Sunday, April 30, 2023

Year A Fourth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 2:14a.36-41; Ps 23:1-6; 1 Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”1 These days this exhortation is usually passed over in silence. Gospel, as we all know, means Good News. In addition to being timely and relevant, news conveys information. News tells you something.

What is the content of the Good News? Jesus suffered, died, rose on the third day, and sent his Holy Spirit as his presence in, among, and through us until he comes again. Our first reading today is from Acts 2. Its context is the first Christian Pentecost.

“Pentecost” is Greek. It means fifty days. For the Greek-speaking Jews of the Second Temple period, which was most Jews at that time, Pentecost referred to the Jewish feast of Shavuot. Shavuot is celebrated fifty days after the conclusion of Passover. This is why it is important to qualify it as “the first Christian Pentecost.” It is not the only or even the first Pentecost.

What the Jewish people celebrate during Shavuot is God giving the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. This is the single most important event in the history of Israel. Torah is what sets Israel apart from other nations and peoples. Torah is what them distinctively God's people.

By Jesus’ time, for some Jews, by no means all and maybe not even most, but certainly for the Pharisees with whom he disputed, observing Torah had become a matter of adhering to the 613 mitzvot. Meaning “word” in Hebrew, in the context of Torah, mitzvot means rules. Hence, one is a “good” Jew if s/he keeps all these rules, doing what these require and not doing what they forbid.

Before taking a dim view of this kind of religiosity, it’s important to note that for many Christians, Catholics seem particularly prone, this same mindset is evident. Faith becomes a matter of adherence to a set of rules: do this; don’t do that. This, it seems to me, is often quite accurately reflected in the routines of comedians who were raised Catholic. Bill Burr, an Irish Catholic from Boston, immediately to my mind.

In 1 Timothy, we learn “that the law is good, provided one uses it as law.”2 What is meant in this deutero-Pauline letter by using the law as law? The law is used as law, according to this scripture, when it is understood “that law is meant not for the righteous person but for the lawless and unruly, the godless and sinful, the unholy and the profane,” etc.3 In short, God gave the law for sinners like you and me.

God gives the law, which, as Paul notes in Romans, is written on our hearts, to each person as a standard or measure of holiness.4 It is rightly used to show you how far short you fall when it comes to love of God and neighbor. It is misused when, despite one’s failures, it is applied to someone else, using this standard to judge them. The worst thing about this misuse is that one who does it put himself in God’s place.

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the apostle taught that the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Then, once justified through repentance and belief, you no longer need a schoolmaster because, according to Paul, “through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.”5

Here is the law given on the first Christian Pentecost: repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name and your sins will be forgiven. All that remains, as indicated in our passage from the Acts of the Apostles, is to accept or reject this Good News.

What about sins I commit after baptism? We have the sacrament of penance, which is an extension of the sacrament of baptism. Because the name of God is mercy, God makes provision for our weakness, our inability, our stubbornness, and our struggles.

Being baptized and forgiven should mark a turning point in your life. Your life after baptism should look different than your life before baptism. Why? Because through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, you have been forgiven! Baptism, as we witnessed so powerfully at the Easter Vigil, is your liberation from bondage to Pharoah.

Our reading from 1 Peter says- “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.”6 More than a grace before God, this passage goes on to say, this is our baptismal vocation.7 Your vocation consists of becoming more and more like Jesus. Contrary to those who preach the so-called “Prosperity Gospel,” being a Christian is not about living your best life now, being healthy, wealthy, and very good-looking.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter, for obvious reasons, is Good Shepherd Sunday. As such, it is World Vocations Day. As mentioned, if you’re baptized, you’re called. You are not called generically. You are called by name. When you're baptized, the celebrant doesn't say "I baptize you..." No, rather, you are called by name and then baptized. As Pope Saint John Paul II taught: as Christians, we have one vocation: follow Christ. Then the question becomes how does the Lord call you to follow him? In what state of life do you live your Christian vocation? Priesthood, religious life, either in a contemplative or active order, through the sacrament of matrimony, as a single person, or, who knows, maybe even as a deacon.

Jesus Christ is the gate to the Kingdom of God. You enter God’s kingdom through the cross of Christ. Anyone who enters God’s kingdom does so through him in some way, even if that way is hidden and mysterious, known to God alone.

As our Lord tells the Pharisees in today’s Gospel: “I came so that they [his followers- us] might have life and have it more abundantly.”8 My friends, worldly success is fleeting, even when it lasts until death, and you live to be a hundred. Following Jesus is the path to true glory.

On this glorious Easter Day, taking our cue from Saint Peter, let us hearken back to Ash Wednesday, when, as we received ashes, and were invited to “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”9

1 Acts 2:38.
2 1 Timothy 1:8.
3 1 Timothy 1:9.
4 Romans 2:15.
5 Galatians 3:24-26.
6 1 Peter 2:20.
7 1 Peter 2:21.
8 John 10:10.
9 Roman Missal. Ash Wednesday.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Not seeing is believing

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

Today's reflection is a sketch, not a full-blown "take" on the readings for this Second Sunday of Easter. This is so I can try to cover way too much ground.

It is important to note that John's Gospel was likely written in the last decade of the first century. This places it 50+ years after Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection. It also bears noting that the written Gospels took the forms in which we now possess them only after eyewitnesses of things these texts seek to hand on began to die. In other words, these are not, at least not in their entirety, firsthand accounts of what they convey

The inspired author places both of the risen Jesus' post-resurrection appearances on the first day of the week, the Lord's Day, Sunday. This is the day that Christians gather to open the word and to break the bread. So, the context of these appearances is the Eucharist.

Since the sacrament of penance is seen to flow from the risen Lord breathing on the twelve and entrusting them with the forgiveness of sins, one can make a connection between penance and Eucharist. Of course, penance is an extension of the baptism. Since the Eucharist is the font, the other six sacraments flow out from and back into it.

Thinking again about what section seven of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican's Council Dogmatic Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, sets forth about Christ's real presence, it is necessary to highlight that he is really present in the assembly of the baptized.

Notice that Thomas was not present in the assembly the first time Christ appeared. Hence, Thomas "missed" him. But he encountered the Risen One when, the very next week, he was present.

It's interesting that while Jesus invites Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and even to place his in hand in his side, the Gospel does not tell us that he did so. Certainly, Thomas saw, but did he then feel the need to touch? Resurrection transcends sensory perception. It is not empirically or scientifically demonstrable. It is something, to quote U2, "that has to be believed to be seen." It is a matter of faith.

Faith is not knowledge. And so, the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty. The central point of today's readings is not only believing in Jesus risen from the dead but loving him without seeing him. A strong belief that you can make arguments in favor of is not knowledge.

Getting back to real presence, we, too, have a real encounter with the risen Lord by participating in the Eucharist. A real encounter, however, is not an immediate encounter. Being sacramental, our encounter with the risen Christ in and through the Eucharist happens mysteriously through the assembly, in the person of the priest, in the proclamation of the scriptures, and under the aspects of bread and wine. It is a mediated encounter, made real by the symbols and signs through which his presence is mediated.

Blessed are those who believe and do not see Jesus risen from the dead, those who do not see him but who love him. What does this look like? Well, our reading from Acts sets this forth, even if in a very idealistic way. Our first reading gives us a glimpse of an assembly of the redeemed, those who love Christ by loving each other and loving their neighbor, seeing him in them, especially in the poor, the outcast, and the neglected.

One final note about suffering: even after his rising from the dead, Jesus continues to bear the wounds of crucifixion. One can say that he is recognizable, as Thomas indicates, by his wounds. As I keep pointing out, keep in mind that it was Thomas who said, as the Lord set out for Judea, where he was in danger of being put to death and where he was, in fact, killed, after the death of his friend Lazarus, "Let us also go to die with him" (John 11:16). It seems that Thomas knew what it was to die with Christ but, like Peter and John in our Gospel for Easter day, "did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead" (John 20:9).

Like all facts, the "fact," such as it is, of resurrection does not convey a meaning in and of itself. "Fact," as the scare quotes indicates, is not a good way to describe or to think about the resurrection because it diminishes its power by making it a fact alongside all the other facts in the world, reducing it to a discrete and static thing that happened a long time ago in a land far away instead of the dynamic mode of Christian life it is and is meant to be. But Thomas gives a profound explanation of its meaning when he says "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28).

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Urbi et Orbi- Easter 2023


Easter 2023

Dear brothers and sisters,

Christ is risen!

On this day we proclaim that he, the Lord of our life, is “the resurrection and the life” of the world (cf. Jn 11:25). Today is Easter, the Pasch, a word that means “passage”, for in Jesus the decisive passage of humanity has been made: the passage from death to life, from sin to grace, from fear to confidence, from desolation to communion. In him, the Lord of time and history, I would like to say to everyone, with heartfelt joy, Happy Easter!

May this Easter be for each of you, dear brothers and sisters, and in particular for the sick and the poor, the elderly and those experiencing moments of trial and weariness, a passage from affliction to consolation. We are not alone: Jesus, the Living One, is with us, forever. Let the Church and the world rejoice, for today our hopes no longer come up against the wall of death, for the Lord has built us a bridge to life. Yes, brothers and sisters, at Easter the destiny of the world was changed, and on this day, which also coincides with the most probable date of Christ’s resurrection, we can rejoice to celebrate, by pure grace, the most important and beautiful day of history.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

The Resurrection of the Lord

Readings: Acts 10:34a.37-43; Ps 118:1-2.16-17.22-23; 1 Cor 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9

Christus resurrexit, quia Deus caritas est! Alleluia!

“Christ is resurrected because God is love! Alleluia!” My dear friends, it is nothing other than the power of God’s love, the same power that brought creation out of nothing, that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Christ’s Easter victory is our Easter victory.

By the time of Peter’s preaching in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, he had already seen the Risen Lord firsthand, witnessed his ascension, and been infused with the Spirit’s power at the first Christian Pentecost. It is the Spirit who empowered him to spread the Good News that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

Our first reading comes from the section of Acts often called the “Pentecost of the Gentiles.” Peter’s preaching is directed to members of the house of Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman centurion, a Gentile, as were most of the members of his household. Peter’s preaching gives a concise summary of Jesus’ life ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. This summary eventually made its way into our Christian creeds. With our Creeds, both the Nicene-Constantinopolitan and the Apostles, we profess the core of our Christian faith concerning God’s salvation in Christ’s Jesus.

As you will witness in a few moments, during the renewal of your baptismal promises (for which Lent is but a preparation), when you are asked the three final questions, collectively known as “the Profession of Faith,” the Apostles Creed was the original baptismal creed of the Roman Church. Since the second century, this is the Creed recited by the Elect prior to baptism.

As our second reading exhorts:
our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth1
We use unleavened bread for the Eucharist. But what Saint Paul here insists is that by our baptism and by our on-going participation in the Eucharist, we are to be changed, transformed, converted, conformed more and more into the image of the Risen One. Christian life is about dying and rising to new life.

As the Epistle Reading for last night’s Paschal Vigil, taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, teaches:
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 life2
The apostle’s point is that eternal life does not begin at physical death. Because of your baptismal death, burial, and resurrection, eternal life is now. This is very important to grasp. It’s a matter of life and death. Resurrection is not just something you believe about an event that happened a long time ago in a land far away, something that will perhaps only become relevant again when you face your own death or that of a loved one.

As a Christian, resurrection is something you live every day. Eternal life is always today, always in this encounter in this moment. As followers of the Risen One, we are agents of resurrection. In his autobiography, Ecce Homo (this phrase taken from Pilate in Saint John’s account of Jesus’ Passion when he presents Jesus on the balcony of praetorium- it means “Behold the man”), Friedrich Nietzsche refers to “Christians and other nihilists.”3

Nietzsche calls Christians as nihilists because, in his experience, due to their taking salvation for granted, seeing it as requiring nothing of them, the faith of many Christians makes no difference in how they live their lives. “Christ is risen. So what?” As scripture says elsewhere: “just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”4

The best way to convince someone Jesus rose from the dead is not to engage in philosophical and apologetical arguments. Besides, most of the time this is an exercise in answering questions nobody is asking. Our lives as Christians should testify to the One who, out of great love, died and rose for us. In another work, Nietzsche wrote this about Christians:
Better songs would they have to sing, for me to believe in their Saviour: more like saved ones would his disciples have to appear unto me!5
Especially in these times, it is important for us to sing beautiful songs, redemption songs. The notes of these songs are our acts of love and service performed out of gratitude to Christ for his great love for us and for the whole world. As Mother Teresa exhorted, make of your life something beautiful for God.

Just as resurrection must be preceded by death, hope lies beyond optimism. Hope begins where optimism ends. Nowhere does optimism fail more than in the face of death. Turning to Nietzsche, yet again: “only where there are graves are there resurrections.”6

In our Gospel today, the Risen Jesus does not make appearance. Mary Magdalene goes to Jesus’ grave only to find it empty. Rushing to the empty tomb and entering it, Peter and John only see the burial cloths, with the one that been out on Jesus’ face “rolled up in a separate place.”7 The evangelist makes clear that, while those who went into the tomb “believed,” “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”8

Having experienced Jesus’ arrest, his interrogations, his scourging, his public humiliation, and crucifixion, it’s safe to say that the optimism of his closest followers was extinguished. To make matters worse, Mary Magdalene expresses the worry that someone has stolen his body. But for Peter and John, the rolled up burial cloths were enough to give them a genuine spark of hope.

More than a historical fact, more than a discrete event in space and time, Christ’s resurrection is a great mystery. It is unfathomable. It is in this "Paschal" Mystery that you participate each time you come to Mass. Through your participation, the Spirit draws you deeper into this mystery through the circumstances of your everyday life.

Everyday experience is the raw material of salvation. It is only through your life, especially your losses, your downs, your failures, and, yes, even through your sins that you experience for yourself that hope lies beyond optimism. Only in this way do you come to realize that you can’t save yourself. What you experience through your life, living in Christ, is the love of God poured into your heart through the Holy Spirit.8 This is how you come to understand for yourself what it means “that [Christ] had to rise from the dead.”

The love that is the fruit of faith and hope is the same love that resurrected Jesus from the dead. May the renewal of your baptismal promises today ignite hope in your heart, empowering you to recommit to living life in Christ, which is resurrected life.

Christus resurrexit, quia Deus caritas est! Alleluia!

1 1 Cor 5:7b-8.
2 Romans 6:4..
3 Friedrich Nietzsche. Ecce Homo. “Why I Write Such Excellent Books,” 1.
4 James 2:26.
5 Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. XXIV. Second Part, “The Priests.” Trans. Thomas Common.
6 Thus Spake Zarathustra. Second Part, XXXIII, “The Grave Song.”
7 John 20:7.
8 John 20:8-9.
9 Romans 5:5.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Triduum: Good Friday

Crucifixion, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

"He mounted the Cross to free us from the fascination with nothingness, to free us from the fascination with appearances, with the ephemeral."

- Servant of God Msgr. Luigi Giussani

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Triduum: Holy Thursday

Readings: Ex 12:1-8.11-14; Ps 116:12-13.15-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; John 13:1-15

With this Mass, we enter into the Sacred Triduum. These three days constitute our Christian High Holy Days. One detail that seems important to highlight is that at the end of this Mass there is no dismissal. Neither will be a dismissal tomorrow at the end of our Good Friday service. On Good Friday and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, there are no opening rites.

Why does this matter? It matters because the for next approximately fifty hours we are in liturgy continually. These days are meant to be set apart. They are not days like other days. During the Triduum, we seek to allow ourselves to be drawn more deeply into the Paschal Mystery of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection. We fast and abstain to facilitate this.

The first two days of the Triduum have the same dynamic as Passion Sunday. Like Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, tonight is a celebration. Good Friday, like is an even deeper liturgical commemoration of Christ's passion and death. The Great Easter Vigil is the axis around which the rest of the liturgical orbits.

Easter is liturgically different from Christmas in a number of ways. One way is that while the main Mass for Christmas is Mass During the Day on Christmas Day, the main Mass for Easter (and for the entire year) is the Vigil on Holy Saturday. Pulling this thread just a little more, Pentecost, which brings Easter to a close, is the most important observance of the liturgical year after Easter.

The Mass of the Lord's Supper is about the Lord's institution of the Eucharist at his so-called Last Supper. Our Gospel this evening is the institution narrative, so to speak, of Saint John's Gospel. While it features an extensive Last Supper Discourse, which is a theological tour de force, the Fourth Gospel does not have an account of Jesus breaking and blessing bread and then blessing a cup of wine, only him washing his disciples' feet and the commandment that they imitate him in so doing.

In his genre-bending book The Kingdom, Emmanuel Carrère brings the Fourth Gospel's instiution narrative into clearer focus. Towards the end of he book, Carrère describes a retreat he was invited to attend some years after he ceased practicing as a Christian. During this retreat, he participated in a foot-washing ritual. For the ritual, retreatants were divided into small groups. After a short liturgy of the word featuring our Gospel reading this evening and a reflection on this passage, the retreatants in the groups took turns washing each other's feet.

During the ritual, Carrère wondered why, if "all of the tweleve witnessed- and took part in -such a striking scene" is John's Gospel the only one that hands it on?1 This is a bit like what Samuel Beckett, in his existentialist play Waiting for Godot, does when he has the character Vladimir wonder why the good thief, the one who defends Jesus to the disparaging thief and then asks Jesus to remember him, only appears in the Gospel According to Saint Luke.2

Pointing to the Synoptic accounts of the Last Supper, at the center of which is Jesus blessing the bread and the wine, Carrère thought "that things could have happened differently: that the central sacrament of Christianity could be foot washing and not communion."3 He concluded by writing that this ritual, which we do once a year- even then, it is an optional part of this Mass- "could be what Christians do every day at Mass, and it wouldn't be any more absurd - less so in fact."4 So, indeed, things could've been different.

Jesus Washing Peter's Feet, Ghislane Howard, contemporary

In our reading from Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, which may well be the first book of our uniquely Christian scriptures, collectively called the New Testament, to have been written, answers the question "Why not foot washing." When it comes to the Eucharist, the apostle writes that he was merely handing on what was handed on to him, namely:
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me" 5
This brings up something we are focusing on during this time of Eucharistic Revival: Christ's "real presence." As Catholics, we certainly believe that in a mysterious way Christ comes to be present in the consecrated bread and wine.

It should not be surprising to point out that this is not obvious to the casual observer. It is not even obvious to the interested observer. Miracles and bleeding hosts aside, we do not believe, in fact the Church repudiates the idea that the physical substance of the bread and wine are not changed by the words of consecration, as if some kind of magic trick is performed at each Mass.

The phrase "hocus pocus" derives from the Latin words of consecration: hoc est enim corpus meum. Just as Jesus chided the crowds who, after being miraculously fed, followed him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee hoping for more, we do not come to Mass to see a magic show.6

In an intensely empirical age, such as the one in which we live, the question about any claim like the one we make about the Lord's Eucharistic presence, is "Where is the proof?" Well, the only convincing proof that Christ is really present in the bread and wine are the lives of those who partake of it.

Jesus Christ is our Passover. As our reading from Exodus intimates, the Eucharist is the perpetual institution of the memorial feast of the Paschal Mysery of Christ.7 "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes."8 You proclaim the Lord's death by how you live, by how you empty yourself in service to others.

Do you follow the "model" of Jesus and wash the feet of your sisters and brothers? Do you live a life of humble service? Do you reach out to those in need and to those on the margins like Jesus? Are we or are we not by our communion at this altar the verum corpus Christi, the true body of Christ, his hands, his feet, his eyes, his ears, his Sacred Heart in and for the world?

There can be little doubt that Jesus' washing of his disciples' feet and Peter's emphatic request that the Lord wash not only his feet but his "hands and head as well" is a reference to baptism. In a few days' time, at the Easter Vigil, just after the baptism of the Elect, you will have the opportunity to renew your baptismal promises. Contemplating this evening's Gospel seems a good way to prepare for the renewal of your commitment to wash the feet of others.

1 Emmanuel Carrère. The Kingdom. Trans. John Lambert. 381.
2 Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot. Act I.
3 Emmanuel Carrère. The Kingdom. Trans. John Lambert. 381.
4 Ibid.
5 1 Corinthians 11:23b-25.
6 See John 6:22-27.
7 Exodus 12:14.
8 1 Corinthians 11:26.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Year A: Passion Sunday

Readings: Matt 21:1-11; Isa 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9.17-20.23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Matt 26:14-27:66

It’s always sobering to preach on Passion Sunday. The stunning effect of reading and hearing our Lord’s Passion makes words seem either forced or superfluous. In the face of death, words always fail. And Jesus died a real death.

Just as we have a tendency to discount God’s diversity, the divine tri-unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in favor of a kind of unitarianism, we tend to favor Jesus’ divinity at the expense of his humanity. We try to impose on God our all too human ideas about what divinity is or what we think it ought to be. When we reduce God to our own limited and, frankly, often warped ideas about divinity, we eviscerate or at least attenuate the Incarnation of the Son of God.

During Lent and Easter, all readings in the Sunday lectionary are harmonized. During this season, the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, the responsorial Psalm, the reading from the New Testament letters, along with the Gospel are meant to provide us with a deep appreciation of the unity yielded by the diversity found in Sacred Scripture that, from the first word to the last, testify to Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading from Isaiah is the third of four so-called Servant Songs found in what most Bible scholars identify as deutero, or second, Isaiah. Deutero-Isaiah was likely written during Israel’s Babylonian exile. So, even in their original context, these poems are messianic oracles that look forward not just to Israel’s redemption, its return from exile, but to redemption of the whole world.

This universal aspect of Israel’s election is a late development in ancient Judaism. It is the universal nature of the deliverance the Suffering Servant brings that shows a growing awareness that Israel’s unique calling among the nations is not just for themselves but for the whole world. In other words, God is works through Israel to bring about not merely the reconciliation of the world to himself but to bring the whole of creation to its completion. As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well: "salvation is from the Jews."1

What still applies to Israel now also applies to the Church. The “new” covenant is simply an extension of the only covenant God has sought to make with humanity. There is no superseding of what we often call the “old” covenant or the “old testament.” The content of this covenant is simple: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” But there is a stipulation.

Rebuking ancient Israel through the Prophet Jeremiah, God said: “I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk exactly in the way I command you, so that you may prosper…”2 In the Last Supper Discourse in Saint John’s Gospel, Jesus puts it this way: “You are my friend if you do what I command you” (italics added).3

Doing what God commands means loving God with all your being and loving your neighbor as you love yourself. It is on these two commandments, Jesus insists, that the “whole law and the prophets depend.”4 This “love,” in the original Greek agape, is really not about how much affection or tenderness you feel toward your neighbor.

Agape is self-giving, self-sacrificing love. Agape is what Jesus shows us through his passion and death. “In this is love [agape],” we read in scripture, “not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”5

The Crucifixion, Cano Alonso, late 1630s

Today, in one liturgy, we go from hailing Jesus during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to crying out for his crucifixion. This brings a deep truth to the forefront. In his book about life in the Soviet gulag, reflecting on his experiences there, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn states this truth succinctly: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart.”

How often is what we read in scripture true: “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing”?6 Or, worse yet, out of the same mouth comes praise of God and condemnation of one’s brother/sister! To bring this home, scripture also teaches: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar.”7 My dear friends, if God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, chances are he didn’t send you to do that either.8

Lent, which still has several days to go, is all about repentance. Lent is preparation for the renewal of your baptismal promises at Easter. Repentance starts with the recognition of your need to change and, with God’s help, to begin or continue the often painful process being more conformed to the image of Christ.

In our reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians we hear the words of an ancient Christian hymn that the apostle appropriated, using it to teach. Kenosis is the Greek word translated as “emptied” in the phrase “he emptied himself.” This passage is often called “the Kenotic Hymn.”

Kenosis is the essence of agape. Hence, kenosis is the very nature of God. What Paul here is trying to show is that God’s true nature does not consist of all those human-imposed attributes, most of which are quite pagan, but of kenosis. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. He is the full and complete revelation of God. If it is contrary to Christ, it is contrary to God. He is, after all, "true God from true God."

If we back up three verses from the start of our reading from the second chapter of Philippians, we discover what the apostle is trying to teach by means of this hymn:
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus...9
Self-emptying love, kenosis, is the essence of God’s tri-unity. Creation is kenosis, the self-emptying love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit poured out, bringing life from nothing. Christ’s Incarnation, his birth, life, passion, and unjust death, and the redemption these bring are kenosis.

When Jesus cries out, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani, he is quoting the beginning of Psalm 22, which is our responsorial today. It’s not difficult to imagine that feeling alone and abandoned as he hung between life and death that these words would come to the lips of this devout Jewish man. Lest you despair, bear in mind the last verse of this Psalm:
The generation to come will be told of the Lord,
that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn
the deliverance you have brought10
So, as we enter upon this Holy Week, let us heed Thomas, known as the “Doubter,” who, when beckoned by Jesus to head south once again to Judea, from our Gospel last Sunday: “Let us also go to die with him.”11 As Jesus teaches over and again, you can only rise with him if you die with him.

1 John 4:22.
2 Jeremiah 7:23.
3 John 15:14.
4 See Matthew 22:37-40.
5 1 John 4:10.
6 James 3:10.
7 1 John 4:20.
8 John 3:17.
9 Philippians 2:3-5.
10 Psalm 22:32.
11 John 11:16.

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...