Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter: Looking for the Risen Christ

In the first resurrection story in John's Gospel, John 20: 1-18,  Mary of Magdala, while it is still dark goes to the tomb and finds the stone removed and the grave empty. She quickly runs to Peter and tells him that someone has stolen the body of Jesus and that "we do not know where they have put him."  Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved run to the tomb. Peter goes into the tomb first and sees  the linen cloths on the ground. "The cloth that had been over [Jesus'] head was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself".   The disciple whom Jesus loved entered the tomb. "[H]e saw and believed.

Meanwhile, Mary of Magdala stays outside the tomb weeping.  When the apostles leave, she "stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been...They said, 'Woman,  why are you weeping?' 'They have taken my Lord away...and I don't know where they have put him." She turns around and there, before he, stands the Risen Lord but she does not recognize him. Jesus says to her: "Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?"  She thinks it is the gardener talking to her and says to him: "Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him,. and I will go and remove him."  Jesus says: "Mary!" Her eyes are opened!

Who am I in this story? Sometimes, in prayer, like Peter, I do not recognize the Lord. I leave with no sense of  a lively faith. At other times I am like John: I know and believe that I was with Jesus. Still, there are times when, like Mary of Magdala, my eyes remain closed and I do not recognize Jesus at all  until He whispers my name. And, yes, I recognize Him then.  That is the result of developing a personal relationship with the Lord by persevering in prayer and sharing all of your concerns, your feelings, and your worries with Jesus in prayer as you do with your best friend!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Holiest Week of the Year!

This week we celebrate Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday, when Jesus marched into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. The people were extremely excited, waving palm branches, and shouting: Hosanna to our King. They were anticipating a king who would overthrow the Roman empire and take back the kingdom of Israel. What a let down when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane by guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees. Before Pilate, who questions his kingship, Jesus says: "Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. As it is, my kingdom does not belong here" (John 18: 36-37).

Before being crucified, Jesus is mocked and ridiculed!  He is clothed in royal robes after the scourging and a crown of thorns is put on his head. His torturers kneel before Him, blindfold Him and challenge Him to guess who spit upon Him or put a fist into his face. They then parade Him before the assembled crowd, who continue to demand that He be crucified. Pilate gives into the crowd and Jesus, the Son of God, the Sinless One,  is led to His execution with two other men being put to death for their criminal activity.  Jesus' apostles take flight, all of except John who follows Jesus to the hill of Calvary where He will be crucified.

Who am I in these scenes? Am I waving palm branches and shouting: "Hosanna to our King"? Am I Pilate, interrogating Jesus, wanting to know the truth but but unwilling to follow my truth when doing so is not what the majority are saying? Am I one of the apostles who abandons Jesus at the most crucial time of His life? Do I abandon a friend when he/she needs me most?  Am I the disciple who stood beneath the cross, giving comfort to both Jesus and His mother, no matter the consequences?

Friday, March 18, 2016

God, a Mighty Champion, a Warrior

In today’s first reading, Jeremiah 20: 10-13, the prophet describes the situation around him:  “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.’ But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.”

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus.  The Scribes and Pharisees, the chief priests and leaders  of His day were looking for ways to trap Him. They wanted evidence that would justify their intent to have put Him to death and then wash their own hands clean of any wrongdoing.  What these “bounty hunters” rejected was that Jesus was the Son of God, the Anointed One, the sinless Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, who would die and rise again as He prophesied. God the Father was on His side. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were champions of the New Covenant. God’s promise of eternal salvation, of crushing Satan’s head, the ultimate enemy of God’s Covenant, would not be thwarted by the faithlessness, the jealousy, and the pride of the Scribes and Pharisees, the chief priests and leaders of Jesus’ day.

T o this very day, those who taunted Jesus on the cross  are “put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.” That Good Friday scene is never forgotten! You and I, when we attempt to thwart the will of God in our lives or the lives of others, are also put to utter shame and thrown into confusion. Only when we repent of our ways, acknowledge our sinfulness and ask for forgiveness are the shame and the confusion lifted.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Questioning Jesus; Questioning God

When the people  heard Jesus say “before Abraham came to be, I AM “, they  picked up stones to throw at Him. How can Jesus claim to be I AM, to have existed before Abraham came into being, as He was not even 50 years of age. They were also sure that Jesus was possessed when he said: “[W]hoever keeps my word will never see death.”  How can Jesus say that people who keep His word will never see death, when Abraham is deceased, as were Isaac, Jacob and David and so many other ancestors of their faith? 
How easy it is to condemn people, to react strongly towards them when we, or I,  do not understand about what they are talking.  Hearers of Jesus’ claims thought he was crazy, a possessed man, a dangerous man. “We’ve got to stop Him, they argued, and took action to kill Him by attempting to stone Him to death.  At whom am I throwing stones by my bitter words or rebellious behaviors? Or at whom do I want stones thrown? And have you or I ever uttered the words “we’ve got to stop” them/him/her?

 Without eyes of faith, we do not see God at work. Without faith, we do not realize that any and every reality—the good or the bad, the beautiful and the ugly—is  clay in the hands of God.  The Divine Potter is always at work transforming  people and all of creation into the person and the reality that God designed it to be.   Like Peter who rebuked Jesus when He said that “the Son of man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day,” we, too, often reject that which we do not understand. “It can’t be!  We’ve got to stop it! The weeds must be pulled out! That child has got to be aborted. We can’t handle the difficulties he/she will present” and on and on!

What attitudes in me need to change to be brought into harmony with God’s plan of salvation, especially when things are not the way I think they should be in the world of today, especially when we are on the way to Jerusalem “to be put to death, and to be raised up” in Christ Jesus as a new reality, a new person?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Faith, Humility, Trust

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, in today’s first reading, Daniel 3: 14-20, 91-92, 95, stand firm in their faith. They do not succumb to King Nebuchadnezzar, who has threatened them with death if they did not bow down and worship his god.  “There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up.”

 Is our faith as firm as that of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? Are we that centered in God? Or are we self-centered, demanding that God perform a miracle? Would we say: “even if God will not perform the miracle that I am seeking, I still will not bow down to lesser gods, including acting as though I myself am a god, a person with supernatural powers, a person whose demands are God’s demands?

 How many times are we not faced with the choice of not worshiping "the golden statue" which Satan sets up for us, hoping we will fall into his trap? How difficult at times it is to remain silent rather than loudly stating our position, arguing ad infinitum to defend our point? Are there not times when it is difficult to let God be our defense in God's time? Letting God be God demands of us a lot of humility, trust, and faith in the Unseen God.  We risk looking stupid, feeling humiliated, and scorned by onlookers, as Jesus experienced on the cross where our sin of pride is destroyed by Jesus' humility and obedience to the will of His Father to save us from sin.  Jesus did not defend Himself and asks the same of us!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Looking upon the I AM upon the cross

In today’s Gospel, John 8: 21-30, Jesus says to the Pharisees: “I am going away and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin.”  Why will they die in their sin? Because, Jesus says they “do not believe that I AM.”

In the today’s first reading, all who looked upon the bronze serpent after being bitten lived. They did not die (cf. Numbers 21: 4-9).  We have all been bitten by sin. Sin abides in us, as does holiness.  Those who believe in Jesus will be saved. Those are saved who look upon Jesus on the cross, believing that He is the Son of God who, in the words of St. Paul, was made “sin for us, [He] who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21).
When humankind rebelled against God, as Adam did in the Garden of Paradise, as the Israelites did in the desert, as we do in the deserts of our lives, in our exile from eternity, there was only one way to be ransomed from death and that was by the Son of God sacrificing His life for our salvation. No animal sacrifice would suffice. Neither would the sacrifice of a human being. Ransom had to be paid by someone equal to God, someone who was God.

Jesus, Paul tells us, was made sin for us and, as such, was crucified. Sin was put to death on that cross, as Jesus gave His life for us in accord with the will of God that we might be “made the righteousness of God” through Jesus obedience unto death.  As we look upon Jesus on the cross, believing that He is the Son of God and is the One who reveals the depth of God’s love for us, we are saved in Christ Jesus. In baptism we died and rose with Christ. In our physical death, we, too, will die and rise with Christ because of our faith. Without faith in Christ, we die in our sins, not in Christ.

O God, O Jesus, O Mary, may I have that kind of faith now and at the hour of my death!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Challenges, Choices and Consequences

The incredible presence, nearness, and power of our God is always at work in our lives, as testimony in today’s Scripture readings provide.  In the first reading, Daniel 13: 1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62 we have the story of Susanna,  who is falsely accused by wicked judges.   Condemned to die, Susanna cried out aloud: O eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things before they come to be: you know that…[these judges] have testified falsely against me. Here I am about to die, though I have done none of the things with which these wicked men have charged me.”  As Susanna is led away to be executed, Daniel, inspired by the Holy Spirit, refused to go along with the court’s decision and asked the people to return to court.  Questioning the two accusers separately, Daniel exposed their lies and, according to Mosaic law, they were put to death in her place.

Both Susanna and Daniel are God-fearing persons. Both are attuned to the Spirit within them as they faced challenging situations in their lives. The two evil judges, however, do not rely upon the Spirit’s power available to them but followed the lustful, wicked voices within human nature.  We all have evil and good residing within us, a voice in tune with God’s will and a voice opposing God’s will.  We always have choices to make, as did Susanna, Daniel and the wicked judges! So, too, did the people of the court, who could have ignored Daniel or responded to him. Fortunately, they chose the latter. 

What kind of choices am I making in my life? To which voices am I paying attention? Remember, God is always present. His power is always available to us, especially when we face evil knocking at our doors!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Foreshadowing Jesus' Encounter with Wickedness

Today’s first reading, Wisdom 2: 1a, 12-22, speaks to us of what happened to Jesus. The wicked, believing that they were correct in their judgment of Him, vowed to kill Him. In the words of Wisdom: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.”  Is that not what the Pharisees, the Scribes and the scholars of the law did to Jesus?  Is that not what we do when blinded by pride and concerned about our sinfulness being exposed, when we involve ourselves in attacking “prophets” among us?  About whom am I ranting and raving?  Is it possible that they are hitting a nerve within me that wants to cover up my own sinfulness? There is a saying: what I hate in others exists within me.

The author of Wisdom continues exposing the thinking of the wicked, attacking the just one:  “He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord; to us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us, because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways.  He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blest the destiny of the just and boasts that God is his Father.”

Whom do we find hard to see and to whom do we have difficulty listening?  When do we believe that our thoughts are being censured?  Is God trying to soften our hearts, cleanse us of our pride and remold our thinking?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

To What Do Our Works Give Testimony?

Jesus says to us in today’s Gospel, John 5: 31-47, “…the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf.” Jesus also says to us:  “The works that the Father gave me to accomplish…testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”

You and I have been sent into the world by the Father as well. At our baptism, through the faith of our parents and godparents, the Father proclaimed, as at the baptism of Jesus, “This is my beloved son/daughter in whom I am well pleased.”  Do the works that you and I now do confirm that statement, namely, that you and I are truly a beloved son/daughter of God?  Do we realize that whatever good we do that such has been given to us to accomplish by God?  And that if we are doing the work that God gave us to do and are doing it in God’s name and to glorify God that such are testimony that “the Father has sent” us?

The flip side of that belief is that if we are merely doing our own will, totally disregarding God’s will for us, as was done by the Israelites in erecting a golden calf and proclaiming such as their god, that those works do not give testimony that we have been sent by God! They become god substitutes and point to an idolatry within ourselves!

Monday, March 7, 2016

God Daily at Work Recreating Newness of Life

Today’s first reading, Is. 65: 17-21, opens with the Lord telling us that he is “about to create new heavens and a new earth,” and that the “things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind.”  Rather, God says, “there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create;  for I create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and exult in my people.”

God is speaking, also, to us and about us.  The things in our past, the things that are painful or about which we are ashamed, the things that bring forth distress, that have been traumatic for us, will be no more. These things shall no longer be remembered in the sense of causing us the pain they once produced within our minds, bodies and spirit. No, God, is recreating us, day by day,  into the persons God designed us to be: men and women of integrity, men and women of humility, men and women of faith, men and women of trust, forgiving and reconciling men and women and thus healed and forgiven, knowing our hearts of hearts that we are truly loved unconditionally and fully! 

As we come to Jesus as persons needing Jesus’ help and depending on God’s mercy to be made “new” again, to have our sadness turned into “rejoicing,”  as did the Roman soldier in today’s Gospel, John 4: 43-54, we will experience “the fever” of our anger, resentment, guilt and shame and “the diseases” by which we condemn and judge others and ourselves as unworthy of God’s love and mercy leave us. Yes, we will be restored to the health of the redeemed, for, not only has God created “Jerusalem to be a joy,” but has also created us to be a joy as well and to know joy in this life, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.

Friday, March 4, 2016

How Will We/You/I Be Saved?

In today's first reading, Hosea 14:2-10, the prophet says to Israel: "Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God."  We, too, burdened with guilt are asked to seek God's forgiveness and receive from God the goodness in which we have been created. The Israelites are warned that "Assyria will not save...[them] nor shall...[they] have horses to mount; [...They] shall say no more, 'Our god,' to the work of [their] hands...."

To what have we said "Our god"? To which works of our hands have we attributed divine qualities, qualities to save us from ourselves, from our selfishness, our sinfulness, our pride, our avarice, our envy and jealousy?  When stumbling, to what do I look for help? What success do I think will save me this time?  To what  project  do I turn to as a means to be lifted out of my prideful self?  What accolades am I seeking as a means to be "transformed"?

Hosea, speaking in the name of the Lord, tells the Israelites that only the Lord "will heal their defection." Only the Lord "will love them freely; for [God's] wrath is turned away from them." So, too with us--we are the Israelites stumbling around in the desert of life,  falling into sin over and over again, erecting idols for our salvation. Let us repent and turn to the Lord for our salvation. God alone can save us, save you and save me!  No one else. Nothing else. No political leader or successful business person. No prestigious job or degree, no work of our hands, no human being: Only God!

I am learning that! What about you?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Listening to the Voice of Christ

Today's first reading, Jeremiah 7: 23-28, opens with: "Thus says the Lord: This is what I commanded my people. Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper."

Those words are not only spoken to Jeremiah but also to each of us.  We hear many voices in our heads.  How do we discern which one is God's voice? We only do that through the Holy Spirit's give of discernment, a gift for which we need to ask.  We know that God is Truth. We also know when we are acting on truth, unless we have hardened our hearts to the truth by repeatedly being deceitful and ignoring the voice of truth and following directions that are definitely against the truth that we hear in the depth of our being, in our heart where truth abounds.

We follow the truth when we follow Jesus, who is Truth.  Jesus says: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (John 10: 27).  Do you know Jesus? Are you developing a relationship with Jesus? Do you take time to reflect upon the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, to get to know the Lord intimately? Do you take time each day to pray, to meditate, to sit quietly in the Lord's presence, letting the Lord gaze upon you in love and you upon Him in love?  That is how to train yourself, or better yet, let the Lord transform you into His disciple, a disciple of the Truth.