Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Year I: Wednesday of Holy Week

Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 69:8-10.21-22.31.33-34; Matthew 26:14-25

In the days of Holy Week leading up to the Paschal Triduum, that is, during the final few days of Lent, Judas Iscariot is a central figure in the Church’s Gospel readings. This evening, we heard Matthew’s account of the same episode we heard about last evening from John’s Gospel.

According to Matthew, Judas had made a deal with chief priests prior to the Last Supper to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Based on this, the Wednesday of Holy Week is sometimes called “Spy Wednesday.” Judas is dubbed a “spy” because by his betrayal he became something of an inside informer for the authorities- the powers that opposed Jesus.

His betrayal, which, according to Matthew, was already a done deal, makes Judas’s reply to Jesus’s prediction that one of those at the Last Supper would betray home quite disingenuous. It was no mystery to Judas who would betray Jesus. It doesn’t appear that it was a mystery to Jesus either. But the rest of Twelve did not know who was going to betray their Master.

It’s tempting to ask the question, Have you ever been betrayed? And then to follow this up with the question, How did being betrayed make you feel? The answers would be hurt, angry, bitter, resentful, etc. What is important is what is signified by Jesus dipping a morsel and handing it to Judas: Jesus kept on loving Judas despite knowing about and then experiencing his betrayal.

The better question for today, I think, is Have you ever betrayed anyone? How did did you feel afterwards, when you realized what you had done? Ashamed? Remorseful? Embarrassed? Weak? If we follow the thread concerning Judas in Matthew’s Gospel to the end, we learn that Judas “deeply regretted what he had done.”1 As a result, threw the thirty pieces of silver into the temple and then hanged himself.2

IN Monday's Gospel reading, calling to mind Judas’s rebuke of Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, for anointing Jesus’s feet with costly oil, it seems clear that either Judas didn’t believe or simply did not grasp who Jesus was. And this despite his experiences as one of the Lord’s closest followers. Given the complexity of human motivations perhaps he didn’t believe Jesus is the resurrection and life because he didn’t grasp the Lord’s teaching and was unable to make sense of his experiences in the light of that teaching.

The Thirty Pieces of Silver, by János Pentelei Molnár, 1909

In Matthew’s account, Judas clearly knows that Jesus is innocent of that which he stands accused. Hence, he is horrified when he witnesses how brutally Jesus is treated. In other words, whatever else Judas might’ve thought or believed, he knew he was responsible for the death of an innocent person.

Because we grasp who Jesus is and believe him to be Lord, we can be pretty sure that Jesus, who was never angry with, bitter toward, or resentful of Judas or any of those who treated him cruelly and killed him, would gladly have extended him mercy and forgiven him. These words from 1 Peter amplify and clarify the message of our first reading, taken from the second of deutero-Isaiah’s four Servant Songs: Jesus
committed no sin, no deceit was found in his mouth.
When he was insulted,
He returned no insult.

When he was made to suffer,
he did not counter with threats.
Instead he delivered himself up
to the One who judges justly.

In his own body he brought your sins to the cross3
In suffering like this, the sacred writer insists, Christ “left you an example to have you follow in his footsteps.”4

Can there be any doubt that Jesus would have forgiven Judas despite his repentance coming too late to save him from an agonizing death? After all, he lavishly forgave Peter for his betrayal. But it is not Jesus who needs Judas’s salvation but Judas who needs Jesus’s salvation.

Like Judas, we need Jesus to save us, most especially from ourselves, given our propensity to inflict what we mistakenly believe to be divine punishment upon ourselves, as did Judas. The name of God is Mercy because the name of his Son is Jesus.

1 Matthew 27:3.
2 Matthew 27:5.
3 1 Peter 2:22-24a.
4 1 Peter 2:21.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Year I: Monday of Holy Week

Readings: Isa 42:1-7; Ps 27:1-3; 13-14; John 12:1-11

According to John, Jesus went to Bethany, to the house of his dear friends, the siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, six days before Passover. Of course, it was during Passover that Jesus underwent his passion and death.

John makes a point of telling us, twice, that Jesus’s visit to Bethany occurs after he raised Lazarus from the dead. We heard about this on the Fifth Sunday of Lent during the Mass at which we celebrated the Third Scrutiny. Jesus’s bringing Lazarus back from the dead is perhaps best described as a resuscitation rather than a resurrection. But it is no less marvelous for that distinction.

As a result of having been resuscitated after being dead for several days, long enough for his body to begin to decay, Lazarus was no doubt something of a curiosity to many people. Because many began to believe that Jesus was Messiah and perhaps even Lord because he raised Lazarus, many of the Jewish leaders (not all, at least not Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea) wanted to kill him as well as Jesus.

We see in our reading tonight the stirrings of Judas’s betrayal when he says about Mary anointing Jesus’s feet with costly oil, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?”1 His silence in response to Jesus’s words about the poor always being present but he would not be seem to indicate that Judas did not believe Jesus’s claim to be Messiah and Lord, despite what he had witnessed.

This brings us to the relevant question: Who do you think Jesus is? If you remember, before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus tells Martha that he is the resurrection and the life. He then asks her, “Do you believe this?”2

It’s clear that Mary, the one who sat and listened at Jesus’s feet while her sister, Martha, hurried about getting everything ready and complaining to Jesus about Mary just sitting there, believed Jesus to be the resurrection and the life.3 Messiah, in Greek Christos, means Anointed One. Mary anoints Jesus, taking no heed of the cost, because, unlike Judas, she believes.

Last week in a conversation about very brief homilies, Fr. Andrzej told me that a priest in Poland on Easter once gave a very short homily: “Christ is risen! But you don’t believe it.” The question early in this Holy Week, then, is, Do you believe that Christ is risen and alive? It is a question you can only credibly answer with your life. In other words, you can’t really believe this and remain unchanged. To repent is to convert and to convert means to change.

Our reading from Isaiah insists that the one to whom it refers, for us this is Jesus, was “formed and set… as a covenant of the people, a light to the nations.”4 “The people,” of course, refers to Israel, while “the nations” refers you, me, and the rest of the human race. More relevant to the point, he came to bring sight to the blind. The blindness Jesus seeks to cure, as we learned in the Gospel reading for the Second Scrutiny, is not physical. As he says to those who doubt him: “If you were blind you have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ and so your sins remain.”5 Despite it happening right in front of their eyes, they remained blind to God’s salvation and so they remained unchanged.

It makes all the difference in the world whether you believe Jesus is a remote figure who lived some 2,000 years ago or believe that he is alive and present in a way more powerful than if he had remained on earth.

The way Christ is present not just to us but among us and even in us is none other than the holy Spirit. As Paul insisted: “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the holy Spirit.”6 How else if not by the holy Spirit did the centurion in yesterday’s Passion, who stood watch at Jesus’s crucifixion, whose job it was to ensure he died, upon seeing him expire proclaim, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”?7

1 John 12:5.
2 John 11:25-26.
3 See Luke 10:38-42.
4 Isaiah 42:6-7.
5 John 9:12.
6 1 Corinthians 12:3.
7 Mark 15:39.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

"Talk About the Passion"

Here we are, on the threshold of Holy Week. Passion Sunday is upon us. Ah, "Talk About the Passion," to borrow words from Michael Stipe. According to most New Testament scholars, the passion narrative, specifically Mark's, is the oldest part of the Gospels. In other words, fittingly, the story of the life of Jesus of Nazareth begins at the end.

I am excited that we will read Saint Mark's account of the Lord's Passion. Mark's narrative is not as smooth or stylistic as the accounts of the other two synoptic writers (i.e., Matthew and Luke), both of whom used the Gospel According to Saint Mark as a source. Surprisingly, for Mark, whose narrative can often seem a bit abrupt, this passion narrative is quite long.

Reading Mark's Passion account what we are hearing is very likely the oldest part of the first-written Gospel, making it, textually-speaking, the cornerstone of our uniquely Christian scriptures, which we call the New Testament.

Much is made of Jesus reciting the words of Psalm 22 as he hung on the cross: Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? ("My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"). In other words, like most of what Jesus says, his utterance is rooted in Israel's scriptures, not dredged up from some void or spoken off the cuff, as it were. It is more than a prayer or a plea. These words express hope.

The relevant passage from the twenty-second Psalm consists of the second and third verses:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;
by night, but I have no relief
But beginning in verse four it is easy to see hope arising from beyond the horizon of optimism. Consider verses 4-5:
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the glory of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted and you rescued them
Hence, God is not a Deus ex machina, swooping in at the last minute, as all our superheroes do, and saving His Son before he dies. Rather, God meets us in our despair and accompanies us through it. This is made clear in the very next psalm, the much loved Psalm 23, which is only six verses long: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me" (v. 4).

Being truly human, Jesus really died. This is the whole point of chapter 9 of the Letter to the Hebrews. Given our human propensities, it is hardly surprising that docetism ("seemingism") emerged early on. Docetism holds that Jesus only seemed to die, or, in what is perhaps its most extreme form, it was body double who died in Jesus's place. It's difficult to get our minds around the idea that Jesus did not deem equality to God something to be grasped at, clung to, insisted upon, etc. Instead, acting out of the deepest depths of divine nature, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, subjecting himself not only death but death on the cross (see Philippians 2:5-11).

In the days of the Roman empire, among subjugated peoples, like the Jews, death on a cross was a shameful, humiliating death. Instead, on the cross the Lord despoiled "the principalities and the powers," making "a public spectacle of them," and "leading them away in triumph by it" (Colossians 2:15). You see, as a Christian you add by subtracting, you win by losing, you gain everything by claiming nothing but Christ and him crucified.

Being Christian means being kenotic- self-emptying- or it means nothing. Trinune life is kenosis, creation is kenosis, the Incarnation is kenosis, Christ's ministry, passion, death, and resurrection are kenosis. In not clinging to divine prerogatives that humanity too often attributes to God, acting instead perfectly in accord with divine nature, which is self-emptying self-giving, Jesus shows us what he means when he bids those who would follow him to take up our cross. As a friend once said in response to my assertion that God uses all things, especially our suffering, to draw us to himself: "Well, I don't like his methods." Who can blame her?

Perhaps the most telling sign of our fallenness is our tendency to think that God can and often does whatever he damn well pleases. Well, God does what he pleases, which is not for divine self-pleasure. The Father didn't kill his Son. I did. This is a difference between Abraham and Isaac and the Father and Jesus: in the latter case, the Father did not raise his hand against his Son. It is beyond idle to ask "Could God have prevented this from happening?" Asking why God "let" it happen, on the other hand, is the most human of questions, albeit one to which there is no truly satisfactory answer. Perhaps here as no place else we are confronted with mystery that cannot be explained away.

This past Thursday, the Church observed the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Rather than the Sorrowful Mysteries, which I pray virtually every day during Lent, I meditated on the Joyful Mysteries. The fourth Joyful Mystery is Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple. Once in the Temple, according to Luke's account, the Holy Family encountered two elderly people, a man and a woman: the prophetess Anna and Simeon. Recognizing who this infant is, Simeon tells his Mother "and you yourself a sword will pierce" (Luke 2:35). Indeed, the Blessed Virgin is our Mater Dolorosa, our Mother of Sorrows. This is why we, Eve's poor banished children, cry to her.

Jesus leads you to the cross so that he can lead you beyond it. But the only way beyond the cross is through it. Nowhere does Jesus say that material wealth, comfort, hands-in-your waistband, lip-smacking, lazy ease is what he has in store for those who follow him. As a result, wealth is not a sign of divine favor- this is a pretty pagan, that is to say, very human notion. There is a lot to ponder as we enter the week Christians call "Holy."

As the lengthy introduction to the Mass for Passion Sunday bids:
with all faith and devotion,
let us commemorate
the Lord’s entry into the city of our salvation,
following in his footsteps,
so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross,
we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life

Friday, March 26, 2021

"And when the night is cloudy..."

Today is the Friday before Good Friday. It is the fifth and final Friday of Lent. I admit I am at a bit of a loss. I want to write about the role of faith in the novels of John Cheever, especially in Bullet Park and Falconer. During my silence this morning, as I looked at the candle I lit, it struck me that faith endures because the light shines in the darkness.

The light shines in the darkness because the darkness has not overcome it. Once this though came into my mind, prompted as it was by the chapter in Falconer in which the cardinal visits the prison, I immediately inserted the pronoun "my"- The light shines my darkness and my darkness has not overcome it. Jesus, [resent through the power his Spirit, is the inexhaustible candle shining in my darkness.

I don't think I could ever come close to describing my darkness. It's indescribable. I know there are some reading this who can relate. It's not a competition, Whose darkness it darker. We can agree that those of us who experience the darkness of depression experience more than enough darkness.

As typed the above, once again, my favorite song by The Beatles came to mind: Let It Be. When I was in diaconate formation, I wrote a short paper on what that song means to me. I am not sure I still have the paper but I remember writing it. I am fascinated by the various ways the three theological virtues pertain to each other. I am particularly interested in the various relationships that attain between faith and hope. It is never enough to view theological matters in a straight linear manner: faith-to hope-to love.

By now both of my readers are familiar with my tireless assertion that hope lies beyond optimism. One aspect of this is seeing that Jesus didn't die to "bless" me with a comfortable life of material abundance. Especially among Christians of all stripes in the U.S., this seems to be a core belief. "I am so blessed." On the contrary, Jesus constantly reminds us that wealth and material abundance are often the greatest obstacles to God's Kingdom!

What comes first, faith or hope? Does faith lead to/reinforce hope or does hope lead to/reinforce faith? The answer of course is both yes and no.

Given the above, it shouldn't be a great surprise that "Let It Be" is our last traditio for this Lent. I found this version by Alicia Keyes and John Legend that I found lovely to share. Besides, it's the day after the Solemnity of the Annunciation, which comes nine months to the day before the Lord's Nativity at Christmas:

Monday, March 22, 2021

Reflection for Morning Prayer with Diocesan Staff

Reading: Isaiah 54:10.14-15

“You are our sure defense, O God!”1 As believers, how can we doubt this? But once in a while, when this reassurance runs into unyielding reality, we can tend to doubt if God is on our side.

Taken as it is from deutero- (or second) Isaiah, which was composed during Israel’s Babylonian exile, this confident statement is uttered in the midst of what was likely for many exiled Israelites a hopeless situation. In context, then, it can be taken more as an aspiration, as hope. Knowing the end of the story (that Israel returned from exile), we can take it as a true and reassuring statement.

Genuine hope begins where optimism ends. This what Saint Paul meant when he wrote about Abraham’s hope in God’s promise that he would be “the father of many nations.” At the time of God’s promise, Abraham was already an old man. He and his wife Sarah, who was also past child-bearing age, remained childless. Hence, the apostle wrote that “hoping against hope,” Abraham believed God’s promise.2

We all know through our experience that God does not typically function as a Deus ex machina, that is, as an unexpected power swooping in from nowhere to save a seemingly hopeless situation. There is a reason we find novels, stories, and plays that feature this plot device unsatisfying. The scriptures abundantly reaffirm that God works through, not over, above, around or under the sometime desperate circumstances in which we find ourselves.

The opening words of this morning’s hymn provides us a clue as to how God defends us, how God saves and heals us: Christ bore the weight of human need through humble service.3

As Jesus made his way from Roman praetorium to Calvary it was not intuitively obvious to the casual observer that he bore the weight of human need. Without a doubt, to most who witnessed this, he appeared to be just another unfortunate Jew who ran afoul of the Roman imperium.

Crucifixion, by El Greco, 1600

It is not so much that God accomplishes his purposes in hidden ways- though he does sometimes. Rather, it is that God accomplishes them in the most counterintuitive way. In other words, it’s not how I would’ve done it. Once I see and experience Christ’s humble service, I quickly grasp that his is not just a counterintuitive way but the only way given his purpose.

Leave it to the Director of the Office of Deacons to point out that the original Christian word for “service” is the Greek word diakonia. It’s easy to see how the word deacon, or servant, is derived from diakonia.

In Saint Luke’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus asks his companion a rhetorical question: “who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves?” Of course, as the Lord goes on to note, the correct answer is the one seated at table. Jesus then tells them, “I am among you as the one who serves.”4 Translated more literally, he tells them "I among you as a deacon." The service to which our hymn refers- his crucifixion- is the height of diakonia.

Just as there is a priesthood of all the baptized, there is also a diaconate of all the baptized. As Jesus shows us, service precedes sacrifice. Our call is both to receive the humble service Jesus renders and to serve others in his name for the sake of God’s kingdom. Believe it or not, especially when you are experiencing difficulties, this how you come to know that God is on your side. Saint Paul captures our diaconal vocation very well:
Called from worship into service/
Forth in your great name we go/
To the child, the youth, aged/
Love in living deeds to show/
Hope and health, good will and comfort/
Counsel, aide, and peace we give/
That your children, Lord, in freedom/
May your mercy know and live

1 Isaiah 54:15.
2 Romans 4:18.
3 "Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service."
4 Luke 22:27.
5 "Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service," verse 4.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Fifth Sunday of Lent: Third Scrutiny

Readings: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Ps 130:1-8; Romans 8:8-11; John 11:1-45

In the seemingly hectic swirl that ensued upon the Lord learning of the death of his friend Lazarus, at which news “Jesus wept,” he told Martha, Lazarus' sister, the most fundamental truth of the Christian faith: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” He follows this revelation by asking her, “Do you believe this?”1 My dear Elect, this is the question Jesus asks you today.

Beliefs are strange things. We all have well-founded beliefs and we all have unfounded beliefs. Belief does not preclude doubt. In fact, dealing with doubts is indispensable for clarifying what you believe. We probably face no greater uncertainty than contemplating resurrection and life eternal in the wake of the death of someone dear to us. This is why engaging in momento mori- remembering your own death- is a fruitful spiritual practice.

Sure, living forever sounds great, but is it true? Can it be possible, or is it merely a desperate wish? Woody Allen expressed this deepest of human longings well when he said, “I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.”

“Do you believe this?” This is the same question posed in our first reading from Ezekiel, the immediate context for which is Israel's return from exile. But how anyone and everyone comes to know that God is LORD is through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. God's Lordship is made manifest by Christ's victory over death, which is the power that opens graves and has us rise from them, both metaphorically and truly.2

It is easy, as Christians, to become so numb to this reality, this truth, that we lose sight of its audaciousness. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul fleshes this out more fully:
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you3
My dear Elect, you are preparing for Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. These are the means Christ has instituted to impart to you, his Holy Spirit, who is also the Spirit of the Father. In other words, the Holy Spirit is the way Jesus remains present, not just to you, but in you and through you. But for this to happen, you must die.

Being infused with the Holy Spirit means being filled with new life, which is life eternal. Eternal life is not that life that begins after mortal death. Rather, eternal life begins when we die, are buried, and rise in Christ to new life through Baptism. A few chapters earlier in Romans, in the midst of a rather complicated exposition on sin and grace, the apostle makes an important point, one you will hear again at the upcoming Easter Vigil:
are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life4
Don't drive the Spirit out by continuing to live according to the flesh, which does not mean a rejection of the body but a rejection of sin: living according to the Spirit is something we are called to do now and, as the result of Christ's resurrection, forever with our bodies. This determination to cooperate with God's grace, which builds on our nature, is sung about by Old Crow Medicine Show in their song “Darius Rucker,” which is about a deep longing for home:
Oh, north country winters keep a-getting me down
Lost my money playing poker so I had to leave town
But I ain't turning back to live that old life no more5
How a wish turns into hope, an unfounded belief into a well-founded one, is through experience. Experience is how an event becomes an encounter. What does this mean? Pope Benedict, with his characteristic clarity, did about as good a job describing this with words as anyone: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”6

The “person” whom the Christian encounters who changes her, makes her a Christian, is none other than Jesus Christ. It is Christ who asks you today, as you come nearer to the waters of Baptism: "Do you believe this?” This evening, in preparation for being dying and being buried with Christ in Baptism, Jesus directs you: “Take away the stone” from your heart so that he can raise you to new life.

1 John 11:25-26a.35.
2 Ezekiel 37:13.
3 Romans 8:11.
4 Romans 6:2-3.
5 Old Crow Medicine Show, "Darius Rucker."
6 Pope Benedict, Encyclical Letter, Deus caritas est, sec. 1.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Solemnity of Saint Joseph in the Year of Saint Joseph

Readings: 2 Sam 7:4-5a.12-14a.16; Ps 89:2-5.27-29; Rom 4:13.16-18.22; Matt 1:16.18-21.24a

In many countries, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph is a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics. The Church almost always celebrates Saint Joseph’s feast during Lent. The earliest Easter can possibly be is 22 March. On the extremely rare occasion Easter falls that early, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph is “bumped” by Holy Thursday. To give you an idea as to how rare this, the last time Easter was on 22 March was in 1818 and the next time it is celebrated that early will be in 2285.1

It’s nice to have these celebrations in the midst of this holy season of penance. When either of these solemnities falls on a Friday of Lent, as Saint Joseph’s does today, there is no obligation to observe abstinence. So, tonight have steak for supper and thank Saint Joseph.

What these solemnities do is remind us to rejoice, to celebrate what God has done for us in and through Christ. Occurring when they do and so close together, these celebrations should deepen our appreciation of the beauty of the Paschal Mystery we are called to embody as Christ’s verum corpus, his true body.

In our Gospel, the inspired author of Matthew’s Gospel does not just tell us that Joseph was “a righteous man.”2 He illustrates how he is righteous. Upon learning that his betrothed, which entails a deeper commitment than simply being engaged, was pregnant, knowing how these things happen and that he was not the father of this child, he was determined to shield Mary from the harsh prescription of the law, which, when applied strictly, held that she should be stoned to death.

It is important to note that Joseph did not have the dream informing him of Mary's child’s divine paternity until after his righteousness was made manifest. This also demonstrates what Saint Paul, in our reading from Romans, meant when he wrote “it was not through the law” that God kept his promise to Abraham, our father in faith, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.3

According to the chronology of the Torah- the first five books of the Bible- God made his promise to Abraham well before he gave the law to Moses. It is to this same promise that the prophet Nathan alludes in our first reading; a promise that has advanced concretely, even if unevenly and unexpectedly, through history. It is crucial to grasp that God does not ultimately accomplish his purposes through the law. Saint Paul held that the law served as our teacher until Christ came.4

It is through Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abraham in the flesh, that God accomplishes his purposes. It is through Christ, by faith, that we are the children of Abraham- the fulfillment of God’s promise. Jesus is not a new Moses. And so, Joseph’s righteousness is not demonstrated by his strict adherence to the law but believing in and obeying God, who spoke to him through angels and in dreams.

Paul boldly asserted that the letter of the law kills, while the spirit of the law gives life.5 The spirit of the law is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Indeed, if Joseph had invoked the letter of law, the Son of God would have been killed in utero. People who scoff at Pope Francis’s insistence that God is a God of surprises have no deep grasp of scripture and they certainly cannot make sense of Saint Joseph's experience. As the late Rich Mullins observed: “God is a wild man.”

In the Hebrew Bible, it was Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham, according to biblical genealogy, who was famed for interpreting dreams. In fact, it was his interpretation of Pharaoh's dream that saved Egypt from famine and led him to becoming something like the prime minister of Egypt.

Staying in Matthew’s Gospel, it was Saint Joseph who took Mary and the child Jesus to Egypt. He did not go as leader, as a V.I.P. The Holy Family went to the land of the pharaohs as refugees, fleeing Herod’s murderous wrath. Presumably, while in the land of the Nile, Joseph plied his trade as carpenter, tekton in Greek.

In his Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde (“With a father’s heart”), promulgated last 8 December, the Solemnity of Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis declared this year the Year of Saint Joseph.

Saint Joseph Icon by Br. Claude, OSB, of Mount Angel Abbey]

In the opening sentence of Patris Corde, the Holy Father points out that in each of the four Gospels Jesus is referred to “the son of Joseph.”6 Later on, towards the end of the letter, he affirms that “Fathers are not born, but made.” Pope Francis insists that a “man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility for the life of another.” By doing this, the pope insists, a man “becomes a father to” the person for whom he takes up responsibility.7

Because he was fully human, it would be ridiculous not to believe that for Jesus, as for all of us, who we become as people is both the result of nature and nurture. Sure, given that Jesus was also divine, this interaction is more complex- it is complex with us, too. But surely the kind of righteousness Joseph exhibited in the wake of discovering his betrothed was pregnant with child that was not his, gives us insight in how Jesus was raised.

In his lovely letter, Pope Francis discusses Saint Joseph under five headings: A tender and loving father; An obedient father; An accepting father; A creatively courageous father, A working father.

In the first section, pointing to the enormity of the task with which God entrusted Saint Joseph- raising the Son of God- the Holy Father notes, quoting Saint Paul, which quote is included in our second reading, that “The history of salvation is worked out ‘in hope against hope' (Rom 4:18).” Most of God’s plans, he asserts, “are realized in and despite our frailty.” “Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, his history and his plan were at work.” And so, Joseph “teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, frailties and our weaknesses.”8

As an obedient father, in each situation, “Joseph declared his own ‘fiat,’ his own “be it done unto me according to your will,” like those of Mary at the Annunciation and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.”9

Joseph accepted God’s will, even when it was not likely what he would have willed for himself. When he was told by the angel not be afraid and to bring the pregnant Mary into his home as his wife, Joseph set aside anger and disappointment and accepted his circumstances. He did not resign himself to some vague fate. Rather, he accepted God’s will with courage and hope.10

In addition to facing the situations in which he found himself with courage and obedience, Joseph was creative. He turned “problems into possibilities,” always remaining open to divine providence, allways discerning God's will for his life. Taking his family to Egypt is an example of this.11

Of course, Saint Joseph was a worker. On 1 May, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker. This ties back into the environment of Jesus’s upbringing. Like Joseph, Jesus, too, was a tekton, someone who earned his living, at least up until the beginning of his public ministry, with his hands.12

Alluding to the fact that in many of her prayers, the Church refers to Saint Joseph as the Blessed Virgin’s chaste spouse, Pope Francis notes that, in the first instance, chastity is the “summation of an attitude that is opposite of possessiveness.”13

He goes on to state that “Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life.” Hence, only when love is chaste, is it true love. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom. So, there is something to the saying “If you love someone, set them free.” Love that is love can only be freely chosen. In either time or eternity, it can never be imposed.

God is love. And so, God is freedom. Jesus came to liberate us. The answer to the question “Does God love me?” is always and emphatically “Yes!” Proof of this is Jesus on the cross: “God so loved the world…”14 The more important question is, “Do I love God?” Saint Joseph shows us what an affirmative answer to that question looks like.

1, “You’ve already experienced the earliest Easter you’ll ever know.”
2 Matthew 1:19.
3 Genesis 5:15.
4 Galatians 3:23-26.
5 2 Corinthians 3:6.
6 Pope Francis, Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde; Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Luke 4:22; John 6:42.
7 Ibid- all citations in this paragraph.
8 Patris Corde, “A tender loving father.”
9 Patris Corde, “An obedient father.”
10 Patris Corde, “An accepting father.”
11 Patris Corde, “A creatively courageous father.”
12 Patris Corde, “A working father.”
13 Patris Corde- this and next paragraph.
14 John 3:16.

Faith is decisive

One of the biggest and most dangerous lies is that of racial purity. There is no such thing. We're all way more closely related than racists would have us believe. Humanity, like the triune God, should strive for unity in diversity.

Myths of racial purity/superiority, in the service of which religion is often misappropriated, at least in the modern era, are responsible for a lot of war, death, and devastation. If you consider yourself a Christian, one of our religion's central theses is that race doesn't matter, genealogy doesn't matter, etc.

You're not a Christian because you're Italian, Irish, Venezuelan... Faith in Christ is the decisive factor. Having faith means recognizing that God did not become human merely to make you easy in your comfort but challenge you at the deepest level of your being, urging you to forsake your idols.

Anyone can have faith in Christ- it's not exclusive but universally inclusive. If you miss this, you miss Christianity. As Jesus insisted: "God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (Matthew 3:9).

Jesus, Crucifixion & the Latin Tree of Sin, by Sandra Silberzweig

If you pay close attention to the exodus narrative, you will find this: "The Israelites set out from Rameses for Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, not counting the children. A crowd of mixed ancestry also went up with them, with livestock in great abundance, both flocks and herds" (Exodus 12:37-38)

Nonetheless, some continue to insist that white males are the most endangered group of people. What laugh! Generally speaking, at least in the U.S., we're the problem.

Given Saint Patrick's history of being captured and initially brought to Eire as a slave, I've always found a lot of resonance and correspondence in the collaboration between Ziggy Marley (one of Bob's sons) and The Chieftans on Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." As a result, this collaborative version of this great song is our traditio for the Solemnity of Saint Joseph:

At least to my mind, "our prophets," the ones we kill, are those who point us toward overcoming our murderous tribalism: MLK, Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy, and many others, chief among whom is Jesus, God's Son. God did not kill his Son, we did- you and me. Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Fourth Sunday of Lent: Second Scrutiny

Readings: 1 Sam 16:1b.6-7.10-13a;- Ps 23:1-6; Eph 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

A prophet, a king, two anointings, the LORD as a shepherd, light, darkness, awakening, Jesus, a blind man, a washing, a healing, a warning of judgment- our readings for the Second Scrutiny of our Elect contain enough material to write a good-sized book! Maybe it will be an international best-seller. Perhaps we’ll call it “the Bible.”

Looking at Samuel's response to the LORD's prompting to head to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse to find and anoint Israel's new king, which was necessitated by the current king’s disobedience, we see that it was only after Samuel considered six of Jesse's seven sons that he found God's anointed in the seventh, that is, the least among them- even though, biblically-speaking, seven is the number of completeness.

This episode dramatically highlights the fact that God often (as in almost-always) chooses the least likely person to accomplish his purposes. Of course, Jesus himself, the only begotten Son of the Father, is the ultimate proof of this divine tendency. Why does God work this way? I think it's so that there is no doubt that it is God who is at work reconciling the world to himself and, while requiring our cooperation, is not accomplished by human effort.

You don't have to take my word to verify that God chooses the least likely people to accomplish his purposes, or even that of Sacred Scripture, just look around, not only at the Elect, but at the rest of us, at the ekklesia, that is, the Church, and not just in the pews, but up here on the chancel, too. I believe that what St Paul wrote to the ancient Church in Corinth still applies today:
consider your own calling... Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption1
The people of God remain the original motley crew. According to the upside-down nature of God's Kingdom, being the least and lowly is the surest sign of election.

My dear Elect, you have been called by the Lord from darkness to live in the glory of his magnificent light, which illumines you from within and is the very power of the Holy Spirit. It is by means of the Holy Spirit that our risen Lord remains present, not just to us, but in and through us until he comes again. And so, heed the apostle's exhortation: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”2

It has been observed that “original sin is the one verifiable Christian dogma.”3 Accordingly, in the most real sense, we are all born blind. Like the man Jesus heals by restoring his sight in today’s Gospel, without doing all the required theological parsing, there is a scriptural sense in which our blindness is not necessarily the result of either our sin or that of our parents. St Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, noted:
creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God4
This is wonderfully and gloriously sung about at the beginning of the upcoming Easter Vigil in that great and ancient hymn, the Exsultet:
O happy fault, that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!5
My dear Elect, Christ has elected you, which election we confirmed a few weeks ago at the Rite of Election. Like the blind man in today's Gospel, you are chosen so “that the works of God might be made visible through [you].”6

Always bear in mind that you have done nothing to earn your election. Your chosen-ness, like David's, is a bit of a mystery. Keep in mind that God's glory shines forth much more through your faults, failures, and weaknesses than through your gifts, talents, and things you are good at. But you are chosen to bear witness to others about what Jesus has done for you and to invite them to meet the Savior that they, too, might see.

Again, like the blind man in today's Gospel, who immediately began to pay a price for being chosen (another of those great mysteries- that of the cross), you will be washed in baptism, anointed in confirmation, and further drawn into the very life of God. In communion you will be fully incorporated into Christ’s verum corpus, his true Body. Then you can truly say, “I was blind and now I see.”7

1 1 Corinthians 1:26-30.
2 Ephesians 5:14.
3 James Martin, S.J., Jesus: A Pigrimage, 100.
4 Romans 8:20-21.
5 Roman Missal, “The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night,” sec. 19.
6 John 9:3.
7 John 9:25.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Jesus on the Cross: facing our fear of death

As useful as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be in helping someone initialize change when it comes to problematic behavior, studies show that over time this fades. CBT is not concerned with the whys of what needs to change. It provides practical ways of dealing with the "what"- with behavior. I am not a psychologist and I am not going to provide proof of what I am going to assert in the form of empirical data derived from studies. But I think not dealing with the why may be one reason why CBT techniques tend to fade.

At risk of gross oversimplification, by contrast, psychonanalytic approaches deal almost exclusively with the why. Psychanalysis seeks to delve deeply into the psyche. Why am I writing about this? I am writing about this because the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B, is John 3:14-21. This passage begins with these words, placed in Jesus's mouth: "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

The reference to the serpent points to an episode in the Book of Numbers (21:4-9). In this passage, the Israelites are set upon by poisonous serpents. Those who were bitten died. God commanded Moses to make a bronze replica of the serpent and mount it on a pole. All those who were bitten had to do to be healed was to look at the bronze serpent. Yet, some still perished because they would not look.

The thought that prompted this post came to me in the form of a question: Why a serpent? Referring back to wrote I wrote about psychotherapy, I think it helps us to face what we fear. The Israelites clearly feared the poisonous serpents who were killing them. If bitten, they could be healed by looking at a replica of a serpent. It may also be useful to know that in the ancient world of the Middle East, the serpent was a symbol of wisdom. Comimg to my point, they were saved by facing what they feared.

Still appearing on medical insigna, the serpent on a pole remains, even in our day, a symbol of healing.

In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus's use of the phrase "lifted up" is a reference to his crucifixion. The Greek word used for "lifted" means simply to be heightened. It can also mean to be exalted.

This brings me to the overall point: Our greatest fear is death. As Paul notes in Romans 5:12- sin is the result of death, not vice-versa (see "Following Jesus requires ruthless trust" second, third, and fourth paragraphs). And so, when we look at Jesus hanging on the cross, we encounter our greatest fear: death.

Like the serpent raised up in what the inspired author of Saint John's Gospel calls, in Greek, the ἐρήμῳ, which literally means "the desolate," facing what we fear heals us. Being "saved" means being "salved," which means being healed. Jesus not only faced but overcame not only death but hell for us.

This is one more way of seeing how hope lies beyond optimism.

Friday, March 12, 2021

God's need of us

This Third Friday of Lent finds us about half-way through this annual season of penance. How is it going for you? Have all your New Year's-like resolutions melted away? I hope so! How American: Lent, a time for self-improvement.

A brief dialogue:

You need God and, in a certain and very real way, God needs you.

God needs me?


But God is God. Isn't part of being God being self-sufficient?

No, not necessarily. Is creation a wholly superfluous act on God's part? If God were complete and sufficient, why would God create? Can God do without us?

And so it goes. I have an entire section of my dissertation dedicated to this.
Before starting his essay “Creation Out of Love” with the words “God creates out of love,” Paul Fiddes strikes the right note with his epigraph, taken from William Vanstone’s Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense: “The activity of God in creation must be vulnerable.”1 To insist that God created the world “out of love,” according to Fiddes, is not only to offer a reason for creation, but to forward a dangerous proposition, the consequences of which we must be prepared to accept
I pick this up a few paragraphs later after a discussion and attempted rebuttal of what Heidegger asserts in his first lecture on metaphysics about how believing in God begs the question of Being:
The dangerous proposition Fiddes forwards, which he rightly observes seems “theologically outrageous” to certain Christians, is that “a God who creates ‘out of love’ has needs to be satisfied.”2 This assertion can be explained straightforwardly by means of an analogy. The analog is human love. “A loving God,” Fiddes insists, “needs response from some kind of created world, and especially from personal beings who are outside the internal life of God.”3 The first move Fiddes makes to bolster this audacious claim is to invoke a poem by a seventeenth century English poet, Thomas Traherne:

        Want in God is a treasure to us.
        For had there been no Need He would not hav Created the World,
        not Made us…Wants Satisfied Produce infinit Joys.”3

Fiddes quickly parts ways with Traherne, however, by denying that God’s infinite needs are eternally met because such an assertion once again renders creation superfluous, not even seeing creation as icing on the cake, but perhaps amounting to but a few sprinkles
Anyway, something to think about. I will add that all our talk about God being relational has to have some concrete meaning.

This, I think, helps explain why Lent can never mainly be about me reaching out to God. Rather, by the practice of the three fundamental spiritual disciplines that constitute part of any genuinely Christian spirituality, I clear some space, not for God to work, but to experience God who is always already at work.

Last Sunday morning, driving home from Church after leading a conversation with the Elect of our parish (i.e., adults who will be baptized at Easter) on Salvation, I heard this song by one of my favorite groups, the Welsh band The Alarm. So, "Rescue Me" is our traditio for today.

God not only wants but needs to save you, redeem you, sanctify you, conform you into the image of Christ, which is the full realization of your humanity, which, in turn, is the point of the incarnation.

1 Paul Fiddes, “Creation Out of Love,” in The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis, ed. John Polkinghorne, 167.
2 Ibid.
3 "Creation Out of Love," 169.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Third Sunday of Lent: First Scrutiny

Readings: Exo 17:3-7; Ps 95:1-2.6-9; Rom 5:1-2.5-8; John 4:5-42

Because at this Mass we are celebrating the first of three scrutinies for our Elect, we are using the readings from Year A of the Lectionary. These readings are geared towards Christian initiation. Since we are all preparing to renew our baptismal promises at Easter, these readings speak to us all.

Our reading from Exodus tells about when Moses, under great duress, struck the rock, making water flow from it to give drink to the parched Israelites and their livestock. Taking the near mutiny to the LORD in prayer, Moses said, “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!”1 Thirst in the desert, it seems, was getting the better of everyone. After striking the rock with his stick and making water flow from it, Moses named this place “Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the LORD, saying, ‘Is the LORD in our midst or not?’”2

Our responsorial Psalm, Psalm 95, is the Psalm with which the Church traditionally begins the Liturgy of the Hours each day: “Today listen to the voice of LORD, do not grow stubborn as your fathers did in the wilderness, when at Meribah and Massah they challenged me and provoked me although they had seen all of my works.”3 Massah is from the Hebrew verb “to test,” while Meribah, is derived from the Hebrew word for quarreling.”4 So, by opening each day with Psalm 95, the Church, the people of God, are invited to remember what the Lord has done for us, which remembrance should ease our anxiety about the present and the future.

In her encounter with the Archangel Gabriel, Mary, during the Annunciation, which solemnity we celebrate on 25 March, in convincing the Blessed Virgin to cooperate with God, called to mind what God had already done. He reminded her that Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, had conceived a child despite, like Sarah and Hannah, being beyond child-bearing years, saying, in effect: “You doubt what God can do? Look at what God has already done.”5 Looking backward helps Mary look ahead. As Kierkegaard sagely observed: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.”6

In our first reading, while the people invoke being led out of Egypt, they attribute this to Moses, not to God (“Why then did you bring us up out of Egypt? To have us die of thirst with our children and our livestock?”7). Further, Moses does not remind them that it was God, not him, who delivered them, nor does he bring to mind the many signs and wonders that were part of their deliverance. The lesson here is obvious: if you look back over your own life, God, by various ways and means has led you to this moment and is leading you on to the saving waters of baptism.

Our reading from St Paul's Letter to the Romans is an exhortation to hope. Of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love), hope is the least understood. While one who hopes aspires to something not yet realized, hope is distinct from mere wishing. Hope is the flower of faith and love is their fruit. Hope, far from being a mere wish, is attained through experience- the experience of finding yourself on the far side of optimism.

The hope we have, which can be described as thirst, Paul tells us, “does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.”8 We must be careful not to sentimentalize this. Having the love of God poured into your heart is what brings about conversion. Conversion into the image of Christ is an often agonizing, lifelong process.

In our Gospel this morning, which tells of Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob, what the woman said to the Lord indicates that Jews and Samaritans, while closely related, did not like each other very much. Usually, Jews going from Galilee, Jesus’s native region, to Jerusalem, rather than walk the direct route through Samaria, by-passed this region by going east and walking along the west bank of the Jordan River to Jericho and from there heading up the mountain to the Holy City.

The mere fact that Jesus, along with his (clearly very uneasy) disciples, is passing through Samaria, is no small thing in and of itself. The unusual nature of this episode is further brought home when Jesus begins to speak, not only to a Samaritan but to an unaccompanied woman: two things an observant male Jew would assiduously avoid!

This woman went out to fetch water, not at the usual time, toward evening, but at midday, perhaps because she knew she would be alone. Likely due to her having been married five times and currently living with a man who was not her husband, she was viewed as a bit of a hussy, someone to be shunned by decent people. Not only did the Lord not shun her, he engaged her.

Jesus did so by appealing to what it was she was really thirsty for- unconditional acceptance, life-giving love, the more for which we long even in life’s most contented moments. Jesus offered her the water that would slake her deep, existential thirst, the water that becomes in the one who imbibes “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”9 Wisely, she eagerly accepted it.

Jesus then bids her go fetch her husband, which occasions her oblique confession, “I do not have a husband.”10 Upon this admission, we see Divine Mercy at work when Jesus says to her, in what I can only imagine with the greatest of tenderness: “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”11

I don’t know about you, but I find this to be very good news: the Lord knows everything about you and still loves you completely. While Jesus takes you as you are, he is not content to leave you where he found you. If you were fine, why would you feel so unfulfilled? Why would you bother being here today? Jesus is leading you to the fulfillment of what you truly desire, what St. Augustine, in a letter to the Roman widow Proba, called “the life that is truly life.”12

As a result of her encounter, the Samaritan woman was clearly changed. Jesus revealed to her that he is the Messiah, the one awaited by both Jews and Samaritans, the one in and through whom God would no longer be worshiped either on Mount Gerazim or in Jerusalem, but be worshiped by true worshipers, who are temples of God's Spirit, anywhere and everywhere, like in Bountiful, Utah.

Like those who also encountered the Lord up close and in person, this woman could not keep this good news to herself, she was compelled to tell others what Jesus had done for her. Telling others what Jesus has done for you is called “evangelization.”

My brothers and sisters, our dear Elect, today, Jesus invites you, indeed all of us, to the water. Specifically, to the water of baptism. He invites us not only to drink but to be immersed in the very life of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The essence of divine life is love, in Greek agape, which refers to self-giving, self-sacrificing love, most powerfully expressed with Jesus on the cross. Being thus refreshed, you are to worship God in spirit and in truth, witnessing to what God has done for you in Christ by the power of their Holy Spirit.

1 Exodus 17:4.
2 Exodus 17:7.
3 Psalm 95:7-9.
4 Richard J. Clifford, SJ, “Exodus,” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 51.
5 Luke 1:26-38.
6 J. Collins, The Mind of Kierkegaard. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, 37.
7 Exodus 17:3.
8 Romans 5:5.
9 John 4:14.
10 John 4:17.
11 John 4:17-18.
12 St. Augustine, “Letter to Proba.”

Friday, March 5, 2021

Time's dimensions

On 24 February 2021, the last of my Dad's siblings died. My Aunt Sheila, who, if I could be said to have a second mother, was surely mine, died from complications of multiple strokes at age 85. Her funeral was this past Tuesday. On my way home, I drove through South Weber, the town where I lived my first 10 years and my Mom's hometown. I drove from where my aunt lived, using South Weber Drive- the route we used to go back-and-forth to my aunt's house- past our old house. Once again, I had the acute perception of just how quickly time passes and how fleeting are our lives, even when we live to be "old."

With my Aunt Sheila's death, not only have my Dad and all his brothers and sisters passed away, so have all their spouses, except my Mom. The day after my aunt's funeral was my Mom's eightieth birthday. I am blessed that my Mom looks great, feels great, and is in very good health. Tonight, my sisters and I are celebrating her birthday with her!

My Dad, me, my older sister, and my Mom

As I was pondering all of this in my heart, I was struck by the stark fact that a whole generation of my family is now gone. Corny as it may sound, it gave me a renewed sense of responsibility and purpose. I am grateful that I was born into my family. While I've always been a bit incomprehensible to members of both my immediate and extended families, I have always been loved and accepted as belonging. I have come to see that this is no small thing in life. Nonetheless, I took it for granted for most of my life, which is also a blessing of sorts.

After my aunt's visitation on Monday evening, I was able to stay up late looking at photo albums my Mom has been putting together during her pandemic isolation. It was a great experience, a bittersweet one. The photo above (a photo of a photo) had to have been taken in 1967 or 1968. At 55 it's weird to see photos of my parents and think "Man, they were so young." I think the same thing when I see pictures of my wife and me from 20-25 years ago.

What is "now" if not the intersection of the past and the future? Where/what is "nowhere" but "now here"? "Nothing" is not an empty concept.

Today is a beautiful early Spring day here along the Wasatch Front of the Rocky Mountains. It's one of those days that makes believing in resurrection relatively easy. Our traditio for this Second Friday of Lent is Madness's Our House, what else?

On loving like Jesus loves

Readings: Acts 10:25-26.34-35.44-48; Ps 98:1-4; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17 In the first reading for today, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, t...