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.

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 ...