that we are and are not told by the Scriptures, we gather that Jesus brought Lazarus back to the same sort of life that he had previously had. Presumably Lazarus died a second time some years later. So what did Lazarus get out of being brought back to life, except for a few more years in this vale of tears?
Did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead for the sake of Martha and Mary? Certainly they were overjoyed to see their brother alive again. They were blessed not only emotionally, but also practically. In the first century, they—as women—would have depended largely on their brother for their sustenance. So was Jesus simply “playing favorites” on behalf of two close friends?
Why, during the three years of His public ministry, didn’t Jesus raise many others from the dead? Certainly in the first century adults had a much lower life expectancy than today, and infant mortality was very high. Why didn’t Jesus focus His divine power on raising all those persons from the dead? Was Jesus showing preferential treatment, or is there something more to His miracle?
There is something more. But to see it, and be better prepared for Holy Week, we have to see the bigger picture of St. John the Evangelist’s account of the Gospel.
Just as the entire Bible is divided into the Old and New Testaments, so St. John’s Gospel account is divided into two parts. St. John himself didn’t give titles to these two halves, but in modern times they are called “The Book of Signs” and “The Book of Glory”. Just as the Old Testament is full of signs that foreshadow the Messiah who is to come, so the first half of St. John’s Gospel account is full of signs that foreshadow the glory revealed in the second half. In fact, “The Book of Signs” in St. John’s Gospel account has exactly seven signs. St. John specifically calls them “signs” as he builds up to the events of Holy Week.
The seven signs that St. John the Evangelist records are very different from each other. The first of them occurs at the wedding at Cana. Jesus turns water into wine: certainly a miracle, but certainly not a matter of life or death. In fact, compared to the raising of Lazarus from the dead, this first miracle seems almost trivial. But that’s part of John’s point. He is building to a crescendo as he narrates “The Book of Signs”, and the raising of Lazarus is the final sign. It’s the sign that most clearly points to the glory that it foreshadows.
Jesus worked this miracle to reveal as unmistakably as possible who He is and what power He has: the divine Son of God who can raise the dead to life because He is the Creator of life. Jesus also raised Lazarus for the sake of you, who are a sinner. Jesus worked this miracle in order to draw all sinners to Himself.
Of course, there’s an important difference between this final sign and the glory it foreshadows. To reflect on this difference, consider the Latin adage: “Nemo dat quod non habet”, meaning “No one gives what he doesn’t have.” Jesus could not have transformed water into wine unless He “had it within Him” to so. Likewise, Jesus could not have raised Lazarus from the dead unless He had that power within Him. Jesus as a divine Person had and has power over all creation, including human life.
However, what about at the end of Good Friday? After Jesus expired on the Cross, what did Jesus have? In the view of His enemies, He was nothing. He was finished. Jesus after His death could give nothing and do nothing, because He had nothing. But they were wrong.
Jesus’ death at 3:00 in the afternoon on Good Friday was His finest hour. It shows most clearly who He is. It shows that from His Cross He reigns as Christ the King. Jesus from within death displays the depth of the power that He has over death.
On Easter Sunday morning, God the Father did not raise the corpse of Jesus to life as Jesus raised Lazarus’ corpse to life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that God the Son “effects His own Resurrection by virtue of His divine power” . The Catechism then links this assertion to the Lord’s own words: “I lay down my life, that I may take it again…. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” [Jn 10:17-18]. Jesus spoke these words in the chapter before the one from which today’s Gospel passage comes.
At the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, why do we kiss the corpus of Jesus? This action is not only a sad, tender act of gratitude. Nor is it only a heartfelt act of contrition. It is an act of adoration, worshipping not the wooden corpus itself, but the Savior beyond our sight who through His very death holds the power to destroy our sins.
Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Daniel 13:41-62 + John 8:1-11
April 3, 2017
“‘Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’”
After the crowd shows their unwillingness to stone the adulterous woman, today’s Gospel scene might seem over. The final words exchanged in the Gospel between Jesus and her would seem to be simply a wrapping up of the story. Yet in these last words, we see the heart of the Gospel revealed to us. We should see ourselves as this woman.
At first glance, it could seem that Jesus’ refusal to condemn the woman means that He approved of her actions, or at least that her actions were not something to worried about. However, in sending her forth, Jesus tells her that what she has done is indeed a sin, one which she must avoid in the future.
Jesus refuses to condemn her in the midst of her life. To put it somewhat flippantly, condemning another human being is sending someone to Hell before his time. Certainly the woman’s sin is something that deserves eternal punishment, but Jesus refuses to equate the woman and her sin. It is not sin alone which condemns a person to eternal punishment: a person must also persist in holding onto that sin, refusing to see it as sinful, and refusing to embrace God’s grace instead of sin. As long as a person still has a day to live on this earth—even a moment—he still has the chance to recognize his sinfulness, to turn to God in sorrow, and to ask for mercy.
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Numbers 21:4-9 + John 8:21-30
April 4, 2017
“…whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.”
Today’s First Reading is proclaimed each year on September 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This passage from Numbers, then, setting before us the Israelites in their sinfulness during the Exodus, foreshadows us as sinners during Lent.
The pole on which Moses mounts the bronze serpent foreshadows the Cross. More importantly, the bronze serpent foreshadows Jesus crucified. This latter connection might seem hard to grasp, or even cruel to say regarding our Savior, unless we forget what St. Paul teaches us about Jesus in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For our sake [the Father] made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
However, in every Old Testament foreshadowing of the New, there is something vital lacking. Here, “the children of Israel” recognize that it’s because of their sins that serpents bit many, bringing death. The bronze serpent brings healing to them, but does not take away their sins, or rescue those who have already died. In this, the bronze serpent brings only further life in this world. It does not, as Christ crucified does, bring forgiveness of sins or life in the world to come.
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Daniel 3:14-20,91-92,95 + John 8:31-42
April 5, 2017
“‘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.’”
In today’s First Reading, the prophet Daniel is a type of Christ. A type is an incomplete foreshadowing of the Christ to come. The prophet Daniel defends an innocent human being from an unjust punishment by clever words. But would Daniel have defended this girl if she had been guilty of what she was accused?
In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus defends a guilty human being from an unjust punishment by simple words. But on Good Friday, Jesus will defend someone far worse. On Calvary, Jesus will defend you and me. From the Cross, Jesus will silently defend a guilty human race from a just punishment: the punishment of eternal damnation. He will defend us by taking our place, and by offering His Body and Blood, soul and divinity, for the forgiveness of all mankind: becoming sin, so that from within, he might transform sin and death through the power of divine love.
When you see an image of the Sacred Heart, you see an antidote for the culture that surrounds us. Jesus points only to Himself, to the innocent Lamb who was slain. He points to His own Sacred Heart. He invites us—most especially through this Eucharistic Sacrifice—to enter into this love: a love which shows mercy to the guilty, and forgiveness to those without hope.
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Genesis 17:3-9 + John 8:51-59
April 6, 2017
“Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.’”
Many Scriptural studies in recent years have focused on the notion of “covenant” as a key to interpreting the whole of the Bible. Throughout the Old Testament the Lord makes covenants with several figures, including Abram. In today’s First Reading God changes his name to “Abraham” as a reflection of their covenant.
The name “Abraham” signifies that God is making him “the father of a host of nations”. Their covenant also concerns “the whole land of Canaan” which the Lord gives “as a permanent possession” of that “host of nations”. The Lord promises to maintain this covenant “throughout the ages as an everlasting pact”. Yet for their part, Abraham and his descendants also must keep the Lord’s “covenant throughout the ages.”
We might ask how Jesus would have thought of this covenant in light of His own mission. At the beginning of today’s Gospel passage, “Jesus said to the Jews: ‘…whoever keeps my word will never see death.” Interpret these words in light of the Lord’s covenant with Abraham. Abraham’s name signifies his endurance through his progeny. Yet in covenant with Jesus, it’s not one’s progeny but oneself who perdures by never seeing death. Abraham and his descendants must keep their covenant with the Lord, while to live in Christ is to keep His word. Realize the gifts that come from entering into the covenant that Jesus established at His Last Supper.
Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Jeremiah 20:10-13 + John 10:31-42
April 7, 2017
“‘You, a man, are making yourself God.’”
It was the humble, ordinary citizens with little to lose and much more to gain who by simple faith and “common sense” accepted Jesus. John the Baptist’s witness, coupled with Christ’s many signs and wonders, convinced them of the truth of Jesus’ claims.
Humility is the single most important attribute in opening human hearts and minds to God. We receive from God in proportion to what we relinquish of our self.
It is ironic that the Pharisees’ argument against Jesus is the following: “You, a man, are making yourself God.” This is at the root of the charges that will lead Jesus to His Passion and Death. It is not, of course, Jesus who “made” Himself God: rather, from eternity, God the Son was begotten by the Father. It is this same Father who gave Jesus His mission in this world. In rejecting both who Jesus is, and His mission, the Pharisees reject God the Father.
Adding to the irony of the Pharisees’ charge is that human sin—whose power God the Son came into this world to destroy—is based precisely on what they charge Jesus with doing: making oneself into a god. From Adam and Eve to your own sins, we make ourselves arbiters of truth, and of the meaning of life, rather than turning humbly to the Father each day.
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Ezekiel 37:21-28 + John 11:45-56
April 8, 2017
“… he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation….”
In today’s Gospel passage, the chief priests and Pharisees express their worry about Jesus by saying, “‘What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs.’”
This is their chief complaint about Jesus. It’s His ability to perform signs that threatens them. The ironic point is that in this, the chief priests and Pharisees are like most of the crowds who watch and listen to Jesus. The crowds, in large measure, follow Jesus because of the signs He performs.
Both His enemies and His followers see Jesus’ signs in relation to themselves. His enemies see His signs as a means to the end of their power. His followers see them as a means to gaining power in the forms of food and healing.
But neither group considers what the signs are pointing to. For this reason, it’s easy to see why, atop Calvary on Good Friday, His followers are not to be found, and His enemies jeer that His signs have come to an end. “‘Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe’” [Mark 15:31-32]. Here is a further irony: both friend and foe fail to see the power of the Sign of the Cross, which is to bring strength to His enemies in the form of forgiveness, and nourishment and healing of soul to those who will follow Him in taking up their own crosses.
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord [A]
Isa 50:4-7 + Phil 2:6-11 + Mt 26:14—27:66
April 9, 2017
“Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave….”
In the year A.D. 30, Jesus of Nazareth found His Name being shouted loudly. Today, we join in the shouting. The question, though, is what we shout along with His name. As we cry the name of Jesus Christ, are we crying “Hosanna to Jesus!”, or are we crying “Crucify Him!”?
This question—this two-edged sword—is why this day has two names: Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. Each of you, as a Christian, is a member of Christ’s Body. So in all that you do, you either bring glory to Christ’s Body, or you participate in the crucifying of Jesus. In every decision of right or wrong that we make, we shout, just as those two groups shouted two thousand years ago.
On one side of the sword is the crowd that laid their cloaks before Jesus on the path leading into Jerusalem. The other side of the sword—which pierced Jesus’ side—is the crowd mocking Jesus as he carried the Cross up the path to Calvary. With them were the soldiers who placed a military cloak around Jesus’ shoulders, and a crown of thorns upon His Sacred Head, mocking the claim that He was King of the Jews.
The sharpest cut that this two-edged sword makes is the fact that these two crowds were, for the most part, made up of the same people. In the year A.D. 30, it was largely the same people on Sunday shouting “Hosanna to Jesus!” who five days later shouted “Crucify Him!” Today, things are hardly any different.
We would prefer to consider ourselves part of the crowd on the path into Jerusalem, but in all honesty we know that we often stand along the Way of the Cross, watching Jesus as He carries the Cross. Sometimes we mock Him, and perhaps even take pleasure as He falls three times. If your reaction to this is to say, “I would never do those things to Jesus”, you might ask yourself how many people you struggle to get along with in life, and how often you mock the opinions of others, or take pleasure in the failures of others. “Whenever you do it to the least of my brothers, you do so to me” [Mt 25:40].
We shout a lot in life. We shout like the crowd along the Way of the Cross. But what are we doing to help Our Lord as He walks that path towards Calvary? We know that He must carry the Cross. If you walked up to Our Lord and asked Him to put the Cross down, He would not do so. This is how much He loves you.
Jesus knows that only by carrying the Cross—that Cross that by all rights is ours—can we ever have the chance to live in this world in peace, and forever in Heaven, we hope. Jesus knows that only by hanging upon the Cross to the point of expiration can we ever have the chance for the Holy Spirit to dwell within our souls. Jesus knows that only by teaching us to carry a Cross for others will we ever make sense of this world, pass through it, and be led by Our Lord after death to the gates of Heaven.
So much of this world here below consists of shouting. There are people crying for our attention, telling us what a great deal they have for us. Everywhere we hear people shouting that they’ve found something that makes life easier, or something that makes sense of this world. But in fact, Christ listens to none of the shouting around Him. He does not listen to those who cry “Hosanna!” He does not listen to those who cry “Crucify Him!” Before the crowds, He does not refute, He does not debate, He does not defend Himself. He simply continues his journey to the Cross in silence.
During this week, set aside time for silence. In silence, look into your conscience and prepare yourself for Confession. In silence, read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Passion and Death. In silence, Christ invites us to join Him on His journey. He invites us to abandon that two-edged sword, and take refuge in His pierced side.
Monday of Holy Week
Isaiah 42:1-7 + John 12:1-11
April 10, 2017
“And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him.”
Having entered into Jerusalem with Jesus, we recall the testimony about Jesus in Bethany, where Lazarus is a sign that arouses the wrath of the Jews. Lazarus probably laughed at the idea of being threatened by the Jews: he had already experienced death, and been raised by Jesus. How could the Jews “touch” Jesus? They have no power over him. We, too, must be willing to testify to the power of Our Lord over us. We cannot fear those who threaten us in this world, for they have no power over us. They have power only over things that God has already commanded us to forsake.
At the beginning of this Holy Week, we see that that many people were working against Jesus. His death was not an accident. But for every person whose choices helped put Jesus on the Cross, there was a choice. We remember that on the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Every one of us who is a sinner, has the chance to accept this prayer, and know that even on the Cross, Jesus is our Good Shepherd, who wants to offer us His mercy and forgiveness.
Tuesday of Holy Week
Isaiah 49:1-6 + John 13:21-33,36-38
April 11, 2017
“‘Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’”
Today we hear the infamous promise of Saint Peter: “Why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!” Our Lord knows that Peter’s promise is one that he is too weak to keep. Yet does Jesus disown Peter? In this we see the Lord’s love for us. Despite the weakness of his followers, Jesus does not abandon his intention to carry out His Father’s Will. Jesus still is willing to carry the Cross, for you in the same way as for Saint Peter, and even for Judas Iscariot.
Perhaps the most striking action in today’s Gospel is Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Our Lord. Jesus knows Judas better than Judas knows himself. Jesus knew that He would have to be betrayed in order to accept the Cross. But Jesus also knew that after his betrayal, Judas would refuse to turn back to the Lord for forgiveness.
Certainly Judas’ betrayal was more serious than Peter’s, but nonetheless Judas could have turned back to Jesus afterwards, and would have found in Jesus a merciful Redeemer. When Jesus said, “…later on you shall come after me,” these words could have applied to Judas as to any of the other apostles. It was Judas’ own choice to hang himself which prevented him from following after Our Lord. Pray that in our sins, we will always turn to our loving Redeemer.
Isaiah 50:4-9 + Matthew 26:14-25
April 12, 2017
“‘The Son of Man is departing… but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!’”
Christ’s presence in the world is all-pervasive. Certainly for us who have been baptized, Christ is a gift given to us. The meaning of our lives as Christians can be measured by how we use that gift. When we consider again the words of Our Lord— “…woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!”—we can easily see that we too have betrayed the Son of Man. How often have we betrayed our baptismal promises: those promises we are preparing ourselves to renew at Easter?
But if we consider the word at the root of this phrase, we realize even more so how by our very nature we are bound to hand over Christ: not by betrayal. but a “handing over” nonetheless. The Latin verb from which we derive the phrase “hand over”—tradere—is the same verb from which we derive the word “tradition”, the source of transmitting the Catholic faith to all peoples through all ages.
How longingly Christ wants to be “handed over”! How lovingly Christ “hands over” to us on the altar of the Cross—at this same altar—His Body and Blood, soul and divinity. Woe to us if—in receiving Christ—we do not hand him over. To whom ought we hand him over? Not to priests who will sacrifice Him to death, but to those who search for meaning in this world. Woe to us if we do not hand over to others the Truth that only in the Cross is meaning to be found.
Ex 12:1-8,11-14 + 1 Cor 11:23-26 + Jn 13:1-15
April 13, 2017
“Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.”
You might think that Jesus, knowing that in just a few hours he would be nailed to a cross, would have had more important things on his mind than a meal. If someone came up to you, and told you that you were going to be killed in less than 24 hours, would you sit down for a meal? Many people would skip eating all together: after all, if you really knew that you were going to die in less than 24 hours, why feed your body? Wouldn’t there be more important things to put first?
But if you would answer “yes, I’d sit down for a meal,” then ask yourself, “Would you sit down for a banquet?” Would you spend about three out of your remaining 24 hours at a banquet? That’s what Jesus did. Of course, to use the word “banquet” is still selling short what Jesus did at the Last Supper. The Last Supper was a meal. It was a banquet.
The Passover Meal was the ritual meal of the Jews saying that the sacrifice of their ancestors had been worth it, and that if they had to choose for themselves, they would do it all over again: that freedom from slavery is worth the price that had to be paid, because God had something greater in mind for His Chosen People than slavery.
Some Jews, like Judas Iscariot, thought that that “something greater” was a powerful Kingdom on earth. But Jesus came into this world for something that goes beyond any earthly hopes, plans, or desires.
Jesus came into this world to destroy the power of sin and death. Jesus came into this world to offer freedom from sin, not from Pharaoh. Jesus came into this world to open up again the gates of Heaven, not the Red Sea. This is the freedom that Jesus won by dying on the Cross. But tonight, Jesus institutes the Eucharist, as a sacred meal—a sacrament—that lets us share in the power of the Cross, that makes us present at Calvary.
This Sacrament of the Eucharist is the foretaste of all of the goodness that God has prepared for us. Jesus gave us this Sacrament on the night before He died as a way of sharing in His promise to deliver us from every form of slavery, from every one of our sins, and to lead us from this world into something that is greater and that lasts forever.
Isa 52:13—53:12 + Heb 4:14-16;5:7-9 + Jn 18:1—19:42
April 14, 2017
“We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.”
But what is most striking about the scene in Gethsemani is not the betrayal of Judas, but the wandering of the other apostles. Only two continued to follow Jesus after his arrest, Peter and John, who the Scriptures call the disciple whom Jesus loved. They follow Jesus, bound and carried away from the soldiers, at a distance: their faith is wavering. And we know that before the night is over, Peter denies his Lord and Savior three times.
It is only John, the Beloved Disciple, who continues to journey with Jesus. It is John who is beneath the cross with our Blessed Mother Mary. We can be sure that even at the Cross, John, the youngest of the apostles, perhaps in his early twenties at this time, did not understand the death of his Master. He wept for his Lord but could not fully understand what was taking place there on Calvary.
We know that of the apostles, only one did not become a martyr, and that apostle was Saint John. It was he who had been faithful to the Lord’s Cross, who had shared Our Lord’s death not at the end of his life, but near the beginning. And throughout the rest of his life as an apostle he prayed deeply about this great gift, this great sacrifice that Christ made. Throughout the rest of St. John’s life, as he continued to serve others, his mind turned back, year after year, to that Good Friday and the hill of Calvary, where the love and the glory of God were most clearly revealed.
And through the Eucharist which Christ had given John the power to celebrate for the sake of others, Saint John was able to enter into that scene once again, to return to that day which is today, and to that hill of Calvary.
There is no offering of the sacrifice of the Mass on Good Friday, and yet still we are able to share in the fruits of that sacrifice. As we enter into Holy Communion with Our Lord, let us turn our minds again to the sacrifice of Calvary, and the love in Christ’s Sacred Heart which allowed Him to offer it for our salvation.
April 15, 2017
No Mass may be celebrated today until darkness has fallen. Then the Vigil of the Lord’s Resurrection may begin. Throughout most of this day, the Church meditates on the death that God suffered for us. The Church celebrates the Sacred Liturgy during the early part of the day through the Liturgy of the Hours. Consider the New Testament passage that the Church proclaims today in the Office of Readings, from the Letter to the Hebrews.
If there’s one word that sums up this passage, it would be “rest”; one phrase, “It is we who have believed who enter into that rest”. What is this rest that we enter through belief?
There are two Old Testament contexts for this passage from Hebrews. The first is the creation account from Genesis, at the end of which we hear that “God rested from all His work on the seventh day”. This passage is mentioned by the author of Hebrews only briefly, though. He moves beyond it to the Exodus.
The second Old Testament context is Psalm 95, in which the Psalmist sings of the Exodus retrospectively. He looks back at the wilderness of the Exodus and contrasts it with the land of milk and honey which Joshua led Israel into so that there they might find rest. The author of Hebrews points out, though, that this rest is only a foreshadowing of the rest of which he speaks.
Consider, then, the liturgical context for this “rest” that Christians have entered into by believing. As today is Holy Saturday, the death of Jesus is plainly the immediate liturgical context. As His Body rests in its tomb, we keep vigil. But this rest of Jesus is also a foreshadowing.
So what type of rest do all these contexts point towards?
We would have good reason to answer, “The rest of the Risen Christ”, but we would have to offer this answer with a reservation. Although in meditating on the death of the God-man we await the victory of His Resurrection, the Risen Lord remains on earth for only forty days. He ascends to Heaven that from there He and the Father might send the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Power of the Holy Spirit impels us to carry out the work of the Church: the work of the new creation. Doing so we draw others into the life of “good things” of the Church: not milk and honey, but water, blood and the spirit. All of this on earth prepares us for our final rest, which the Father calls us to through the door of death, and into the heavenly life of the Trinity: a life of rest in the bosom of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Our Lord
Acts 10:34,37-43 + Col 3:1-4 + Jn 20:1-9
April 16, 2017
“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Hiddenness is a theme that runs through all three of this morning’s Scripture passages. It might seem odd that on Easter Sunday we would reflect upon someone being hidden. After all, Easter Sunday morning is about the Risen Jesus appearing and dispelling doubts and fear. Nonetheless, consider how the Scripture passages focus our attention.
Throughout the entire season of Easter, the First Reading comes from the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles. This is a departure from the usual practice at Sunday Mass, where the First Reading comes from the Old Testament. But the Easter Season, in an important sense, focuses upon the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. Acts of the Apostles is the first book of Church history ever written, authored by St. Luke the Evangelist.
Today’s First Reading is not from the beginning of the book of Acts. Rather, it’s taken from the tenth of Acts’ 28 chapters: in other words, about a third of the way through Luke’s account of the early Church. At this point in Acts, the Church’s mission begins to reach out beyond Jewish Christians to the Gentiles. It’s to a group of Gentiles that Peter speaks in the First Reading.
In the midst of preaching, Peter says about Jesus: “‘This man God raised on the third day and granted that He be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance’”. Following His Resurrection, Jesus was not visible “to all the people, but” only to “the witnesses chosen by God”.
Why is that? During the forty days between His Resurrection and Ascension, wouldn’t more people have believed in His power over sin and death if the Risen Jesus had appeared openly and directly to large crowds of people, instead of choosing only certain persons to witness Him? Wouldn’t the Church have been off to a stronger and swifter start? If the Risen Jesus had appeared to the high priest Caiaphas and to Pontius Pilate, wouldn’t even they have become disciples of the Risen Christ?
Before trying to answer these questions, consider this morning’s Gospel passage. It comes from St. John’s account of the Gospel. Throughout John, the evangelist uses double meanings and seeming paradoxes, so it shouldn’t surprise us that on Easter Sunday morning, Jesus is nowhere to be seen! That fact prepares us for the contrasting responses of Mary of Magdala and the Beloved Disciple to seeing the tomb empty.
Mary of Magdala sees the empty tomb “early in the morning, while it was still dark”. She then cries to Peter and the Beloved Disciple: “‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put Him.’” The darkness of early morning symbolizes Mary of Magdala’s lack of sight: that is, her lack of faith.
The Beloved Disciple, on the other hand, sees what is hidden. He sees the empty tomb, the burial cloths and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head, but he also sees something beyond them. Beyond what he sees with his eyes is what he sees with faith. In the midst of loss, the Beloved Disciple sees through the light of faith, and believes.
We might also recall here the conclusion of Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus. Abraham—our “father in faith”—explains that the rich man’s brothers would not believe and change their lives even “if someone should rise from the dead” [Lk 16:31]. Those who are not open to the gift of faith will always find a reason not to believe, even to the point of denying what their own senses tell them. However, history doesn’t allow us to know whether Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas would have believed in the Risen Jesus had He appeared to them directly.
But the larger point is that the Risen Jesus didn’t appear to the multitudes because He didn’t need to, for the same reason that He doesn’t appear to us in that way this morning, on Easter Sunday 2017. The Risen Jesus has chosen a different way: the way of the Church.
Earlier in the chapter from which the First Reading is taken, the Holy Spirit speaks to Peter and sends him into the home of the Gentile Cornelius [Acts 10:19-20]. There Peter gives the testimony we hear in the First Reading. Immediately following the events of this passage, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word” [Acts 10:44].
As it was in Acts, so Jesus wills for the whole of the Church’s history, unto the end of the age. Consider the dynamics at work here: the Holy Spirit sends Jesus’ disciples to proclaim the Faith to others. The same Holy Spirit engenders faith among those listening to Jesus’ disciples, and bestows the divine virtue of faith upon the elect when they’re baptized. These newly baptized, in turn, are chosen by God to further witness of Jesus.
The Risen Jesus chose not to appear to the multitudes between His Resurrection and Ascension because He’s not about appearances, or numbers. During these forty days, Jesus didn’t start building His Church. He left that work to His chosen witnesses for the ages. But He prepared the foundation by choosing His builders, equipping them with the tools of faith, and preparing them for the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
Monday in the Octave of Easter
Acts 2:14,22-33 + Matthew 28:8-15
April 17, 2017
“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed….”
During most of the liturgical year, our First Reading at Mass comes from the Old Testament. But Easter is different. During Easter, we hear first from Acts of the Apostles. Why is this? There are plenty of apostolic letters that could be proclaimed: Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 John, Jude, and so on. These New Testament epistles preach about the Resurrection. So why do we hear, each and every day of the Easter Season, from Acts of the Apostles?
The answer is, that what the apostles were about, throughout the course of Acts, is what God is calling us to, throughout the course of this Season of Easter. In a phrase, this answer is: forming the Church. The Church was conceived, so to speak, from the water and blood that poured forth from the side of Jesus crucified. But the Church was born some fifty days later, on the feast of Pentecost. The story of Acts is the first story of the Church, going forth, out into the world, to proclaim in word and action the saving mystery of Jesus, crucified and Risen.
Tuesday in the Octave of Easter
Acts 2:36-41 + John 20:11-18
April 18, 2017
“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.”
On the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly proclaims to the Jewish people: “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” The response of these Jews is pretty easy to guess. Acts tells us that “when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other Apostles, ‘What are we to do…?’” You can almost imagine what they, in their fear, expect Peter to reply.
But Peter delivers to them Good News: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”
And Acts then tells us that there were two groups in that crowd: there were those who accepted this Good News—some 3,000 persons—and there were those who did not accept this Good News.
Here is the first lesson of the Gospel. But unfortunately, it’s one of the most difficult lessons to put into practice: that is, to choose to be in that first crowd, the crowd of 3,000; to accept the Good News about the love that God wants to give us: the love that Jesus, from the Cross, in the Holy Eucharist, is dying to give us.
Wednesday in the Octave of Easter
Acts 3:1-10 + Luke 24:13-35
April 19, 2017
“But they urged him, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.’”
Easter Monday we heard the chief priests and the elders respond to the news of the Resurrection by covering their tracks with lies. Yesterday, we heard Mary Magdalen respond to Our Risen Lord when He called her by her name. She cried out, “Teacher!” And yet we are called to recognize in Christ much more than simply a teacher.
Today we hear of more events which took place on the day of the Resurrection. The word “disciple” means “one who learns”, and the two disciples of today’s Gospel passage are obviously devoted to learning. Undoubtedly they asked themselves, “what can all these amazing events mean?”
We are told that Jesus joins them in their journey, though the disciples, like Mary Magdalen, do not recognize who He is. Jesus preaches to them the meaning of the Scriptures, which help them learn—which help them indeed make sense of what had happened over the previous few days. But still, they do not recognize Jesus.
Only in the breaking of the bread do they come to know Jesus, and only in the Eucharist do we Christians become more than disciples. Only by sharing in the Sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood do we truly begin to imitate Him in our lives.
Thursday in the Octave of Easter
Acts 3:11-26 + Luke 24:35-48
April 20, 2017
“Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”
It is only in the breaking of the bread that the disciples come to know Jesus, and it is only in the breaking of the bread that they become more than disciples. Only in the Eucharist do we share in the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and become members of Christ’s Body. This is the goal of our lives as Christians: not merely to learn about Jesus, but to become one with Him.
On the day of the Resurrection, Jesus is preparing the apostles for the day of His Ascension. After He leaves the earth, it will be up to them to act in His name: first, to preach penance for the remission of sins, and then to suffer inevitably for standing up for what is true. In all of this, the waves of impact from the news of the Resurrection continue to spread throughout the world, bringing peace to people on earth and glory to God in Heaven. Throughout history and throughout our own lives it is our calling to continue to be faithful witness to the news of the Resurrection. Only Christ’s Holy Spirit will sustain us in offering ourselves for such witness, and so for this calling we pray during this Easter season for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in abundance.
Friday in the Octave of Easter
Acts 4:1-12 + John 21:1-14
April 21, 2017
“He revealed Himself in this way.”
Why would the disciples “dare” to ask Jesus “Who are you?” if they realized who He was? The wording of this verse suggests some unresolved ambiguity. While the miracle of catching 153 fish convinced them who He was, there was still some reason for them to ask His identity. His miracle convinced them, but His appearance did not.
So the Risen Jesus, in His glorified Body, was the same person, yet somehow different. He had the same two natures—human and divine—yet He was somehow different. The Resurrection narratives demonstrate some of the ways that Jesus was different after His Resurrection: most famously—as we will hear this Sunday—the Risen Lord had a physical body that could pass through solid matter.
The point here is that in His Risen Body, Jesus appears different to His disciples, different enough to cause some confusion in their minds: at least enough for them to be tempted to “dare” ask Him “Who are you?”
Do you expect the Lord to appear in certain ways, and not others? Do you allow your expectations to have power over your faith?
Saturday in the Octave of Easter
Acts 4:13-21 + Mark 16:9-15
April 22, 2017
“I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me.”
Throughout Mary’s life, humility marked her approach to her Lord. Humility is not a virtue that one can ever spiritually outgrow. Whatever graces God gives us, they are given for the unfolding of His plan, which often remains to us a mystery. Even as we apply these graces in our lives, we must do so with humility, as day by day, another aspect of the mystery of our vocation is shown to us…
Even at the foot of the Cross, Mary prayed in humility. And it was with humility that she rejoiced at the sight of her Son risen from the dead. Seeing Jesus on that first Easter Sunday, she would not have known exactly how He was preparing His disciples—through the power of the Holy Spirit—to form a Church. Nor would she have known exactly how Jesus’ words to her from the Cross—“Woman, behold your son”—were about to flower with new meaning, when she became the Mother of the Church on the day of Pentecost.
If you do not already know it by heart, take the opportunity to learn the prayer Regina Caeli, the traditional Marian prayer of Easter:
- Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia. / R. For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
- Has risen, as he said, alleluia. / R. Pray for us to God, alleluia.
- Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia. / R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Let us pray. O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Divine Mercy Sunday [A]
Acts 2:42-47 + 1 Pet 1:3-9 + Jn 20:19-31
April 23, 2017
“Blessed be [He] who in His great mercy gave us a new birth….”
On this Sunday’s solemnity of Divine Mercy, the Church calls us to rejoice that the Sacrament of Confession, and the peace that flows from it, are the “first fruits” of Jesus’ Resurrection. In the Old Testament, the People of God—Israel—gave to Him the first fruits of their harvests, although they were so precious and needed for life. In the New Testament, on the other hand, it’s God who gives to His People—the Church—the first fruits of the Resurrection of His most precious Son.
Many of our separated brethren claim that there’s no need to confess one’s sins to a priest. Against such a claim stand the words of St. John the Evangelist, who tells us that just a few hours after Jesus’ Resurrection, He showed Himself to His apostles, “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” Consider from three perspectives the first fruits that flow from this gift of the Holy Spirit.
First, Confession reflects the nature of the sinner. God established a sacrament where we are required to confess our sins to another human being—indeed, a fellow sinner—to receive the benefits of the sacrament. God knows that if He made the default for forgiving sins the direct confession of one’s sins to God, then the average sinner would grow spiritually weaker over time.
For example, if you start a confession of your sins directly to God and have trouble remembering them, it’s easy to say, “Well, God knows everything. I don’t need to remember all my sins.” That can begin a habit by which the sinner presumes more and more on God’s goodness, and demands less and less from oneself.
From the opposite perspective, the priest is not likely to know our sins. So the burden is on each of us as a penitent to present ourselves honestly to God through a thorough account of our sins to the priest. But one of the benefits of Confession is that the more honest we are about our sinfulness, the more we appreciate the beauty and abundance of God’s mercy.
Second, Confession reflects the nature of the Church. The priest in Confession represents not only God, but also the other members of the Body of Christ. One of the many problems with the idea of just confessing one’s sins directly to God is that our sins are offenses not only against God.
When Jesus taught His disciples about God’s commandments, He explained that they boil down to two: to love God, and to love our neighbor. This two-fold command is symbolized by the Cross on which Jesus died for us. The Cross has a vertical beam symbolizing the love meant to flow between me and God, and a horizontal beam symbolizing the love meant to flow between me and my neighbors. As Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, the priest in Confession represents both God and man: my God and my neighbors.
Third, Confession reflects the nature of God Himself. On the evening of His Resurrection, Jesus breathed on the apostles, and said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In Confession the penitent receives this same Holy Spirit, and if we know one thing about the Holy Spirit, it’s that He’s never satisfied to give life when He can give life abundantly.
In Confession God not only forgives your sins, but gives many other gifts as well. The Catechism at the end of its summary of Confession lists all of them, but perhaps most important among them is “an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle” [CCC 1496]. This gift is why we ought to make a sacramental confession at least once every few months even if we don’t have any mortal sins to confess, but only venial sins.
After all, what is one of hardest parts of “the Christian battle” if not forgiving those who have hurt you? There are times in every disciple’s life when it’s so difficult to forgive, that it would be impossible to do so through human efforts alone. But we are never alone. The divine forgiveness that we receive when our sins are forgiven in Confession strengthens us to in turn offer human forgiveness more easily to those who have wronged us.
Some people think Confession is only about the washing away of the sins of one’s past. But Confession is not only about the past: it’s also about the future. Confession is about God equipping us through His grace for the days ahead. Confession prepares us so that when we leave the confessional we might serve Him as bearers of the Divine Mercy that flows through the Holy Spirit, so that we might love God and neighbor as God Himself loves.