Monday, July 8, 2024

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 in Mark’s Gospel. This should sound familiar because Mark’s version of these things was our Gospel reading for the Sunday before last.

Our understanding of today’s Gospel should be shaped by our first reading with which the Church pairs it. Our first reading today is from the Book of the Prophet Hosea. Before getting to our passage for today, a little background is useful.

As is the case with the prophets, both major and minor (Hosea is a minor prophet), Hosea was commissioned to call Israel back to fidelity to her covenant with God. One way God commanded Hosea to do this was through his marriage to a woman named Gomer.

Gomer was a practitioner of “the world’s oldest profession.” In other words, she was a prostitute. Nonetheless, God called his prophet to marry this unreformed harlot. Not only did they marry but they had children together. Despite this, Gomer still plied her trade.

What we have, then, is a pretty ham-fisted allegory: Hosea is God and Gomer is Israel. While God remains faithful to Israel, his beloved, Israel plays the harlot, chasing after other gods. One of the many things John Calvin was right about is that “the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols.”1

The truth of Calvin’s assertion is not only verified in the exploits of ancient Israel but also through the history of the Church. One of the four “marks” of the Church is that she is holy. Just before saying the Prayer Over the Gifts, the priest says to the assembly- “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” To which we respond: “May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.”2 The Church is his, meaning Christ’s.

In answer to the first question of an interview he gave at the beginning of his pontificate, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?,” Pope Francis said, “I do not know what might be the most fitting description.... I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”3 The Church is holy because she is the Bride of a Husband who is indefatigably faithful, loving, and forgiving: Jesus Christ. The Church is holy because it is Christ’s, not because you or I, or even the Pope, belong to it.

Hosea and Gomer, by Barry Moser, used under the rules of Creative Common License

Like Gomer, like ancient Israel, Christ’s Bride is not always faithful. This is why the Church earned the patristic moniker casta meretrix- chaste whore.4This points to an inseparable union of the human and the divine that constitutes the Church. At least for now, the Church is a union between sinful, unfaithful, idol-chasing people, and her holy and wholly faithful Lord.

What makes our reading from Hosea so beautiful is that it tells us of God’s tender fidelity not just despite our individual and collective infidelity but, like Hosea, because of it. This suggests that great line from the Exsultet, sung at the Easter Vigil:
O happy fault
    that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!5
Or this from Preface III of the Sundays in Ordinary Time:
For we know it belongs to your boundless glory, that you came to the aid of mortal beings with your divinity and even fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself, that the cause of our downfall might become the means of our salvation, through Christ our Lord6
In light of this perhaps we should also understand today’s Gospel as something of an allegory. The Church is the woman with the hemorrhages who Jesus heals and makes whole. The Church is also the community of those who, through the mystery of Baptism, have died, been buried, and risen with Christ to new life.

Indeed, as we sang in the Responsory, the Lord is “gracious and merciful.”7 As Christians, as members of Christ’s Body (through the Eucharist, He becomes one flesh with his Church), let us recommit, with God’s help, to never again say, “My baal.”8 Let us be ever mindful that, in the end, only those who, forsaking all other gods, say to Christ “My husband” may enter the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

1 John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion. I.11.8.
2 Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, The Liturgy of the Eucharist, sec. 29.
3 Fr. Anthony Spadero. “Interview with Pope Francis.”
4 See Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Casta Meretrix,” in Explorations in Theology, vol. 2, Spouse of the Word, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 193–288..
5 Roman Missal, Sunday of the Resurrection, The Easter Vigil, The Easter Proclamation, sec. 19.
6 Roman Missal, The Order of the Mass, Preface III of the Sundays in Ordinary Time, sec. 54.
7 Psalm 145:8.
8 Hosea 2:18.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Year B Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Wis 1:13-15.2:23-24; Ps 30:2.4-6.11-13; 2 Cor 8:7.9.13-15; Mark 4:21-43

“Death is a part of life,” or so we’re told. This is true insofar as all of us will die. As Jesus, drawing attention back to the beginning in Genesis, pointed out to those who asked him about divorce and who noted that Moses permitted it, from the beginning it was not so.1 As our reading from Wisdom tells us: “God formed man to be imperishable.”2

As the inspired author of the Book of Wisdom notes: God created human beings “of his own nature.”3 This amounts to the same thing we learn about in the first creation account in Genesis: man and woman were made in God’s image and likeness.4 While God’s image, the imago Dei, cannot be lost, our likeness to God is lost through sin.

While we are not born merely to die, because death entered the world, it is not enough to be born in order not to die. You must be reborn by water and the Spirit. The primary effect of the sacrament of baptism is to restore the baptized to a state of original grace. Through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, our likeness to God can be restored by grace.

This same grace is operative in the sacrament of penance, which is an extension of baptism. While it may seem old-fashioned to say so, you should strive to live in a state of grace. What does it mean to endeavor to live in a state of grace? It doesn’t mean being perfect, even though we should strive for and deeply desire perfection, which, in a Christian context, can also be called holiness.

The fruit of the fourth Luminous Mystery of the Blessed Virgin’s Most Holy Rosary, which mystery is Jesus’ Transfiguration, is a desire for holiness, a desire for transfiguration, transformation, conversion, the desire for sanctity. What it means to be holy is to be like Jesus Christ. What it means to be like Christ is to love perfectly, to love God with your entire being, and to love your neighbor as yourself. All of the various ways we have to access grace, even the sacraments, are means to this end.

Today’s Gospel powerfully shows us how Jesus rescues and restores us. While there is no reason to doubt the historicity of these encounters with Jesus, these were not remembered and written down to be handed merely as biography.

What I am getting at is illustrated by last Sunday’s Gospel. If you remember, it began with Jesus climbing into the boat with his disciples and saying, “Let us cross to the other side.”5 Perhaps the best way to grasp this episode is as an allegory.

Uou and I, all of us hearing God’s word together, are the disciples to whom Jesus speaks. The boat is the Church. The sea, which in the ancient world, including for the Jewish people, was a place of chaos, a place where dangers lurked, where storms often proved deadly, is what we experience as we make our way through life to what the old hymn calls “God’s celestial shore.”6 Jesus is the master of wind, the sea, the sky, of all there is. Therefore, because we are in the boat with him, we need not fear even while the storm rages.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ bringing Jairus’ daughter back to life is interrupted by the woman who sought healing from something that afflicted her for twelve years. Let’s translate this into something more relatable for most of us. In terms of sin, how long have you struggled with the same damned thing? How often does it seem like your confession is just the same thing over and over? It’s easy to get discouraged.

You need to remember three things. First, Jesus has already won the victory. Second, you’re never beaten until you quit. Third, you will get tired of asking for God’s mercy before God tires being merciful to you, which requires nothing other than your acknowledgment of and sorrow for your sins. Divine Mercy is infinite.

What God limits is evil, even though this is sometimes far from evident. Pope Saint John Paul II insisted that the cross of Christ “marks the divine limit placed upon evil.” Through the cross, he continued, “evil is radically overcome by good, hate by love, death by resurrection.”7

The fruit of the third Luminous Mystery is repentance and trust in God. Maybe this is going off on a tangent but pray the Rosary. If possible, pray the Rosary every day. In a letter he wrote to an archbishop, Pope Pius XII noted that the Rosary is “the compendium of the entire Gospel.”8

To trust God is to trust Jesus, who, as Son of the Father, is also God. Each Christian amid life’s storms must not ask, “Jesus, why don’t you care that I am perishing?” Instead. We must learn to say, even if only in a quivering voice, “Jesus, I trust in You.” Thomas à Kempis in his timeless spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ, writes about Jesus saying,
Come to Me when it is not well with thee.
This is that which most of all hinders heavenly comfort, that thou art slow in turning thyself to prayer9
These are lovely words. But like those featured in today’s Gospel as well as last week’s, we must get beyond the sentimentality of these words and verify this truth through experience. Is Jesus trustworthy, or isn’t he? Everything hinges on the answer to this question! Proof in favor of the Lord’s trustworthiness is not whether he does your bidding according to your timing and in just the way you ask him to. Rather, it lies in abandoning yourself, like he did, to the loving care of the Father, who is committed only to your good.

Don Francisco, a contemporary Christian music artist from years past, has an amazing ability to bring Gospel stories alive through his songs. He wrote an amazing song called “A Little Closer to Jesus,” the first verse of which, along with the chorus, strikes me as very illuminating today:
Well, a woman with a burden of sickness twelve years
Heard that Jesus was coming her way;
She didn't stop to worry 'bout her doubts and her fears
She had to fight for every step of the way
Through the crowds that were pressing around Him
Through the heat and the dust of the road,
And when she touched his cloak, God healed her body
He lifted her heavy load

If I can get a little closer to Jesus
Just a little bit closer to Jesus…
Everything's gonna be all right10
For those who like to be given something to do in a homily: this week, get a little closer to Jesus by praying the Rosary each day. To Jesus through Mary is the fruit of the Rosary’s second Luminous Mystery- the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. Given that this happens during a feast, one can taste a Eucharistic undertone, pointing us to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. As Catholics, we must always be aware that it is impossible to get closer to Jesus than through the Eucharist.

1 See Mark 10:3-7.
2 Wisdom 2:23.
3 Wisdom 2:23.
4 Genesis 1:26.
5 Mark 4:25.
6 "I'll Fly Away."
7 Pope John Paul II. Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium.
8 Cited by Pope Paul VI in Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, sec. 42.
9 Thomas à Kempis. The Imitation of Christ, Book III, Chap 30, verse 1.
10 Don Francisco, “Closer to Jesus.”

Monday, June 17, 2024

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-6; Ps 5:2-7; Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus, Ahab, or Jezebel? This is the question posed to us by our readings. What do you do when life doesn’t go your way because of someone else? Do you mope about, lamenting loudly about that person? Do you, in the words of the Foo Fighters song “Monkey Wrench,” waste another night planning [your] revenge?” Or, do you recognize that things aren’t going well and practice benevolent detachment, giving that and everything else that worries you to the Lord?

Our Gospel reading for this evening is one of those very challenging passages from Saint Matthew’s Gospel. One temptation that must resisted when dealing with a passage like this is to water it down, attempting to make it less convicting. Let’s be clear, in this passage, the Lord doesn’t only tell us not to seek revenge. As his follower, he teaches you to turn the other cheek, to go out of your way for the one whom you perceive has wronged you.

In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul summarizes the response of a Christian disciple well: “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.”1​ This isn’t just a slogan. The passage begins with “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.”2 By conquering evil with good, the apostle tells us that by doing what Jesus instructs in today’s Gospel, “you will heap burning coals” on the head of one does you evil.3

God is a God of justice. Like there is no love without truth, there is no mercy without justice. In his encyclical letter on hope, Pope Benedict XVI insisted: “Only God can create justice.”4 “The image of the Last Judgement is not primarily an image of terror,” Pope Benedict continued, “but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope.”5 Mercy does not cancel out justice.

Jesus at Bethany, by James Tissot 186-1894

Among fallen and sinful human beings, justice easily becomes revenge. Revenge is to justice what indifference is to mercy. Mercy is only genuine when extended with the recognition that a true wrong has been committed. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is known as the lex talionis. The lex talionis is the law of retribution.

Early Christians explicitly rejected retributive justice, choosing restorative justice instead. Concerning judicial punishment, the Catechism teaches that “in addition to preserving public order and the safety of persons, has a medicinal scope: as far as possible it should contribute to the correction of the offender.”6 In this regard, the Church views capital punishment as retributive, a punishment that leaves no possibility for the offender to correct.

In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, in a meeting of the men of the village, fearing another pogrom, one man says that rather than leaving, “We should defend ourselves!” Another man yells, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” To which Tevye, the main character replies: “Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.” Finally, the village leader says, “Rabbi, we’ve been waiting for the messiah all our lives. Wouldn’t this be a good time for him to come?” The old rabbi responds: “We’ll have to wait for him someplace else.”

My friends, Jesus came to make the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the toothless chew. We are his disciples only insofar as we join his messianic mission. As we sang in our Responsory: “Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.”

1 Romans 12:21.
2 Romans 12:19.
3 Romans 12:20.
4 Pope Benedict XVI. Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi [On Christian Hope], sec. 44.
5 Ibid.
6 Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 2266.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Year B Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ezk 17:22-24; Ps 92:2-3.13-16; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34

As indicated in our reading today from 2 Corinthians, as Christians, “we walk by faith, not by sight.”1 What this means in practical terms is that we don’t always, or even usually, see the fruit of our spiritual endeavors. We’re used to living by the law of exchange, which, in our society, threatens to make all relationships quid pro quo, characterized by “You do something for me, and I will do something of less or equal value for you.” As Bob Hope once quipped about his comedy partner Bing Crosby: “There's nothing I wouldn't do for Bing, and there's nothing he wouldn't do for me. And that's the way we go through life—doing nothing for each other!”

As Jesus shows, divine life is not ordered that way. Rather than the law of exchange, the divine economy adheres to the law of gift. This means rather than this-for-that it is simply this, given the impossibility of giving something equal in return.

Think about how Christian life would be if for everything God gives you, God explicitly expected something in return to the point that if you did not return what was expected, God would take away what he gave you. But it isn’t that we don’t owe God anything. We owe God everything. It’s just that, having given us his only Son, God isn’t interested in collecting debts. God is gracious. Rather than take back what he gives, God leaves it to us whether to accept his gift, which is nothing other than himself. A gift not received is a gift forefeited.

What do you owe God? You owe God praise and thanksgiving! Among the reasons it is important to attend Mass each Sunday is to thank God, to praise him for the gift of his only begotten Son. Another reason is to offer yourself, again, as a living sacrifice to the Father, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.2 As you have no doubt heard- in the Eucharist, Christ gives himself to us body, blood, soul, and divinity.

“Eucharist,” as you are likely aware, means thanksgiving. Coming as it does from the Greek verb eucharisteō, more specifically it means simply to “give thanks.” As the suffix -urgy indicates, liturgy refers first and foremost to something we do. It’s easy to lose sight of the reality that the Eucharist is an exchange of gifts but not a quid pro quo.

Each Eucharistic Prayer starts with the priest saying, “The Lord be with you,” to which we instinctively reply: “And with your spirit.” He then exhorts us “Lift up your hearts.” We reply by saying what we should also be doing: “We lift them up to the Lord.” The priest then invites us to “give thanks to the Lord our God,” to which we respond, “It is right and just.”3

That this praise and thanksgiving is what we owe and should freely desire to give God is further indicated by the beginning of the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer:
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God4
In what does the Eucharistic exchange consist? In the bread and wine transformed into his body and blood by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ gives us himself whole and entire and in doing so, refills us with divine life, which is infinite, eternal, and inexhaustible.

What do we offer God? In our humble gifts of bread and wine, along with the collection, which is not some new-fangled invention but part of the liturgy from the beginning, which are presented to the priest at the foot of the altar, we offer ourselves, whole and complete. This ritual act is deeply symbolic. Hence, those who bring forth the gifts should be members of the faithful through baptism who represent the rest of the gathered baptized.

What we see is a ritual act, one that always runs the risk of becoming ho-hum, just one of those things we do at Mass for some reason. What we believe is the reality to which the ritual symbolically points: through our humble gifts of bread, wine, and collection, the offering of ourselves to God, through Christ, by the Spirit’s power. By means of these gifts, we offer ourselves body, blood, soul, and humanity. While this is visible to all, one needs to understand the symbol that underlies the ritual to make the offering. In other words, it is not intuitively obvious to the casual observer, too often even to the Catholic observer, what is happening.

In Eucharistic Prayer III, with now consecrated bread and wine on the altar, the priest prays: “May he [Christ] make of us an eternal offering to you [the Father].”5 Like the tender shoot taken from the top of the mighty cedar tree in our reading from Ezekiel and the mustard seed from our Gospel, nourished by the Eucharist, we grow ever more into the image of Christ, becoming not just the ekklesia, the assembly, the Church, but the veritable Body of Christ.6 God takes our gifts, makes them himself, and then gives us back something infinitely greater than what we offered, gathering us to himself and uniting us to one another.

Spiritual growth is usually imperceptible to the ones experiencing it. But whether you see it, feel it, or in some other way sense it, walking by faith and not by sight, continue trusting “that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”7 And “as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ,” do not take God for granted and do not be presumptuous, using God’s patience to exempt yourself from the demands of discipleship.8 Above all, do not neglect the Eucharist, which is an indispensable means through which God accomplishes his good work: the redemption of the world.

As we sang in our Responsory: “Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.”

1 2 Corinthians 5:7.
2 Romans 12:1-2.
3 Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, Eucharistic Prayer III, sec. 107.
4 Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, Preface VI of the Sundays in Ordinary Time, sec. 57.
5 Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, Eucharistic Prayer III, sec. 113.
6 Ezekiel 17:24; Mark 4:30-32.
7 Philippians 1:6.
8 Roman Missal, The Order of Mass, sec. 125.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Triduum- Good Friday

The Crucifixion, by Giotto (b. 1267 or 1277 - d. 1337 CE). Part of a cycle of frescoes showing the life of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. Scrovegni Chapel (aka Arena Chapel) in Padua, northern Italy. From c. 1304 to c. 1315

"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, March 28, 2024

Triduum- Holy Thursday

Christ Washing the Disciples' Feet, by Jacopo Tintoretto (1519-1594)

“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” (John 13:8)

"In his person, the deacon makes it clear that the liturgy must have concrete consequences in the world with all its needs, and that work in the world that is done in the spirit of charity has a spiritual dimension" Herbert Vorgrimler, Sacramental Theology, 270.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Monday of Holy Week

Readings: Isaiah 42:1-7; Psalm 27:1-3.13-14; John 12:1-11

Being nine months to the day before Christmas, normally today we would mark the observance of the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Because this year it falls during Holy Week, it is transferred to Monday, 8 April. The reason is transferred to 8 April instead of 1 April is that just as nothing, not even a Solemnity, trumps the days of Holy Week, nothing trumps the days of the Easter Octave.

Our Gospel for today occurs subsequent to the final Gospel for our celebration of the Scrutiny of the Elect. We find Jesus again at Bethany in the house of his dear friends, the siblings Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. As you might imagine, Lazarus gained notoriety because Jesus raised him after he was dead for four days. As you might imagine, many people were eager to get a glimpse of this man as well as the One who raised him.

Something easy to miss in the Church’s Gospel for the final Scrutiny is that when Jesus sets out for Bethany, which is in Judea, as opposed to his native Galilee, he does so over the strong objection of his disciples. Their objection was that many in Judea wanted to stone Jesus to death.

Overriding their objection and, no doubt, their fear, Jesus set out for Bethany. This is when Thomas, who we know as “Doubting Thomas” because of his refusal to believe the testimony of the other disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead, “said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go to die with him.’”1 This kind of upends the familiar view of Thomas as a skeptic, prone to disbelief.

It seems that not just Thomas, but all the disciples had some idea of what it might mean to die with Jesus. What they could understandably not understand was what it could mean for him to rise from the dead. Even now, it is very difficult to comprehend the meaning of Christ’s rising from the dead, let alone what it means to die and rise with him. As it pertains to the new life Christ seeks to give us, our failure to understand hampers us. While we still fear death, we don’t fear sin, which is deadly.

In our Gospel today, death hovers in the air. In response to Mary anointing him with costly oil, Jesus points to his own burial and tells his disciples “you do not always have me.”2 This passage ends on a kind of ominous note, telling us that not only were the chief priests planning to kill Jesus, they were also planning to kill Lazarus because his coming back to life the cause of many to believe in Jesus.

Jesus' words “you do not always have me,” are illuminated by what Jesus says a few chapters later in Saint John’s Gospel, during the Last Supper Discourse. Here, he tells his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you.”3 Let’s not forget, that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is the mode of Christ’s resurrection presence in, among, and through us until he returns.

In the context of the Eucharist and, indeed, all the Church’s sacraments, the Holy Spirit is the active agent. For instance, it is by the Spirit’s power that the bread and wine become for us Christ’s body and blood. These, in turn, make us Christ’s Verum Corpus, his True Body.

The Eucharist, the Mass, is not just our memorial of Jesus’ passion and death but our Spirit-given way of participating in it. This is made explicit in the Memorial Acclamation: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.”4 This is what Holy Week, which culminates in the Sacred Triduum, our Christian High Holy Days, is all about.

1 John 11:7-16.
2 John 12:8.
3 John 16:7.
4 See Roman Missal. Order of Mass. Eucharistic Prayer I, sec. 91.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Passion Sunday

Readings: Mark 11:1-10; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9.17-20.23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15-47

“Rather, he emptied himself.”1 The Greek verb meaning “to empty” is kenosis. Using the words of an ancient Christian hymn, which we call “the Kenotic Hymn,” Saint Paul takes us into the very nature of God. In my view, the mistake made in a lot of contemporary preaching is that rather than unpack God’s word, we look for diversions around it, for ways to make it entertaining, which often has the effect of watering it down.

Maybe this is done out of concern that people find the theo-drama of creation and redemption boring in and of itself. But why employ a story, a poem, a song, an anecdote when scripture gives you a song, the words of which convey simply and beautifully God’s deepest nature? The words of this hymn were inspired, which is why they made it into the scriptures.

What the Kenotic Hymn reveals is that it is the very nature of God to empty himself. Creation itself is kenotic, a divine emptying. Creation can be described as the love of God- Father, Son, and Spirit- overflowing, emptying out but never empty. This, in turn, shows us that the Son did not act contrary to his divine nature when he emptied himself by becoming human in the form of a slave and finally submitting himself, in obedience to the Father, to an unjust, painful, and let’s not forget in the context of his time and culture, a very shameful death.

Contemplating the Lord’s passion, one question that arises is “could it have been otherwise?” Indeed, there was long-lasting a debate between Dominican and Jesuit theologians on this very point. It stands to reason that God could redeem creation in any way he chose. God could have made a world that did not need to be redeemed. We know these are true observations because they provoke more questions about the deepest mysteries of existence.

Suffice it to say, by subjecting himself to his passion and death, Jesus showed us the deepest nature of God. This is why our epistle reading constitutes the heart of our readings for Passion Sunday. This ancient hymn that Paul, under inspiration from the Holy Spirit, pulled into his letter to the Church in ancient Philippi, provides us with a key to help unlock the mystery of the Lord’s passion and death.

Another question the Lord’s passion and death prompts is, who killed Jesus? A true Christian can only answer- “I did.” Reflecting on Christ’s crucifixion, one of the great Cappadocian Fathers, Saint Gregory Nazianzen, echoed and then riffed on a note from the Kenotic Hymn: “For your sake, and because of your sin, Christ himself was regarded as a sinner… Worship him who was hung on the cross because of you.”2 Let there be no anti-Semitic understanding of Jesus’ death. Theologically, to say “the Jews” killed Jesus is not only dangerous but sheer nonsense that mocks our crucified Lord to the point of blasphemy.

The Passion of Jesus found in Mark is reckoned to be the oldest part of that Gospel. At the center of this account is not Jesus’ death but his institution of the Holy Eucharist, which we will commemorate profoundly on Holy Thursday. We make this connection in each Mass when we sing the Memorial Acclamation: “Save us Savior of the world/For by your cross and resurrection/You have set us free.”3

In Mark’s account, of necessity, the Lord institutes the Eucharist before his death and resurrection whereas we celebrate it in the wake of these things having occurred. The Lord’s passion and death, along with his resurrection are very different from discreet historical events, even really significant ones. The Greek word anamnesis best describes what happens in the Mass. It means more than merely remembering, it is something like a participation in the events of our salvation across space and time through liturgy. In this respect, it anticipates a quantum understanding of reality.

Anamnesis plays a big role in Plato’s philosophy. This is perhaps best demonstrated in his dialogue with Meno.4 To prove his point that all learning is recollection (i.e., anamnesis), Socrates gives Meno’s unlearned slave a geometry problem and, by employing what we have come to call the “Socratic method,” which means engaging this unlearned man in dialogue, shows that even an unlearned slave, in an important sense, “knows” geometry.

Since liturgy is first theology, the most effective Christian catechesis is mystagogical. This means starting from someone’s experience and helping them connect their life to the liturgical celebration of the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection (i.e., the Paschal Mystery) through interaction and dialogue. Sadly, most of our catechesis remains merely didactic.

Even our liturgy for today, which requires us to stand not only for one but two Gospel readings, to process, short as it may be, along with all the regular parts of Mass can make you a little tired and maybe challenges your attention span, is mystagogical. In some small, liturgical, way, however, it brings us into the grueling nature of the Lord’s passion, which started and sundown and lasted until 3:00 pm the next day.

This is not to say that this in some way brings you into what Jesus himself experienced. Rather, by means of anamnesis, it is to hear him say what he said to Peter who, along with James and John, slept as he agonized in the garden:
[Scott], are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak5
This gets to something else Nazianzen pointed to in his sermon, in recognition and acceptance of the fact that Christ died because of you, “you must cease to sin.”6 Indeed, the flesh is weak, as those who have endeavored to keep a holy Lent have no doubt mystagogically (i.e., experientially) rediscovered!

Circling back to Jesus’ crucifixion as viewed through the lens of the Kenotic Hymn, it is vital to grasp that no one took the Lord’s life from him, not Judas, not the mob, not Pilate, not those who nailed him to the cross. He willingly laid it down and took it back up for you (and for me, and for those who nailed him to the cross, and for Pontius Pilate, and for the mob who clamored for his death, and for Barabbas, whose release was something, I am quite certain, with which Jesus concurred- perhaps even for Judas).

Just as it is easy to love humanity and hard to love that jackass over there, it is easy to believe in a very abstract way that Jesus died for the sins of the world. What I must grasp is that Jesus died for me out of love for me. Maybe this is something for each of us to reflect on between now and Good Friday when we venerate the Holy Cross after proclaiming together the Lord’s passion and death yet again. Perhaps, along with the Roman centurion who stood facing the cross on which Jesus hung, you too can say, as you face the cross, either again or perhaps for the first time, “Truly this man [is] the Son of God!”7

1 Philippians 2:7.
2 Liturgy of the Hours. Office of Readings. Second Reading for Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent.
3 Roman Missal. Order of Mass. Eucharistic Prayer I, sec. 91.
4 See Plato, Meno.
5 Mark 14:37-38.
6 Liturgy of the Hours. Office of Readings. Second Reading for Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent.
7 Mark 15:39.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Readings: Daniel 13:1-9.15-1719-30.33-62; Psalm 23:1-6; John 8:1-11

Whenever I hear Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in adultery, my first question inevitably is, where is her partner? After all, you can’t commit adultery by yourself. He would be just as guilty and, depending on circumstances, if the episode of Susanna is any guide, maybe even more so.

I think our Psalm this evening, the beautiful and well-known Psalm twenty-three, provides us with a key to our readings for today. This is one of those Psalms that is often slightly off in many English translations. In the revised edition of the New American Bible, which is our American Catholic Bible, the first verse is translated quite accurately: “The LORD is my shepherd, there is nothing I lack.”1

The first part of the last verse of Psalm 23, also needs a corrective translation. Often it is translated as “Only goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” A better translation is in the revised New American Bible: “Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life” (italics mine).2

The better translation is important because it gives us a more accurate insight into God’s very nature. God, who is Goodness and who is Mercy, doesn’t just passively follow you. God actively pursues you! This is what a good shepherd does: seek out the lost sheep.

Tonight, we hear about two women. One, Susanna, is innocent, the unwitting victim of wicked men, while the other, who remains nameless, is by all indications guilty, caught in the very act of adultery.

The good news we can take away from this is that God not only vindicates the innocent. Through Jesus Christ, even the guilty can be vindicated. God pursues you with no less gentleness, kindness, and mercy than he pursued the woman caught in adultery, arriving on the scene just in time.

While apostolic credentials of the pericope of Jesus' encounter with the woman taken in adultery is not in question, it was not clear to the Church for some time in which Gospel it belonged. It fits well in John’s Gospel because, like the three Gospels we proclaim for the Scrutiny of the Elect, you can put yourself in the place of the Samaritan woman whom Jesus knew everything about and desired to save all the more, of the blind to whom the Lord gave sight, and Lazarus, who he raised from the dead, it is easy to be the woman caught in adultery.

Of course, this is not to accuse everyone of adultery. It is merely to point out that we’re all sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. As we read in 1 John: “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”3 Through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit’s power, God is eager to forgive you. This is what the woman’s adulterous partner ran away from.

What is amazing is that is precisely through our lack that Christ gives us everything. He makes our fall the source of redemption. This may be his greatest miracle of all!

So badly does God want to forgive you that the first gift the Risen Lord gave to his Church after his resurrection was the Sacrament of Penance.4 It is through this sacrament you are reconciled to God and to the Church. It is through this sacrament that Christ says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”5

Jesus is always eager to meet you wherever you are. But he is not content to leave you where he found you. The Good Shepherd pursues you through the dark valley, accompanies you through (if you let him), sets a table before you, anoints your head with oil, and fills your cup to overflowing. Jesus+nothing=everything.

1 Psalm 23:1.
2 Psalm 23:6.
3 1 John 1:8.
4 John 8:11.
5 John 20:19-23.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Fifth Sunday of Lent- Third Scrutiny

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

As English speakers, we tend to conflate “flesh” with “body.” Such a conflation leads to a perversion in the Christian understanding of the human person. This can have devastating practical consequences for those seeking to live a Christian life.

In Koine Greek, the language in which our uniquely Christian scriptures (i.e., the New Testament) were written, there are distinct words for “body” and “flesh”- soma and sarx, which do not usually refer to the same thing, especially in the authentic writings of Saint Paul.

Soma is the Greek word for “body,” while sarx is the Greek word Paul uses in our reading from Romans that translates as “flesh.” This is more than just a “Gee whiz” bit of information. Christianity is rooted in the Incarnation of God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who is himself “true God from true God.” To be incarnated is to be embodied, to have a body.

Far from rejecting the body, which is gnostic and antithetical to Christianity, we rejoice in our bodies and in all physical creation, which sacramentally points us to God. Through this Eucharist, for example, we offer ourselves, body, blood, soul, and humanity to the Father, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Getting back to our reading from Romans, our body is dead to sin because, by God’s sanctifying grace given us through the sacraments, we are no longer in the flesh but live in the spirit because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Recall here the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman from the Gospel for the First Scrutiny:
the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him1
Here is a scrutinizing question: are you determined to worship God in Spirit and truth? Worshipping God in Spirit means worshipping God with your body, which, in its negative aspect, means not using your body to pursue fleshly desires. This is why, as Christians, we practice spiritual disciplines, which you perform with your body.

Several chapters on in his Letter to the Romans, the apostle exhorts the Christians of ancient Rome:
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect2
Paul positively describes what it means to live in the spirit. Again, becoming Catholic as an adult should not amount merely to the adoption of a new moniker indicating your religious preference. It is the beginning of your new life, which includes a way of life, one in which you seek to live like Christ in an increasingly indifferent world, a world governed by adherence to the hedonistically existential axiom of getting all you can while you can.

If the body weren’t central to Christianity, then rather than raise his dead friend Lazarus, Jesus would’ve consoled his sisters with something like, “He’s in heaven with God now.” Well, if you’ve ever lost anyone you loved and to whom you were very close, you know such words are often cold comfort, particularly when uttered while standing at the edge of their grave, a place where grief and doubt abound, which are the conditions for hope as opposed to mere optimism.

After complaining to Jesus that Lazarus would not have died had he come earlier, Martha is not terribly consoled by his assurance “Your brother will rise.” You can almost hear the terseness of her response: “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”3 So much for pious platitudes!

Jesus then leads Martha deeper by asking if she believes that he, Jesus, is “the resurrection and the life” and that by believing this she will never die. To which she responds with a profound confession of faith. Similarly, Mary, the contemplative sister, also tells Jesus that if he had come sooner Lazarus would not have died.4

Seeing Mary’s grief, the Lord is affected and weeps.5 He, too, loves Lazarus as well as Martha and Mary. As Jesus shows signs of grief, some in the crowd ask in a vein similar to the sisters: “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”6 Then, after calling for the removal of the stone that sealed the tomb, and praying to the Father, Jesus, in a loud voice, calls Lazarus forth. He emerges alive.

This Gospel is the culmination of the scrutinies because just as you are the woman at the well to whom Jesus revealed his true identity by knowing everything about her and loving her anyway, just as you are the blind man to whom Jesus gave true sight by healing him and showing him who he is, you are Lazarus called forth from the grave.

Jesus Christ has conquered death. This is the Good News! Christus resurrexit, quia Deus caritas est!7 Here’s another scrutinizing question: Do you believe this in the way Martha professed it? As a Christian, you must confess, "I believe... in the resurrection of the body."8

As then-Father/Professor Josef Ratzinger observed quite a few years ago:
This life is not everything. There is an eternity. Today, it is very unmodern to say this, even in theology. To speak of life beyond death looks like a flight from life here on earth. But what if it is true? Can one simply pass it by? Can one dismiss it as mere consolation? Is it not precisely this reality that bestows on life its seriousness, its freedom, its hope?9
Christ will demonstrate his mastery over death again when you die, are buried, and rise to new life through the waters of baptism. This is no less a miracle than the one in today’s Gospel or the one from our Gospel for the Second Scrutiny. Eternal life is not the life that begins after physical death. Eternal life begins at baptism. Eternal life, which is life in the Spirit, is now and forever. La vida eterna es por los siglos de los siglos.

My dear Elect, Jesus Christ calls you forth from the grave of sin, the grave of unbelief, the grave of indifference toward life, from the gray and nagging dissatisfaction of life in the flesh, a life in which too much is never enough, a life that does not satisfy because it cannot satisfy. Fleshly life cannot satisfy because God made you for himself and your heart is restless until it rests in him.10 And so, once again,
Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light11

1 John 4:23-24.
2 Romans 12:1-2.
3 John 11:23-24.
4 John 11:25-27.32-37.
5 John 11:35.
6 John 11:37.
7 Pope Benedict XVI. Easter Urbi et Orbi Message. 16 April 2006.
8 Apostles Creed, Article 11.
9 Robert Cardinal Sarah. He Gave Us So Much: A Tribute to Benedict XVI. Trans. Michael J. Miller, 130-131.
10 Saint Augustine. Confessions. Book I, Chapter 1, Section 1.
11 Ephesians 5:14.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Readings: Isaiah 65:17-21; Ps 30:2.4-6.11-13; John 4:43-54

We too quickly become accustomed to a debased Christianity, making it a philosophy of life, a culture, or, worse yet, a politics, which can help but be disengaged from Jesus’ teachings in one way or another. We’ve reached that point in Lent where we are confronted with and by Jesus through the readings, particularly the Gospel readings.

Our Gospel today immediately follows Jesus’ encounter with the woman in Samaria. At the end of that encounter, at the urging of the inhabitants of the Samaritan village, he stayed with them for two days.1

According to John’s itinerary, Jesus passes through Samaria as he returns to his native Galilee from a trip to Jerusalem. Because Jesus performed no miracles for his fellow Galileans before his journey to Jerusalem but wowed the Galileans who were also in Jerusalem during a major feast with signs and wonders, they gleefully welcomed him back as he entered Cana of Galilee, where, the inspired author reminds us, he turned water into wine at a wedding feast.

In the fourth Gospel, the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Of course, this miracle is the second Luminous Mystery of the Holy Rosary. This mystery’s fruit is to Jesus through Mary.

If you remember, the Lord was reluctant to do something to help at the wedding when all the wine had been consumed. He only intervened because of his mother. She forced the issue by telling the servants, with reference to her Son- “Do whatever he tells you.”2

In today’s Gospel, the lack of belief on the part of his fellow Galileans, indicated by their fickleness, was seen by Jesus for what it was: bad faith, which is no faith at all. Far from being elated by his triumphant return, he seems to be not disappointed as much as disgusted.

Jesus’ disgust is brought into bold relief when his response to the royal official’s request that he go with him to Capernaum to heal his son, who was close to death, was: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”3 Nonetheless, in his mercy, he healed the man's son, saving him from death.

The Lord’s response stands in contrast to a common misconception about him. This misconception is something like the “Buddy Christ” from Kevin Smith’s movie Dogma. In this film, Buddy Christ is the central feature in what is just an ad campaign, as so many “evangelization” programs tend to be. The name of the campaign is “Catholicism Wow!”

Cardinal Glick, the driving force behind the ad campaign, played by the late George Carlin, notes that because too many people find the crucifix “wholly depressing,” the Church is retiring it and replacing it with the Buddy Christ. It is a Sacred Heart statue featuring a smiling and winking Jesus, who points at onlookers with one hand while giving the thumbs-up sign with the other.

As we profess in the Creed, Jesus is “true God from true God.” His divinity is made manifest through his humanity. In his person, humanity and divinity are wholly integrated, making him “the perfect man.”4 It is through his very person, in which divinity and humanity perfectly cohere, that he seeks to restore our likeness to God, which is lost through sin.5 Another word for this is “divinization.”

Because we are not like God, which means we are not yet fully human, we sometimes find Jesus’ words and disposition puzzling. But we can be quite sure that while he certainly performed signs and wonders, Jesus did not come to launch a divine shock and awe campaign that we could call “God Wow!”

Our Gospel today is a variation on theme which comes to full fruition at the end of the Gospel According to Saint John, when “doubting” Thomas can see and touch the risen Lord: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”6

1 See John 4:1-42..
2 See John 2:1-12.
3 John 4:48.
4 Second Vatican Council. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes], sec. 22.
5 Ibid.
6 John 20:29.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Fourth Sunday of Lent- Second Scrutiny

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1b.6-7.10-13a; Psalm 23:1-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Today we celebrate Latare Sunday. Latare Sunday is a day of rejoicing within the otherwise austere season of Lent. t all Sundays in Lent remain celebrations of the Lord’s resurrection, which is why, when calculating how long Lent is, you do not count Sundays.

Today we have a great reason to rejoice: the Second Scrutiny of our Elect. Rather than scrutinize them, we bless and strengthen them to scrutinize themselves. Indeed, for all of us, the season of Lent is a time for self-examination, a time for renewing our practice of the core spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, which should be characteristic of our lives as Christians all the time.

Our Gospel for the First Scrutiny, which we celebrated last Sunday at the 9:00 AM Mass, was Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. In that encounter, Jesus declared himself forthrightly to be the Messiah, the one for whom the woman was hopefully waiting. I think it is easily lost on us how astounding it is that Jesus, a man whom this woman encounters while he sits by Jacob’s well, the one who engages her in a bit of an enigmatic dialog, is the Messiah, the one who will tell her everything.1

We easily forget that it was not intuitively obvious to the casual observer in first-century Israel that this guy from Nazareth, Mary and Joseph’s son, was not only the Messiah, God’s anointed, but the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Something quite similar is at work in our Gospel today. But before coming to that, it bears noting that David is a messianic figure. Our first reading today serves to demonstrate something Saint Paul describes well:
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 God2
Jesus, the unexpected, unassuming, and often unwelcome Messiah, is the exemplar of this divinely revealed truth.

Apart from Jesus and the healed man, only some of Jesus’ disciples witnessed this unprecedented healing. While it quickly became evident, despite doubts, that something amazing had happened when this man who everyone knew was blind could now see, the divine origin of the power that healed him was called into question. But, when queried, all the man could say, was this Jesus fellow smeared mud on his eyes and now he could see.

It wasn’t until after his ordeal with the Pharisees that Jesus revealed to the man to whom he gave sight who he is using almost the exact same words he used when revealing his identity to the Samaritan woman. This tells us something deeply important about faith. When the man asks, in response to Jesus’ question about whether he believes in the Son of Man, “who is he that I might believe in him?,” Jesus responded with “You have seen him” and, in so many words, “It is me, one speaking with you.”3

To see Jesus for who he is is to see reality in a whole new way. Or stated another way, to really see Jesus is to really see. One way to understand the man’s washing his eyes in the Pool of Siloam is as a kind of baptism, washing. To see and believe in Jesus Christ is what it means to have eyes to see. We also must have ears to hear and hearts that love him enough to live according to his words. Hope is the flower of faith and charity is its fruit.

Someone who is infused with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love is someone who nurtures these by praying, fasting, and giving alms, thus living as a child of the light. There is no better segue to the third and final scrutiny, the Gospel for which is Jesus calling his dead friend Lazarus forth from the tomb, than the ending of our second reading, which New Testament scholars think was taken from an early Christian baptismal hymn:
Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light4
You see, Jesus did not just give the man his eyesight. He gave him life!

Friday afternoon, a friend, who is an educator, texted me asking how I might respond to the question “What are people for?” My answer came quite quickly. I texted him that my answer is the answer to the third question from the old Baltimore Catechism. The first question is, “Who made us?” “Us,” of course, refers to human beings. The third question, which contains the answer to the first, is “God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.”5

Alternatively, I texted, riffing off Saint Irenaeus of Lyons’ insistence that “the glory of God is the living man, and the life of man is the vision of God,” I texted him that what people are for is to show forth God’s glory.”6

The man to whom Jesus gave sight didn’t glorify God merely by receiving his sight, though this miracle, as Jesus intimates, was wrought on behalf of this blind man so “the works of God might be made visible through him.”7 He glorified God by confessing his belief in Jesus and then worshipping him.8

Mass comes from the Latin word missa, which literally means to be dismissed. Missa is also the root of the word missio, which translates into English as “mission.” And so, at the end of each Mass, all of us are sent forth on mission to proclaim the Gospel.

Just as the Samaritan woman eagerly told her fellow villagers about Jesus, can you imagine the man who was formerly blind not telling others what Jesus had done for him? Rather than apologetics that traffics in proofs and arguments, telling others what Jesus has done for you what it really means to evangelize, to tell others the Good News.

1 See John 4:5-42..
2 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.
3 John 9:36-37.
4 Ephesians 5:14.
5 Baltimore Catechism. Lesson One. Question 3.
6 Saint Irenaeus of Lyons. Against the Heretics, Book 4, Chapter 20, Section 7.
7 John 9:3.
8 John 9:38.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

Readings: 2 Kings 5:1-15ab; Ps 42:2-3; 43:3-4; Luke 4:24-30

A question posed by our readings today is “Are you open to letting Jesus challenge you or do you only look to him for consolation?” Because this question points to an important aspect of repentance, it is relevant to our observance of Lent.

One risk for those of us who seek to practice our faith daily run is the routinization of our practice. On the one hand, when it comes to practicing spiritual discipline, habitus is necessary. In other words, it is important to observe fixed times for prayer and plan days for fasting, to set aside time for spiritual reading, to practice solitude and silence, to pray the Rosary, do the Examen, or pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

The risk we need to recognize is becoming content and self-satisfied with your spiritual routine, which amounts to something like the feeling that you’ve domesticated God. When practiced well, these disciplines should open you to the movements of the Holy Spirit, not close you off to what the Spirit might be trying to say, and what changes is the Spirit prompting you to make. Change in response to the word of God is the definition of repentance.

In the spiritual life, to say that God is infinite, that is, unbounded, means something quite practical. There is always more to God than any of us can perceive at any moment. As Pope Francis taught:
The word of God… comes as “a surprise, since our God is the God of surprises: he comes and always does new things. He is newness. The Gospel is newness. Revelation is newness”1
Hence, you must be careful not to build your spiritual life on the foundation of your preconceptions about God. Of course, we all have preconceptions. But over time, your understanding of God should grow and deepen. To grow in the knowledge of God, which is the end toward which the practice of the spiritual disciplines is the means, leads inevitably to loving God more. Just as inevitably, growing in love of God leads to an increased love of neighbor.

It is clear in each of the Gospels that Jesus was not the Messiah most Jews of his day expected, he did not conform to their preconceptions, just as Elisha was not the miracle worker Naaman expected. Because of his pride, Naaman almost refused the cure he graciously received from God by heeding the prophet’s directions, which seemed demeaning to him.

The people of Nazareth, most of whom would’ve been related to Jesus in some way, rejected God’s anointed and even sought to kill him. According to Luke, after marveling at his words indicating he was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy from the portion of the scroll of Isaiah that he had just read to them in the synagogue, the backlash with which our Gospel reading ends seems to have been prompted by someone then asking, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”2 In other words, “We know this guy. How can he be the Messiah?”

Are you willing to let Jesus, through the power of the Spirit, unsettle you and maybe blow up your expectations? Is your soul still thirsty for God, or do you feel like you’ve drunk your fill?

1 Pope Francis. Daily Meditation for 20 January 2014.
2 Luke 4:22.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Third Sunday of Lent- First Scrutiny

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

“Stay thirsty,” so we are advised by the most interesting man in the world. It’s better, however, to phrase this as a question before employing it as an exhortation. So, existentially speaking, Are you thirsty? If you are thirsty, what are you thirsty for?

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that our humanity largely consists of our desire, our longing. We desire, we long for, health, fulfillment, contentment, achievement, love, influence, satisfaction. It’s often the case, to quote the Rolling Stones, despite trying and trying, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” One thing to point out about the list above is that some of the things we long for are at odds with other things we desire.

Desire is the genesis of hope. Hope is perhaps best defined as desire properly directed. All earthly things fade away: money, possessions, accomplishments, even lovely sunny days at the beach. In his letter to the wealthy widow, Proba, after noting that “so far as this world is concerned, [you are] noble and wealthy, and the mother of such an illustrious family, and, although a widow, not desolate,” Saint Augustine commends her for “wisely” understanding “that in this world and in this life the soul has no sure portion.”1

In other words, this wealthy Roman widow lived in hope, which flowed from understanding what she truly desired. But to be precise, it is not a what but a who that is the proper object of human desire: Jesus Christ. It is Christ and him alone who provides the living water welling up to eternal life. Eternal life, as Augustine so emphatically points out multiple times in his letter to Proba, is the life that is truly life. It is the life we desire, a life without lack.

To understand this, to want this, to believe this, and live according to this is what it means to receive the gift of hope, which, along with faith and charity, is a theological virtue. While faith, hope, and charity are gifts from God, you can and should cultivate these virtues, just like you cultivate the natural virtues. One way to cultivate the virtue of hope is to understand that, just as eternal life is fully realized beyond death, hope lies beyond optimism. As statesman, playwright, and philosopher Vaclav Havel observed:
Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons2
And so, every disappointment, every loss, every sorrow, every moment of emptiness and pain is an opportunity to cultivate the theological virtue of hope as we, Eve’s poor banished children, make our way through what is quite often a valley of tears.

Immediately preceding the verses from the fifth chapter of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans that comprise our second reading, we hear that, as Christians,
we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, endurance proven character, and proven character, hope and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us3
Woman at the Well, by Carl Bloch, 1865-1879

We can safely say that the woman Jesus encountered at the well in Samaria did not lack desire. After all, she had been married five times and was now living with a man to whom she was not married. It seems quite clear that she didn’t lack optimism either! Nonetheless, she was not entirely without hope.

Her hope is evidenced by her pointing to the coming of the Messiah, who “will tell us everything.”4 Imagine her disorientation when she heard Jesus say, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”5 His claim was made plausible by his telling her the truth about her life, telling her things about herself that there was no way he could know because she had never met him before.

Jesus Christ is our hope. He opens the door to eternal life. He is the one, as Saint Paul writes, “through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand.”6 This “grace in which we stand” is nothing less than God sharing divine life with us.

God’s primary means of imbuing us with his very life, which is nothing less than his very self, are the sacraments. This is most clearly manifest in the Eucharist, which “is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.”7

Baptism, which is strengthened (i.e., “confirmed”) by confirmation, is the gateway to the Eucharist. In baptism, you don’t merely drink from the well of eternal life, you are immersed in it, it becomes the grace in which you not only stand but in which you live, move, and have your being. To use a metaphor to describe what the great theologian Karl Rahner pointed out in his Meditations on the Sacraments, we swim in grace like fish swim in water.8

The difference between you and a fish is that you are capable of living this as a conscious reality, which is what it means to live a graceful life, a hopeful life. Baptism is not just a gaining of the new moniker “Catholic” or “Christian.” It is Jesus calling you forth from the tomb like he called his friend Lazarus, but that is to get ahead of ourselves.

Through the waters of baptism, as Saint Paul points out in the very next chapter of Romans in a verse that is part of our epistle reading for the Great Easter Vigil, preparation for which is what today’s scrutiny is all about, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you die, are buried, and are raised to new life in Christ. Eternal life is not only the life you hope for after death. Eternal life begins with your sacramental death and resurrection enacted through Baptism.

In this life, the Christian daily lives the tension between the already and not yet of life eternal. It is the Eucharist, that is, Christ himself, that fills your emptiness and quenches your thirst. So, until the day your hope is fully realized, stay thirsty, which is to say, remain hopeful.

1 Saint Augustine. Letter to Proba, an2154, 1.1.
2 Vaclav Havel. Disturbing the Peace, pp 181-182.
3 Romans 5:3-5.
4 John 4:25.
5 John 4:26.
6 Romans 5:2.
7 Second Vatican Council. Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [Sacrosanctum Concilium], sec. 10.
8 Karl Rahner. Meditations on the Sacraments, Introduction.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Leap Year reflection- Lent a time of hope for change

Since 29 February only comes around once every four years, I wanted to seize the day and post something to mark the occasion. Since 29 February falls during the season of Lent, what comes immediately to my mind is Trevor Hudson's observation that each season of the liturgical year is a "time-gift." These seasons are gifts because they "help us participate more fully in what God has done in human history" (Pauses for Lent: 40 Words for 40 Days. Upper Room Books. Kindle Edition, Location 77).

I receive 29 February as a time-gift. It is the gift of an extra day, not of Lent because even during Leap Year, Lent remains the same length, and not of life because my life is however long it is going to be. It merely adds a day to this year: AD2024. The last Leap Year was in 2020, the time of pandemic panic. It's hard to forget all the lamentations and jokes about, of all years, 2020 being longer.

Time is a strange thing. Our ways of marking time, while not exactly arbitrary, have nothing of the absolute about them. According to our solar calendar, a year is the amount of time it takes the Earth to do a complete rotation around the sun.

At its most basic, time is a function of change. If you think about a mechanical clock, one with a second hand, a second is a measurement of how long it takes for the hand to move from one tick mark to the next. This also shows us that space and time, while distinct in a way, are inextricably bound together.

Isn't Lent also about change?

One of the few complex philosophical ideas Pope Francis evokes quite regularly is the insistence that "time is greater than space." His reason for doing this is to bring forward the idea that genuine human progress (i.e., change/conversion), our progress towards becoming ever authentically human, is a function of time. Rather than a quantum leap, true conversion is a progression, something that happens over time and through experience. As the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes ("Joy and hope"), beautifully articulates, Jesus Christ is the "perfect" human being (sec. 22).

This brings us back to Lent as a "time-gift." In reality, every day is a time-gift, is it not? Any day and every day can be New Year's Day, a new beginning. Just as most every Friday (solemnities excepted) is a "little" Good Friday and every Sunday, including Sundays of Lent (which don't count against the 40 days), is a "little" Easter, every going to sleep is a "little" death and every awakening is a "little" resurrection. We must reconnect liturgy to life!

I used to find C.S. Lewis' insistence that "Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done" very discouraging (from Letters to Malcom, Chiefly on Prayer). Then I realized how ridiculous it is, especially given life's dynamism, to think- "Why can't I just put my trust in God and be done with it?" In other words, "Why can't I just stand here and not move?" Time is greater than space.

In his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, a substantial draft of which he inherited from Pope Benedict, we find several Bergoglian interjections. One of those can be found at the end of the letter's fifty-seventh section. This section is a beautiful meditation on the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Its main focus, however, is hope. It deals with how hope integrates faith and love (i.e., caritas, charity).
Let us refuse to be robbed of hope, or to allow our hope to be dimmed by facile answers and solutions which block our progress, "fragmenting" time and changing it into space. Time is always much greater than space. Space hardens processes, whereas time propels towards the future and encourages us to go forward in hope

Monday, February 26, 2024

Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Readings: Daniel 9:4b-10; Psalm 79:8-9.11.13; Luke 6:36-38

Befitting this holy season, our Liturgy of the Word today looks something like a penitential rite. It begins with an acknowledgment of sin:
We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws. We have not obeyed your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name…1
Then, in our Responsorial, we move to something akin to a Kyrie, a plea for God’s mercy: “Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.”2

Jesus, in our Gospel reading, gives us the conditions for receiving God’s forgiveness, which is a gift, a grace.

In our contemporary idiom, karma, a Buddhist term, refers to getting what you deserve. If you spend any time on social media, you read quite a few invocations of karma. As Christians, we are people of grace. I don’t know about you, but I will take grace over karma any day.

Theologically, grace usually refers to unmerited favor given us by God. In other words, God doesn’t grace us because we deserve it. He graces us because God is God and self-giving constitutes divine nature at its deepest level.3

If I want to receive God’s grace given in Christ through the Spirit’s power, I must be willing to extend that same grace to others. Among these “others” to whom I must extend grace are not only but especially my enemies.

In a few moments, gathered around the Lord’s Table, we will pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”4 If you’re praying this prayer intentionally, you are accepting God’s condition for forgiving you. What you’re praying is something like “God forgive me both on the condition that I forgive others and to the extent that I forgive others.”

In our Gospel today, Jesus says, “Forgive and you will be forgiven.”5 You know from experience that it is often easier to invoke karma over someone who has wronged you than it is to extend the grace of forgiveness, let alone do what the Lord enjoins in the verse immediately preceding the first verse of our Gospel for today- to love that and do good to that person.6

1 Daniel:5-6.
2 Psalm 79:9; Lectionary 230.
3 See Philippians 2:5-11.
4 Roman Missal. The Order of Mass, The Communion Rite, sec. 124.
5 Luke 6:37.
5 Luke 6:35.

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 ...