Thursday, April 30, 2020

Thursday Third Week of Easter

Readings: Acts 8:26-40; Ps 66:8-9.16-17.20; John 6:44-51

Like Stephen, Philip is reckoned to be one of the Church’s first deacons. One of the requirements for the seven men chosen by the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem to serve was that they were “filled with the Spirit and wisdom.”1 According to the Acts of the Apostles, the whole experience of the first Christians was “Spirit-filled.”

The inspired author of Acts tells us that it was an angel who told Philip to head south from Jerusalem along the Gaza road. It is important to note that this divine messenger did not let the good deacon know why he was to head that direction using that route. Being filled with Holy Spirit, Philip was able to discern why when he came upon the Ethiopian eunuch reading and not understanding a passage from the Book of Isaiah.

While it may seem strange to us that someone would be reading out loud in public, it seems good to note that in the ancient world nobody read silently. All reading was done out loud. Of course, most people could not read. The particular passage the Ethiopian was reading was one of Isaiah’s Servant Songs.2 The Servant Songs are four Hebrew poems found in what is known as Deutero-Isaiah. Hence, these were written some six centuries before Christ during the Babylonian exile.

Remarkably, Isaiah’s Servant Songs transcend Israel’s longing for a “savior” to rescue them from exile. The particular passage the eunuch was reading deals with the utterly counter-intuitive and unexpected manner of God’s deliverance. This left the wealthy and powerful Ethiopian confused. “To whom is this passage referring,” he asks?3

' Given this opening, “Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him.”4 Jesus is who this passage is about! As a result of the deacon’s Bible lesson, this man, who, it appears, was Jewish- Ethiopian Jews exist both then and now- came to believe in Christ. As a result, Philip baptized him. After baptizing the eunuch, Philip went on his evangelizing way, no doubt following the Spirit’s lead.

The Baptism of the Eunuch, School of Rembrandt, ca. 1631

In our Gospel today, taken from Saint John’s Bread of Life discourse, the importance of hearing and rightly grasping God’s word also comes to the fore. Of course, in this instance, it is God himself, Jesus Christ, who is doing the expounding.

Jesus tells his listeners- “They shall all be taught by God.”5 Indeed, right then they were being taught the word of God by God's very Word. Jesus here is saying that anyone who “hears” the Father is drawn to him (Jesus). Because only Jesus has seen the Father, only Jesus can reveal the Father.

Jesus is the Word who becomes flesh. Jesus is Word who becomes sacrament by the Holy Spirit’s power. Just as foretold by the Servant Song that so puzzled the Ethiopian, Jesus does not do this in an imposing way. Rather, he does so in a rather unimposing and unexpected way. To those who do not know the word, the mystery of Christ’s Real Presence is usually incomprehensible or misunderstood.

Jesus becomes bread so that he can live in and through us, again, by the Spirit’s power. To be a Christian is to be Spirit-filled. For this to happen, we need to have some inkling of what we’re doing, why it is important, and why it matters that we gather for Mass. Hopefully, after what will have amounted to a long Eucharistic fast for most Catholics worldwide, all of us will be more interested in the importance of how the word becomes sacrament in and through us.

Christ is really present in the proclamation of the Scriptures. Instead of eating and drinking, we hear intending to listen to him. The English word “obedience” comes from the Latin verb obidere, which means to listen. Hopefully, like Philip, we will attune ourselves to the Holy Spirit and help others see and believe in the risen Christ. But before you speak you must listen to God’s word with the ear of your heart. While this sounds like a pious sentiment, listening with the ear of your heart is what enables you to become a missionary-disciple and not a sanctimonious twit.

Yesterday, I did a committal service. Despite our current circumstances, it was a beautiful Easter day. It was a day on which it was easier to believe in resurrection than it is under certain other conditions. In such circumstances, all any member of the clergy has to offer are words. But words can be powerful, and so, remain important. The inspired author of Hebrews, which most scholars reckon is a sermon, tells us the
word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart6
Let us dedicate, or rededicate, ourselves to reading, pondering, and praying God’s word daily. This is one of the primary ways God teaches us. This includes preaching. If a preacher does not explain the Scriptures the way Philip did to the earnestly inquiring Ethiopian, then what’s the point of preaching? As Saint Jerome, the great Bible translator and commentator wrote in the prologue to his commentary on Isaiah: “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”7

1 Acts 6:3.
2 Isaiah 53:7-8.
3 Acts 8:34.
4 Acts 8:35.
5 John 6:45.
6 Hebrews 4:12.
7 Saint Jerome, Prologue of the commentary on Isaiah, n.1, CCL 73, 1.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

May remains Mother Mary's month

Believe it or not dear friends, May is nearly here. April 2020 will forever be lodged in my mind as a very strange month in my journey of life. Despite a world in retreat (wise people have intentionally used this time to go on retreat), May remains, as much as ever, the month of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

While I urge everyone whenever possible to pray the Rosary daily, it is with even more urgency I ask you to pray the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary this particular May. I am posting this today because I figured if I was urging both of my readers to pray the Rosary daily during May, I shouldn't wait until 1 May to do so.

I have what I have come to call before our Blessed Mother "the COVID intercessions." These are for a quick end to the spread of sars-cov-2, the speedy and full recovery of all who are ill with COVID-19, the protection of healthcare and essential words from the virus, for wise, prudent, and collaborative decisions by local, national, and world leaders in the service of the common good concerning the virus, for wise advice from public health officials, and for the repose of the souls who have died during this pandemic. Quite a list, I know. I am confident Our Lady can handle them and effectively intercede.

In a letter addressed to all the faithful, dated 25 April, Pope Francis urged us all to pray the Rosary during May more and more fervently. "Contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary, our mother," he insisted, "will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial." It's easy to overlook the teaching of the Holy Father in these matters. When it comes to praying the Rosary, either by one's self, with your family, or another group, the Pope tells us in his short letter- "The key to doing this is always simplicity."

At the end of his letter, Pope Francis gave two prayers that we can recite at the end of the Rosary:

First Prayer
O Mary,
You shine continuously on our journey
as a sign of salvation and hope.
We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick,
who, at the foot of the cross,
were united with Jesus’ suffering,
and persevered in your faith.

“Protectress of the Roman people”,
you know our needs,
and we know that you will provide,
so that, as at Cana in Galilee, joy and celebration may return
after this time of trial.

Help us, Mother of Divine Love,
to conform ourselves to the will of the Father
and to do what Jesus tells us.
For he took upon himself our suffering,
and burdened himself with our sorrows
to bring us, through the cross,
to the joy of the Resurrection.

We fly to your protection,
O Holy Mother of God;
Do not despise our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us always
from every danger,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin
Second Prayer
We fly to your protection, O Holy Mother of God”.

In the present tragic situation, when the whole world is prey to suffering and anxiety, we fly to you, Mother of God and our Mother, and seek refuge under your protection.

Virgin Mary, turn your merciful eyes towards us amid this coronavirus pandemic. Comfort those who are distraught and mourn their loved ones who have died, and at times are buried in a way that grieves them deeply. Be close to those who are concerned for their loved ones who are sick and who, in order to prevent the spread of the disease, cannot be close to them. Fill with hope those who are troubled by the uncertainty of the future and the consequences for the economy and employment.

Mother of God and our Mother, pray for us to God, the Father of mercies, that this great suffering may end and that hope and peace may dawn anew. Plead with your divine Son, as you did at Cana, so that the families of the sick and the victims be comforted, and their hearts be opened to confidence and trust.

Protect those doctors, nurses, health workers and volunteers who are on the frontline of this emergency, and are risking their lives to save others. Support their heroic effort and grant them strength, generosity and continued health.

Be close to those who assist the sick night and day, and to priests who, in their pastoral concern and fidelity to the Gospel, are trying to help and support everyone.

Blessed Virgin, illumine the minds of men and women engaged in scientific research, that they may find effective solutions to overcome this virus.

Support national leaders, that with wisdom, solicitude and generosity they may come to the aid of those lacking the basic necessities of life and may devise social and economic solutions inspired by farsightedness and solidarity.

Mary Most Holy, stir our consciences, so that the enormous funds invested in developing and stockpiling arms will instead be spent on promoting effective research on how to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.

Beloved Mother, help us realize that we are all members of one great family and to recognize the bond that unites us, so that, in a spirit of fraternity and solidarity, we can help to alleviate countless situations of poverty and need. Make us strong in faith, persevering in service, constant in prayer.

Mary, Consolation of the afflicted, embrace all your children in distress and pray that God will stretch out his all-powerful hand and free us from this terrible pandemic, so that life can serenely resume its normal course.

To you, who shine on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope, do we entrust ourselves, O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary. Amen.
Prayers and blessings to you as you make your way through this difficult time.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Jesus's new presence: do we recognize him?

Luke 24:13-35

I've been posting a lot of homilies and reflections on the readings since Holy Thursday. This is because I currently have time to serve and so to preach at daily Mass regularly. As a result, this Third Sunday of Easter I am a little exhausted. I am limiting this reflection to just the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Easter. For those who do not routinely read Καθολικός διάκονος, I preached on the Emmaus story during the Octave (see "Wednesday in the Octave of Easter").

One of the points I've tried to emphasize in my Easter preaching is that in the resurrection accounts found in the Gospels Jesus's disciples have a difficult time recognizing him. I believe this is so because the inspired authors are trying to convey in words a reality that transcends language. In short, after his resurrection from the dead, Jesus's followers, even his closest ones, don't see him in the same way they saw him before his death and resurrection. They see him with what might be called new eyes- the eyes of faith. Resurrected life is a new mode of existence, which is why it cannot be limited to a single event that happened nearly two millennia ago.

Make no mistake, Jesus's post-resurrection presence among us is his real presence. It is a presence so real that it is more real than when he walked the dusty roads of Galilee with his disciples. His resurrection presence is so real, in fact, that Christ can dwell in you. It is the Holy Spirit who is the mode of his new presence. This is made clear in the Emmaus story when Cleopas and his companion- some have opined his companion was a woman, perhaps his wife- recognize the resurrected Lord, who "drew near and walked with them," only in the breaking of the bread.

But before they recognized him, this seeming stranger, who was clearly familiar with "the things that have taken place [in Jerusalem] in these days," taught them that "the things have taken place" were foretold and even necessary. After the two discouraged disciples relayed their dismay at the death of "Jesus the Nazarene," who they thought "would be the one to redeem Israel," this stranger instructed them thoroughly. He began by asking them a question: "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" After posing the question, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures."

Les pèlerins d'Emmaüs en chemin, by James Tissot, ca. 1886-1894

The second part of a penitential litany that is found in the appropriate appendix of the English translation of the Roman Missal for the United States, the invocation is: "Lord Jesus, you come in word and sacrament to strengthen us in holiness." Among the things that the pericope of the journey to Emmaus shows us is the necessary, inextricable, and beautiful connection between word and sacrament. Maybe it is better to state it this way: the story of the journey to Emmaus shows us how word becomes sacrament. Keeping in mind one the simplest and most straightforward ways of defining a sacrament- a visible and tangible sign of Christ's presence in and for the world- we need to be aware that the word becomes sacrament in and through those who continue to recognize the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.

After sharing with each other that their "hearts [were] burning... while he spoke to [them] on the way and opened the scriptures to [them]," Cleopas and his companion (wife?) ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem that night to tell the others about their experience. This demonstrates that not only is Jesus's new way of being present is really real, so to speak, but it shows that the Eucharist is not an end in itself. Receiving Christ's body and blood should make you an evangelist. The purpose of the Eucharist is not to make the community of disciples a self-referential group of the chosen, it is meant to make Jesus's disciples missionaries. The Eucharist orients toward you toward others, especially those you encounter who need your help.

Sadly, during these times, many Catholics are demanding Mass and excoriating their bishops for opting to keep their flocks safer. These sisters and brothers are exhibiting a self-referential understanding of the Eucharist, one that is static and seems to believe that they are in danger of Christ's presence somehow running out unless they get a refill. But Christ's real presence in the Mass is fourfold. In addition to be really present in the gathering of the baptized, he is really and truly present in the word, that is, the Scriptures. During these times, we should still be turning word into sacrament, which is the work of the Spirit in and through us, by making Jesus visibly and tangibly present by our faith, our hope, our joy, and through our service to those in need.

The risen Lord is walking with us now. Even though you cannot break the bread, do you still recognize him?

Women engage in diakonia

All week I have been thinking about posting something that was not a homily. In pondering that I also thought it would refreshing to write to about something other than the pandemic, which I am following with interest, as I suspect nearly everyone is. This morning an article from The Tablet came to my attention. The article, written by Mary Ring, is entitled "Women are already deacons."

Before even reading "Women are already deacons," I thought, with the words of the short title in mind, "No truer words could be written." I am happy to report that I did persist in reading Ring's piece. It mostly amounts to her critique of the newly formed commission established by Pope Francis. Unlike the previous commission, which had the mandate to examine the history of woman deacons, the new commission's mandate is about the possibility of ordaining women deacons. Ring is quite right, I think, to point out the glaring fact that the first commission's report has never been released. I agree with her that it should be, at least at some point. I, for one, would like to read it. Perhaps both reports will be made public together because the first report will be used to inform the deliberations of the newly appointed Commission.

I understand the misgivings of many people about the composition of the new Commission on Women Deacons appointed by Pope Francis. I guess, at least for me, I am not going to pre-judge. This commission has a broader mandate than the previous one. Its focus is more immediate. Given the members of the commission, none of whom seem, based on their previous work, to favor ordaining women, it occurred to me that, if nothing else, it might surface and articulate the biggest issues/objections to undertaking such a historic change to sacramental practice, which, being sacramental, has to do with the Church's very constitution.

Armenian woman deacon chanting the Gospel

While I agree with the Holy Father that we can't wait for the theologians to reach a consensus to do anything substantial, this particular issue requires re-starting the work of the Council, which, by calling for a permanent diaconate that could even be conferred on married men, began to address a not-very-good theology of orders that developed in the Latin Church, particularly the cursus honorum.

Let's not forget, just as there is a priesthood of all the baptized, there is a diaconate of all the baptized. Diakonia is an inherent part of any genuinely Christian spirituality, which fundamentally consists of three basic disciplines, taught by Christ himself: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. I contend that another name for alms-giving is diakonia. Women, generally speaking, are more engaged in diakonia than men. In my view, this should count for a lot in the Church's discernment.

Keeping the above in mind, there is another matter that Pope Francis keeps mentioning, namely his concern that the Church not be thoroughly clericalized. He is very serious about overcoming clericalism. We need to always keep in mind that the fundamental sacrament of Christian life is not orders, but baptism. This is fundamental to the Council's teaching and an important retrieval for which we owe a debt to Protestant reformers.

Now, the Holy Father's expressed concerns do not by themselves exclude the possibility of women being ordained deacons. Obviously, the Holy Father sees this as an important matter. As a result, he is looking at the question in-depth. He is also serious about including women in the Church's governance. He has made notable strides regarding this in the Roman Curia.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Friday Second Week of Easter

Readings: Acts 5:34-42; Ps 27:1.4.13-14; John 6:1-15

As on Monday, in our readings today, we once again encounter a member of the Sanhedrin: Gamaliel. Rather than hearing about him from our Gospel, as with Nicodemus on Monday, we hear the wise words of Gamaliel in our first reading, taken from Acts.

Like Peter and John in the previous chapter of Acts, the events we hear about today come after the apostles are arrested, put in jail, and drug before the Sanhedrin. Their crime was the same: proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah and healing in his name. It was the intent of those who arrested and charged them to stamp out this dangerous heresy before its spread stirred up more trouble.

Gamaliel intervenes by pointing out what appear to be two recent instances of false messiahs, or at least charismatic leaders, that drew the council’s attention. He notes that these movements died on their own without any intervention by Jewish authorities. He opines that perhaps this will be the case with Jesus’s followers. It seems fair to point out that, maybe having witnessed their preaching and miraculous deeds, Gamaliel felt this group, not yet known as Christians, was perhaps different.

It was Gamaliel’s unspoken admiration for the apostles, their works and preaching, that caused him not only to urge caution by citing examples of similar movements that burned themselves out but his admission that by harshly punishing its leaders the Sanhedrin might well be “fighting against God.”1

Jesus Feeds the 5,000, by Jacopo Tintoretto, ca. 1579-1581

In our Gospel this morning, we hear John’s account of Jesus’s feeding of the 5,000. This is a text that has often been “de-mythologized.” What I mean by “de-mythologized,” is that some have argued that Jesus didn’t perform a miracle by making a lot of food out of a little food but that in convincing the boy to share his five barley loaves and 2 fishes, other members of the crowd shared their food as well. As a result, there was more than enough for everyone. Frankly, I don’t know which would be more of a miracle: Jesus inexplicably multiplying the little bit that was offered or everyone sharing what they had for the good of all.

What might be called "numerology" found in our Gospel reading is interesting: 5+2=7. Seven, of course, is the biblical number of perfection; twelve baskets leftover. Twelve is the number of the tribes of Israel. But rather than stretching for an esoteric exposition, I think a practical one is to be preferred.

In our first reading for last Sunday, also from Acts, we heard: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.”2 As Pope Francis noted in his homily on Divine Mercy Sunday: “This is not some ideology: it is Christianity.” 3

No matter which explanation you accept for the miracle in today’s Gospel, you must always grasp that your participation in the Eucharist, in which you freely receive Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity, requires you to freely and mercifully give to others, especially those in need. Grasping this is crucial for understanding what Jesus’s rising from the dead means. In other words, the Resurrection is not a one-off fact that happened nearly two thousand years ago. The on-going nature of resurrected life is what makes it the opus Dei, the work of God.

1 Acts 5:39.
2 Acts 2:44-45.
3 Pope Francis homily for Divine Mercy Sunday, 2020.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Monday Second Week of Easter

Readings: Acts 4:23-31; Ps 2:1-9; John 3:1-8

Now that the Octave of Easter is over, our Gospel this morning is not an account of the Lord’s resurrection. Rather, we hear a vignette (usually called a “pericope”) that takes place, according to Saint John’s Gospel, relatively early on in Jesus’s ministry. In this episode, Jesus is in Jerusalem teaching and presumably healing.

It would seem that after this first encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus remained one of his disciples, albeit a secret one. After the Lord’s death on the cross, it was Nicodemus, along with Joseph of Arimathea, who saw that Jesus was properly buried. Indeed, burying the dead was and remains one of the corporal works of mercy.

In today’s Gospel, Nicodemus seeks Jesus out at night because, as a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish council that governed at least Jerusalem under the Romans, he did not want anyone to see him talking to this Nazorean whose preaching and miracles were causing a stir. His approach to Jesus is fairly cautious. In response to Nicodemus’s statement about God being with him, Jesus does not say: “You’re very perceptive, Nicodemus. In fact, not only is God with me, I am God in the flesh.”

Jesus, as he seems wont to do, cuts to the chase, meaning gives the answer to the question that is really on Nicodemus’s heart: “unless one is born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”1 In short, he tells Nicodemus about eternal life, which desire is what drew this member of the Jewish ruling class to the Nazorean peasant. But Nicodemus is confused by this answer. He takes it literally and rightly points out that everyone is only physically born once.

Of course, to heed Jesus’s summons would require Nicodemus to make his discipleship public. But he does not do this until after Jesus’s crucifixion when he helps to retrieve Jesus’s lifeless body and place it in the tomb. Jesus persists: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.”2 In fact, you’re not really born until you are baptized.

Nicodemus Visiting Jesus, by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1899

Jesus’s words here clearly point to baptism. But the Lord also links what we now call confirmation to baptism when he states: “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”3

As he is throughout most of the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit is the focal point of our first reading. The occasion is Peter’s and John’s release after they were hauled into the Sanhedrin on suspicion of heresy for teaching and healing in Jesus’s name and proclaiming him Messiah and Lord. The primitive Christian community was so happy that the two were free that they offered up a prayer of thanksgiving. Of course, “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.”

So powerful was their prayer that “the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”4 This, my friends, is how people reborn to eternal life pray! Is this how we pray? Do we pray in the Holy Spirit’s power?

What does the community pray for? They pray that they continue to speak God’s word with boldness, heal the sick- like the crippled man Peter healed in the Temple, and perform other signs and wonders done in the name Jesus.5 One mistake we make is to see this as so much crazy charismania, meaning an uncontrolled and wild Pentecostalism. A “charism” is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Because every Christian is possessed of spiritual gifts, these can be used in a healthy manner. In light of this, a distinction can be made between “Charismatic” and “Pentecostal.”

As Jesus noted in speaking with Nicodemus, the Spirit blows where he will. In other words, we don’t have a repeatable formula for miraculously healing the sick or bringing about belief by performing amazing signs. But we can visit the sick, even in this time of pandemic. Like burying the dead, visiting the sick, too, is a corporal work of mercy. We can call people, email them, text, or use Skype and Zoom to check in on them, especially those whom we know don’t have anyone else to do so. We can use our resources to provide necessities for those in need.

Of course, we must be consistent and persistent in intercessory prayer, lifting up the needs of others to God, who is all-good and who is mercy itself. As far as speaking God’s word with boldness, as the Scripture tells us: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”6

1 John 3:3.
2 John 3:5-6.
3 John 3:8.
4 Acts 4:31.
5 Acts 4:29-30.
6 1 Peter 3:15-16.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Year A Second Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 2:42-47; Ps 118:2-4.13-15.22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Catholic preachers often overlook the New Testament epistle reading. As a result, we frequently miss out on a great treasure trove of inspired wisdom. During this particular Easter season, both in the lectionary for Sunday Mass and in the Office of Readings, which is one of the offices that comprise the Liturgy of the Hours- the Church’s official prayer- the Church, our mater et magistra (i.e., mother and teacher), provides us with a lot of readings from the First Peter. Given this sacred book’s focus on suffering, this seems most fitting during this pandemic.

It is because the Church is in Year A of the three-year cycle of Sunday readings that we read from 1 Peter from this Sunday through the Seventh Sunday of Easter. While some readings feature it more explicitly than others, five out of the six readings broach the subject of suffering.

As the Buddha pithily observed: to live is to suffer. As Christ painstakingly showed: to love is to suffer. But then, to love is what it means to truly be alive. Theologian Herbert McCabe observed a long time ago: “if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you.”1 While it is abundantly clear that suffering, in its various forms, is an inherent part of human life, it’s important to note that God is not the cause of our suffering. On the contrary, humanity was the cause of the passion of the Christ.

In and through Christ’s passion and death, God- who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- redeemed suffering. In his very person, both in his suffering and his descent into hell, Christ retrieved human suffering from the void, from meaninglessness. Because Jesus himself, the Scripture teaches, “was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”2

In and through Christ, the alchemy of grace can turn the lead of suffering into the gold of glory.3 Being a Christian means being a person who steadfastly refuses to let suffering have the last word. It is our belief in Christ’s resurrection that makes us incorrigible about this. This is what our epistle reading tells us: that we rejoice in the “resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” which is the source of our “living hope.”4

While it certainly can, it is important that suffering doesn't diminish your living hope. Rather, suffering, when accepted- instead of denied or refused (both of which are futile responses)- and united with Christ’s suffering, can be, but is not necessarily, the fire through which your faith is strengthened.

Living this way, which cannot and does not attenuate the seriousness of suffering or dull its pain, will result in “praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” When you think about it, not letting your suffering diminish your living hope is the very revelation of Jesus Christ, just as the crucifixion is the deepest revelation of God’s very self.

Beyond, enduring suffering in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul insisted that because of our living hope in the resurrection of Christ, in imitatio Christi, we can put our sufferings at the service of God’s redemptive purposes. Paul wrote:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God5
Today's Gospel has two distinct parts. In the first part, we hear what we as Catholics usually describe as Christ’s institution of the Sacrament of Penance (i.e., confession). In part two, we hear about Thomas overcoming his doubt by seeing and believing. So, we might say that within one and the same Gospel reading the Church puts before us faith and doubt.

What ties faith and doubt together inextricably is the reality of suffering. Nothing produces doubt about God’s goodness, God’s power, or even God’s very existence more than suffering. Here’s a bit of good news: rather than denying suffering, or seeing it as God’s punishment for wayward humanity or an individual person who has misbehaved, or as the way God goes about accomplishing his purposes, the doubt caused by suffering is important, vital, perhaps even necessary for faith.

According to our epistle reading, doubt caused by suffering is what makes your faith “more precious” and more enduring “than gold that is… tested by fire.”6 Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Certainty is the opposite of faith. In the context of suffering, it is people who can always produce a reason for suffering, usually by the use of pious platitudes, that grate on us the most. As Rich Mullins sang: “I know it would not hurt any less/Even if it could be explained.”7 Suffering is a mystery because there is no explanation that eases our pain.

It is very important to point out something our Gospel for Divine Mercy Sunday makes very clear: the Risen Lord still bears the wounds of his crucifixion. This is perhaps the best explanation of suffering available to us. It is God telling us he has suffered with us and continues to suffer with us. It is this, perhaps more than anything, that enables us to believe without seeing.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, let’s worship the God who is Mercy and dismiss the omnipotent moral monster of so many imaginations. Taking a cue from the closing prayer for the Chaplet of Divine Mercy: in difficult moments, like one we are presently experiencing, may we not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to God’s holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.

1 From Terry Eagleton, “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching,” London Review of Books, Vol. 28 No. 20, 19 October 2006.
2 Hebrews 2:18.
3 Ken Boa, from the podcast “In the Studio with Michael Card.”
4 1 Peter 1:3.
5 2 Corithians 1:3-4.
6 1 Peter 1:7.
7 Rich Mullins lyrics to “Hard to Get.”

Friday, April 17, 2020

Friday in the Octave of Easter

Readings: Acts 4:1-12; Ps 118:1-2.4.24-27a; John 21:1-14

In our daily Gospel once again, we learn that, upon seeing him, “the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.”1 Even after he asked them if they had anything to eat, calling them “children,” the disciples did not realize it was the Lord. According to John’s account, it seems that after the dramatic events of Jesus’s passion and death and even after their encounter with the risen Christ in Jerusalem, his closest followers didn’t know what else to do except go back home to Capernaum and resume their trade as fishermen.

At least in Saint John’s view, it wasn’t clear to Peter and Jesus’s other closest followers what his rising from the dead meant. We are faced with the same question, aren’t we? What implications does our encounter with the risen Lord have for our lives? In posing this question, which is as existential as it is theological, we come to the heart of the matter. Only the theological questions that have existential implications are worth asking. In other words, virtually nobody cares about the abstract, metaphysical questions that often masquerade as theology.

The heart of the matter is the matter of our hearts. As Cleopas and his companion asked after their startling encounter with the risen Christ as they made their way back to Emmaus discouraged and disappointed: “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way…?”2 Just like in our Gospel for Wednesday, taken from Saint Luke, in today’s Gospel, after his disciples come ashore, having made their large haul, Jesus celebrates with them a sort of Eucharist. Once again, it is in this celebration that any doubts about his identity dissipate.

Time and again during the resurrection appearances in the Gospels, even Jesus’s closest disciples had to see him with new eyes after his resurrection, seeing him through the eyes of faith. Looking through "the eyes of faith" changes the way one sees everything and everyone. To use a familiar term, “seeing with the eyes of faith” refers to being converted.

In our reading today, taken once again from Acts 4, Peter, who draws attention to himself and John by healing the crippled man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, tells those who are inquiring, that Jesus Christ, by whose power he caused the crippled man to walk, “the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.”3

This, too, has implications for the lives of Jesus’s followers. In our advocacy and ready assistance to those in need, to society’s outcasts, to those who are often deemed dispensable, we must be ready to be rejected and despised. If you haven’t experienced this already, let me remind you that doing the right thing is often very difficult. You must be willing to pay the price when endeavoring to live as if God’s kingdom is already fully established.

It is not enough to vigorously and arrogantly assert that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation. As those who claim his name, we must show this by our unfailing love, expressed as service. The Christian word for this is diakonia.

God’s kingdom, at least according to Jesus’s teaching, is something of a bizarro world, the world as we know it turned upside down. In his teaching during the crisis brought about by the rapid spread of the sars-cov-2 virus, Pope Francis has indicated, emerging from this, we have an opportunity to make some structural changes. The other day, for example, he proposed, not a universal basic income, but a universal basic wage.4

This proposal basically insists that everyone who works should make enough money on which to live and support his/her family. Just think of all those workers who are putting themselves at risk during this time to keep us supplied with life's necessities. Let’s not forget, when used medically, a crisis marks the turning point of a disease, a time when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death.

My dear friends, certain elements of the Mass that merit deep reflection and reiteration. In seeking to answer the question, “What implications does Jesus’s rising from the dead have for our lives?,” it bears noting that the word “Mass” is derived from the Latin word missa, which means more than merely being dismissed. It means something like to be sent. This is indicated by the fact that missa is closely related to the word missio, which is the origin of our English word “mission.”

If you were to ask virtually any Catholic what it means to say that the Church is “apostolic,” you’d likely receive a response seeking to articulate what we call apostolic succession. While this is not an incorrect reply, it is a woefully incomplete one. It merits repeating in this context that in Saint John’s Gospel there are no apostles, only disciples.

The Church, which remains the community of disciples of the risen Christ, is apostolic in that each and every member is sent, quite literally, at the end of each Eucharist. We are sent to make the One in whom we have recognized as Lord and God present wherever we are.

1 John 21:4.
2 Luke 24:32.
3 Acts 4:11.
4 See “Pope calls for consideration of ‘universal basic wage’ for unprotected workers.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:1-10; Ps 10:5-9; Luke 24:16-35

It seems fairly obvious from the scriptural accounts of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances, that the risen Jesus is different from the Jesus his followers experienced before the crucifixion. Certainly, there is continuity- it is the same "person," but one who has changed as the result of the experience of dying and rising.

As a result of this change, his disciples who accompanied him on his journey along the back roads of Galilee, journeyed with him to Jerusalem, and who experienced first-hand the events of his passion and death, had to let go of the earlier Jesus so as to relate to the risen Christ in a new and different way.

You see, dear friends, the mystery of life in Christ is that Christ can live in you. He comes to live in you by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is not a throw-away line. The fact that Christ lives in you by the Holy Spirit’s power is emphasized by the fact that for Monday and Tuesday of the Easter Octave our first Mass readings from the Acts of the Apostles, are taken from the account of the first Christian Pentecost. In our reading from Acts this morning, we see the effects of Christ’s power exercised by Peter in healing the crippled man by enabling him to walk.

Our Gospel reading this morning from Saint Luke’s Gospel, which was written by the same inspired author who wrote Acts, is the scriptural teaching par excellence about relating to the risen Christ in a new way. We relate to the risen Christ in a new way because he relates to us in a new, more powerful way. The Eucharist is the sign and symbol of this new way of relating.

Like Mary Magdalene in yesterday’s Gospel, something that is a feature of many of Jesus’s early post-resurrection appearances, Cleopas and his companion do not recognize Jesus, despite being his disciples. Again, this shows that there is a difference between the resurrected Jesus and Jesus before the crucifixion.

This stranger, who “drew near and walked with them,” schooled them as to how the events of Jesus’s passion and death, which left the two discouraged if not quite in despair, were foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures.1 They were convinced by this stranger's explanation. It was not until they invited him in, sat at table with him, that they recognized him in the bread blessed and broken.

We, too, this very morning will experience Jesus in the breaking of the bread. This is true whether you’re here in person or participating virtually. Your spiritual, or visual communion, is enough to allow you to recognize Jesus.

Today, the risen Lord invites us to a new relationship with him. Maybe our inability to gather together to celebrate these sacred mysteries due to the pandemic is an exercise in our not clinging to an outmoded, static, relationship with the risen Christ. Maybe through this troubling time, he is calling each of us, which means all of us together, to a new, closer, more dynamic and powerful relationship with him and with one another and, indeed, with the whole world.

What you won’t witness is a magic trick. What we see can only be seen through the eyes of faith, the very same “eyes” with which Cleopas and his companion recognized Jesus Christ risen and alive.

Perhaps the risen Christ bids us to never again take for granted his presence in the Eucharist. Maybe he wants us to realize the power he gives us in and through the Eucharist- a power wrought by the Holy Spirit, who is the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence among us, in us, and through us. When we eat this bread and drink this cup, the risen Lord comes to be present in us even more than he remains present in the tabernacle. His presence in us is meant to be a powerful, dynamic presence.

By receiving Holy Communion, the risen Christ is not content merely to be present in us; he gives himself to us so that through us he can be present to others. His presence is expressed in acts of service, acts of diakonia. Loving care and concern for others is the power of Christ.

I want to end this morning by noting that it was 30 years ago today that I was baptized. At the Easter Vigil of 1990, I was fully initiated into the Church of Jesus Christ. I have to say, that these decades, which constitute most of my adulthood have been a school of learning how to relate to the risen Christ in an ever-new way.

1 Luke 24:15.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Monday in the Octave of Easter

Readings: Acts 2:14.22-33; Ps. 16:1-2a.7-11; Matt 28:8-15

One of the earliest calumnies against Jesus’s followers was the accusation that they took his body out of the tomb and hid it and then claimed, in the absence of any credible evidence, that he rose from the dead. In our Gospel reading today, the inspired author of Matthew, writing about 50 years later, turns the table on this accusation. We must be careful, however, not to let Matthew's blaming be a cause for religiously-rooted antisemitism.

This attempt at contextualizing should not give rise to religiously-rooted antisemitism. The author of Matthew takes great care in singling out Jewish religious leaders. Besides, it seems all but certain that the author(s) of Matthew, too, is Jewish.

Matthew’s Gospel was written for and in the midst of what we might call a Christian synagogue. In this Gospel we encounter a on-going polemic against the Jewish authorities of the day. Hence, it is not surprise that “the chief priests’ are said to be guilty of bribing the guards, who, it seems, were eyewitnesses of Jesus’s resurrection, to say that the Jesus’s disciples came along while they were sleeping and took his body.1

In addition to giving them a large sum of money in return for their false testimony, the chief priests also employed an element of blackmail: in exchange for their false testimony, the chief priests and the elders would vouch for the guards if the Roman governor of the unruly governate of Palestine learned of claims of Jesus’s resurrection and started to make inquiries.2

According to Matthew, Jesus only appears to the two Marys after they left the tomb in the wake of their encounter with the angel who informed them that Jesus was not in the tomb but was risen. The Gospel tells us that as a result of their encounter with the angel, the two women were “fearful yet overjoyed.”3 Fearful because they did not really know what it all meant. Overjoyed because just maybe Jesus was not dead but risen as they were told. Could it be?

As the women leave to go and tell the others that Jesus is not dead but alive and that he will meet them in their native Galilee, they run into the resurrected Lord in person. Upon encountering the Risen One, they fall down, embrace his feet, “and did him homage.”4 Their doubts, but not the fears, seem to be dispelled. Echoing the words of the angel, the risen Christ tells them “Do not be afraid.”5 Still repeating what the angel said, Jesus reiterates: “Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”6

But what about us? Those who believe without having the kind of concrete encounter Jesus’s first followers experienced? “Exalted at the right hand of God,” the Risen Lord has “poured” the Holy Spirit “forth.”7

The lengthy Scripture reading for this morning’s Office of Readings comes from the beginning of the First Letter of Saint Peter- the same Peter who testifies in our first reading on the day of the first Christian Pentecost. He writes about what is wrought by the Holy Spirit’s power:
Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of [your] faith, the salvation of your souls8
More importantly, he writes about just how salvation is achieved. He states that God, the Father, in his “great mercy” given us in and through Jesus Christ has given us
a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time9
Our salvation is not achieved by our own merits but through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who bore our infirmities, both spiritual and physical. Neither should this rebirth be a cause of pious sentimentalism. Just as the first Christians suffered calumnies such as being accused of faking Jesus’s resurrection, accusations of cannibalism regarding the Eucharist, and, from a pagan perspective, even atheism, we, too, suffer. The pandemic and its effects are more indicative of the kind of suffering we continue to endure, which is common to all of humanity, not specific to Christians.
While we rejoice in our rebirth, “for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ10

1 Matthew 28:11-13.
2 Matthew 28:14.
3 Matthew 28:8.
4 Matthew 28:9.
5 Matthew 28:10.
6 Matthew 28:10.
7 Acts 2:33.
8 1 Peter 1:8-9.
9 1 Peter 1:3-5.
10 1 Peter 1:6-7.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Urbi et Orbi- Easter 2020


Easter 2020

Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Easter!

Today the Church’s proclamation echoes throughout the world: “Jesus Christ is risen!” – “He is truly risen!”.

Like a new flame this Good News springs up in the night: the night of a world already faced with epochal challenges and now oppressed by a pandemic severely testing our whole human family. In this night, the Church’s voice rings out: “Christ, my hope, has arisen!” (Easter Sequence).

This is a different “contagion”, a message transmitted from heart to heart – for every human heart awaits this Good News. It is the contagion of hope: “Christ, my hope, is risen!”. This is no magic formula that makes problems vanish. No, the resurrection of Christ is not that. Instead, it is the victory of love over the root of evil, a victory that does not “by-pass” suffering and death, but passes through them, opening a path in the abyss, transforming evil into good: this is the unique hallmark of the power of God.

The Risen Lord is also the Crucified One, not someone else. In his glorious body he bears indelible wounds: wounds that have become windows of hope. Let us turn our gaze to him that he may heal the wounds of an afflicted humanity.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Triduum: Easter Vigil

Readings: Gen 22:1-18; Exo 14:15-15:1; Isa 54:5-14; Rom 6:3-11; Matt 28:1-10

Dear friends, without a doubt, this is the strangest Easter Vigil I’ve ever experienced. Nonetheless, despite the worldwide pandemic, Christ is risen. Alleluia.

To our Elect, Rachael, Amber, Stephanie, and Sawyer, I want to send you greetings and express our closeness to you during this Vigil. The Vigil at which you were to be baptized, confirmed, and receive your first Holy Communion. Our message to you is, stay close to Christ. Let him draw you nearer to himself during these trying times. My prayer for you is that you will emerge from these days of isolation and distancing more convinced than ever to clothe yourselves with Christ.

I am struck this evening by the words spoken by the angel to the two women and spoken again by the risen Christ to the same women: “Do not be afraid!”1 Like the two Marys, who made their way to Jesus’s tomb early in the morning, we, too, “are seeking Jesus the crucified.”2 Like them, you, too, might be struck by the seeming absence of the one who was crucified and died.

The absence we experience is not the absence of the empty tomb but that of an event that is 40 days down the road: Christ’s Ascension. Ten days after that we observe Pentecost when we celebrate Jesus’s sending the Holy Spirit upon his followers, something he promised to do. Who is the Holy Spirit if not the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence among us, in us, and through us? In other words, the Holy Spirit is the way Christ is present until he returns.

During the Last Supper, according to Saint John’s account, Jesus says this about the Holy Spirit to his disciples: “But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.”3 The masterworks of the Holy Spirit, of course, are the sacraments. The sacramental center is the Eucharist. Like the one to whom he bears constant witness, the Holy Spirit most often works in overlooked ways.

And so, we are not alone. God has not abandoned us in our hour of need. Instead, he chooses to enter into our suffering and to suffer alongside us. This is exactly what Jesus’s Incarnation is all about. Saint Melito of Sardis noted this in an ancient Easter homily:
For the sake of suffering humanity [Jesus] came down from heaven to earth, clothed himself in that humanity in the Virgin’s womb… Having then a body capable of suffering, he took the pain of fallen [humanity] upon himself; he triumphed over the diseases of soul and body that were its cause, and by his Spirit, which was incapable of dying, he dealt [humanity’s] destroyer, death, a fatal blow4
Despite being an important way any sanctification we might realize happens, suffering remains a great mystery. One cannot really listen to hear our first reading from Genesis about Abraham’s willingness to accede to God’s command to sacrifice his only son without being made uncomfortable. Our uneasiness should not be glossed over lightly. Rather, we should let ourselves be shocked and disturbed by it. Like all evil, however, the only way we can make any sense of this episode is by seeing it through the lens of Christ's cross: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”5

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, by Hendrick de Clerck, ca. 1575-1600

Nonetheless, suffering remains a great mystery. We need to grasp that God does not cause suffering to realize his purposes. Why should God, who is all good, violate the principle that one may not do evil so that good may come of it?

While Melito's encouraging words may seem like wishful thinking, our Christian hope bids us believe. It bears noting, yet again, that hope lies beyond optimism. Hope is that inexhaustible refusal that arises from the deepest well of our humanity that tells not only that this, too, shall pass but reassures, in the words of Julian of Norwich: “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”6 Julian went on to note that “These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.”7

Who shall be saved? While it is utterly impossible to give a comprehensive answer to that question, we can be confident in these words of Saint Paul’s, taken from our epistle reading:
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin8
If nothing else, this trying season should help us put away pious sentimentalism, which is a cheap substitute for faith, leading as it does to optimism while unable to produce genuine hope, which is the flower of faith that blossoms into the fruit of charity. Let us, too, surrender our moralism, which holds that God’s lovingkindness is facile and hinges on our relative goodness or badness. This is the kind of thinking that inclines a person so inclined to see in catastrophic events, like this pandemic, God’s punishment for evil. One who does this does not believe in the God of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Christ bore our infirmities, physical and spiritual, as he hung on the cross. This is the Good News that frees us. This freedom, of necessity, is realized through the vicissitudes of existence. Life, after all, does have meaning!

In a few minutes, we will reach the moment for which all of this tremendously difficult Lent has been a preparation: the renewal of our baptismal promises. Once again, we will reject sin so as live in the freedom God has given us in and through Christ. We will also profess our faith in Christ Jesus, “who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose again from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”

My sisters and brothers, as we enter into the Octave of Easter, relying on Divine Mercy, let us once again, during our present difficulties, together proclaim, using the words revealed to the Apostle of Divine Mercy, Saint Faustina: “Jesus, I trust in You.”

1 Matthew 28"5; Matthew 28:10.
2 Matthew 28:5.
3 John 16:13.
4 ICEL, The Liturgy of the Hours: Lenten Season/Easter Triduum/Easter Season, Vol. III, Office of Readings, Holy Thursday, 405.
5 John 3:16.
6 Julian of Norwich, Showings, XXVII.
7 Ibid.
8 Romans 6:5-6.

Interlude: Holy Saturday

Much like Advent, Holy Saturday is representative of the situation in which we find ourselves vis-à-vis our salvation: we are waiting. But we don't wait as though nothing has happened. Indeed, what had to happen has happened, or at least hope bids us believe that it has. It seems to me that I have experienced this for myself, not just once or twice but any number of times and in ways both quiet and dramatic. Aren't these experiences subjective, maybe not able to withstand a withering critique? This is sometimes my fear, as I am sure it is the fear of other people of faith.

Much is made these days of the fact that it was the women among Jesus's disciples who did not run away or abandon him, either on the cross or after he was laid in the tomb. Of course, this overlooks the relative courage it took for Joseph of Arimathea and, if John's account is to be believed, Nicodemus, who was a member of the Sanhedrin, to ask Pilate for Jesus's body so they could mercifully bury it.

As many New Testament scholars and theologians have noted (I call to mind here Cynthia Crysdale's Embracing Travail: Retrieving the Cross Today), unlike Jesus's male followers, because they were counted as literally nobodies, his women disciples didn't face that same danger of themselves being arrested, humiliated, and possibly executed. I mention this only to balance the scales and not to diminish the steadfast faithfulness of the Lord's women disciples. Their faithfulness is demonstrated over and over again, particularly the fact it was the woman who materially supported Jesus and the twelve.

One inescapable fact, no matter which of the four accounts you read (keeping in mind that everything in Mark after the empty tomb is a later interpolation), women were the first witnesses of his resurrection. Indeed, Mary Magdalene is rightly identified as apostula apostulorum- this is highly significant! Getting back to Holy Saturday- the women were the first witnesses because not only did they go to see where Jesus was buried, they remained at his tomb. It seems fairly safe to assert that by hanging around and then coming back early the next morning they did not really know what to expect. It is this aspect that strikes me today: hanging around.

"When nothing we can do makes any difference and we are left standing around empty-handed and clueless," Eugene Peterson wrote, "we are ready for God to create." He continued- "When the conditions in which we live seem totally alien to life and salvation, we are reduced to waiting for God to do what only God can do, create." This is the experience of Holy Saturday. After the high drama of the Last Supper and the Via Crucis, we come to this quiet day unlike any other day of the year. Today almost nothing happens. It is a day of silence during which the memories of the events of the past few days echo in our minds and hearts. It can prompt the question: "Is it really real?" If so, "What does it all mean?"

One thing seems to clear, at least to me, the only the plausible theodicy (explanation of evil in light of the reality of God) is Jesus Christ crucified. Words, even poetic words, fall short of this great mystery. Like Lent itself, Holy Saturday is what Trevor Hudson has dubbed a "time-gift." We are given the quiet and calm of a Saturday, an interlude, to contemplate what we have seen and heard. Like the faithful women, today let us hang about not knowing what to expect and see what God will do at this time of worldwide pandemic.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Triduum: Good Friday


Until my Holy Thursday homily, I hadn't written anything since the coronavirus restrictions were put in place. Beyond not blogging, I have severely restricted my activity on other social media platforms. A big reason for this, frankly, is not really knowing what to say in the face of something this huge. It's okay not to know what to say. But with the Triduum here now and with my adjustment to circumstances, I hope to post more regularly.

Nonetheless, I am glad I took a pause and let reality sink in a bit. I don't mind admitting that I felt completely overwhelmed for about a week. I also realize that especially now there are so many things on-line that many people are positively drowning in options. As I have for the entire 15+ years of this blog, I urge you, dear reader, to take my offerings for what they're worth to you. As I have stated multiple times, if blogging did not benefit me personally, quite apart from the response of others, I wouldn't do it. There's something about seeing one's thoughts in objective form that helps to refine, clarify, and sharpen them.

I long ago gave up weighing in on the controversies of the day be they political, ecclesial, or cultural. Opinions are like bellybuttons; everyone has one. Of course, not all opinions are equal. But nobody's opinion is infallible, unless you are the Supreme Pontiff speaking ex cathedra on a matter of faith and morals. The world hasn't had one of those since 1950!

I don't mind admitting that I like to argue. Arguing is not a bad thing in and of itself. Arguments can be civil and robust. As a recent unpleasant experience showed me (again), most people, thinking their opinion unassailable, do not like to be challenged and take umbrage when anyone deigns to challenge them. Hence, arguing on-line is a waste of time. I don't mind stating my opinion that our loss of the ability to argue is one of the things that plagues us. We seem content to dictate to others what they should think instead of developing the robust ability to think.


Like a lot of people, I have appreciated Pope Francis's worldwide pastoral care during this unusual time. I particularly benefited from his astounding Urbi et Orbi liturgy, which he celebrated mainly in a rainy and empty Saint Peter's Square. Participating in this virtually was what enabled me to regain my equilibrium. In his homily, the Holy Father said something that spoke to me directly, something that spoke to me about the fruitlessness of too much social media:
The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity
Ah, "the antibodies we need to confront adversity"! I need spiritual nourishment, not junk food.

Crucifixion, by Andrea del Castagno, ca. 1450

On this Good Friday, God answers our question: "Where are you in all this?" by pointing us to Jesus on the cross. He is present wherever there is suffering. This is made very clear in two passages from Sacred Scripture: "For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering" (Hebrews 2:10) and "he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8). Jesus suffers with us, alongside us.

My friends, we are the thieves! Hence, the choice placed in front of us is to mock God's seeming powerlessness or recognize God's act of solidarity with us in our suffering.

Yesterday, I focused on the word "apocalypse," pointing out that it means to unveil something previously concealed. We must ask ourselves, "What are these circumstances revealing in me, about me?" This is a question that can only be answered in silence. What this worldwide pandemic has revealed writ large is our vulnerability, the fact that we're not as strong as we think we are. I say "revealed" because this has always been true, but it is a truth that we hid from ourselves, veiled, as it were.

On this Good Friday, as on every Good Friday, we are invited to overcome our fascination with nothingness and behold the Crucified. As we say as we genuflect before each Station of His Holy Cross- "We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because, by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world."

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Triduum: Holy Thursday

Readings: Exo 12:1-8.11-14; Ps 11;12-13.15-16bc.17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

In contemporary Western society, which is very media-driven, we use language in a fairly profligate way. Profligate, you might ask? Profligate means to use recklessly or wastefully. This is exacerbated by the widespread use of social media, which, of course, has its good and bad aspects. One example of this profligacy is the widespread use of the word “apocalypse” and its variants during this time of pandemic.

What “apocalypse” is usually taken to mean in this context is something like “the end of the world.” But we have another perfectly good big word we can use to refer to the end times: eschatological. The word “apocalypse” likely became associated with the end of time by being the name of the last book of the Bible. Even today in some English language translations, instead of “Revelation,” the last book of the Bible is sometimes given the title “Apocalypse.”

As the association indicates, an “apocalypse” is a revelation. Apocalypse means to unveil something previously concealed. In our Gospel this evening, we are faced with a very good example of an apocalypse. Jesus is unveiled as Lord by washing the feet of his disciples (in Saint John’s Gospel there are no apostles, only disciples). As Peter’s vehement response indicates, washing feet is the job of the lowliest of the low. But the “form of God,” according to the Scriptures, is that of a slave.1

Rather than as set forth by the fevered imaginations of those who inhabit an overstimulated society, Jesus’s Lordship is revealed in ways that go unnoticed by most people most of the time. Even among those who notice, his unveilings are usually underappreciated if not overlooked entirely. The latter is indicative of the attitude, “Is that all?”

Let us examine the Eucharist as an apocalypse, an unveiling, of Jesus as Lord. It is not intuitively obvious to the casual observer that at the words of consecration the bread and wine, by the Holy Spirit’s power, are “transubstantiated” into Christ’s body and blood. There is no physical change in either substance, even at the sub-atomic level. To believe otherwise is to adhere to “physicalism,” which the Church teaches is an inadequate and inaccurate way of understanding the transformation in which we believe.

Jesus Washing the Feet of the Apostles, by Giovanni Stefano Danedi, ca. 1600-1700

What, then, is the “proof” that the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood? Again, our Gospel for the beginning of the Sacred Triduum provides us a ready-to-hand one. Before setting out the proof, which is quite obvious, it bears noting that in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus’s washing his disciples’ feet serves as the “institution narrative.” In other words, unlike the Synoptic Gospels (i.e., Mark, Matthew, and Luke), in John Jesus does not take bread, bless and break it, and then bless wine giving it to them and saying: “This is my body. This is my blood.”2

The evidence that the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood is that it makes those who partake of it his very Body. It is the life of Christ’s Body, which is lived in service, that is, diakonia, that provides convincing evidence to the world. This is summed up beautifully by the opening words of a traditional hymn, usually sung on Holy Thursday: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est (“Where charity [and love are], God is present there”).3

The take-away this evening should be as obvious as the proof: serve others selflessly. Not only during times of extreme crisis, like the one we’re experiencing now, but all the time, there are people who need your help. In Christian parlance, this is called love of neighbor. The point of Jesus’s Parable of the Good Samaritan is relevant here: “Turn yourself into a neighbor.”4

“There is no need to speculate about who your neighbor is,” Tomáš Halik insists.5 “By overcoming your selfishness,” Halik continues, “by being close to people- particularly in their need- you can turn people into your neighbors…”6 This, too, is an apocalypse, an unveiling, something the does not and cannot happen by means of apologetics.

Tomorrow, on Good Friday, we will commemorate and, dare I say, celebrate the ultimate unveiling of Jesus as Lord and God: his crucifixion. You might object: “Wait a minute! What about his resurrection?!” But in the calculus of our redemption, there can be no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. As Friedrich Nietzsche observed: “only where there are tombs are there resurrections.”7

My dear friends, Jesus is our Passover. “Through him, and with him, and in him,” we pass from death to life.8 Let us resolve to live the new life we received when we emerged from the waters of baptism, the life which is sustained by the Eucharist for which we now hunger and thirst more than ever. Living this new life means serving others in Jesus’s name for the sake of God’s kingdom. “Where charity [and love are], God is present there.”9

1 Philippians 2:5-7.
2 Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20.
3 Roman Missal, “Thursday of the Lord’s Supper,” sec. 14.
4 Tomáš Halík, Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing In Us, trans. Gerald Turner, 99.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, XXXIII, “The Grave Song,” trans. Thomas Common.
8 Roman Missal, “The Order of Mass,” Eucharistic Prayer III, sec. 114
9 Ibid., “Thursday of the Lord’s Supper,” sec. 14.

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-6; Ps 5:2-7; Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus, Ahab, or Jezebel? This is the question posed to us by our readings. What do yo...