Wednesday of Holy Week

Lent 1
The gospels offer little information about the twelve disciples of Jesus. Peter is best known among them, since Jesus gave him a special role and also lived in his house in Capernaum.

Then, there’s Judas. Matthew’s gospel gives more information about him than  any other New Testament source and so it’s read on “Spy Wednesday,”  the day in Holy Week that recalls Judas’ offer to the rulers to hand Jesus over for thirty pieces of silver.(Matthew 26,14-25)

“Surely it is not I?” the disciples say one after the other when Jesus announces someone will betray him. And we say so too, as we watch Judas being pointed out. With Peter also we say we will not deny him. But the readings for these days caution us that there’s a communion of sinners as well as a communion of saints.

We’re also sinful disciples. We are never far from the disciples who once sat at table with Jesus.
We come as sinners to the Easter triduum, which begins the evening of Holy Thursday and ends on Easter Sunday. God shows great mercy; we  hope for the forgiveness and new life that Jesus gave his disciples who left him the night before he died.

“We who wish to find the All, who is God, must cast ourselves into nothingness. God is “I AM; we are they who are not, for dig as deeply as we can, we will find nothing, nothing. And we who are sinners are worse than nothing.
“God, out of nothing created the visible and invisible world. The infinite Good, by drawing good from evil through justifying sinners, performs a greater work of omnipotence than if he were to create a thousand worlds more vast and beautiful than this one. For in justifying sinners, he draws them from sin, an abyss darker and deeper than nothingness itself.” (St. Paul of the Cross, Letter 248 )

Lord, in your great love answer me. Ps. 69

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Tuesday of Holy Week

Lent 1
The gospels from Monday to Thursday in Holy Week take us away from the crowded temple area in Jerusalem where Jesus spoke to many of his avowed enemies. These days he eats at table with “his own.” In Bethany six days before Passover he ate with Martha , Mary and Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead. Mary anointed his feet with precious oil in a beautiful outpouring of her love.

The gospels for Tuesday and Wednesday bring us to the table in Jerusalem where he ate with the twelve who followed him. Love will be poured out there too, but the gospels for Tuesday and Wednesday say it was love with great cost. “I tell you solemnly, one of you will betray me,” Jesus says to his disciples. Friends that followed him abandon him. Judas dips his hand into the dish with him and then goes out into the night. Peter will deny him three times; the others flee. Jesus must face suffering and death alone.

Are we unlike them?

Does a troubled Jesus face us too, “his own,” to whom he gave new life in the waters of baptism and Bread at his table. Will we not betray or deny? Are we sure we will not go away? The gospels are not just about what’s past; they’re also about now.

We think the saints exaggerate when they call themselves great sinners, but they know the truth. That’s the way St. Paul of the Cross described himself in his account of his forty day retreat as a young man:

“I rejoiced that our great God should wish to use so great a sinner, and on the other hand, I knew not where to cast myself, knowing myself so wretched. Enough! I know I shall tell my beloved Jesus that all creatures shall sing of his mercies.” (Letter 2)

In you, O Lord, I take refuge
never let me be put to shame.
Be my rock of refuge
a stronghold to give me safety.
For you are my rock and my fortress,
O God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked. Ps 71

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Monday of Holy Week

Lent 1
John’s gospel calls us to a meal honoring Jesus in Bethany following the resurrection of Lazarus.(John 12,1-11) It’s the last meal before the Passover supper. The gift of life that Jesus gives his friend leads to a sentence of death.

Faithful Martha serves the meal; Lazarus newly alive, is at the table. But the one drawing most of our attention is Mary, their sister who, sensing what’s coming, kneels before Jesus to anoint his feet with precious oil and dry them with her hair. “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”

The precious oil is an effusive sign of her love and gratitude; it also anoints Jesus for his burial. Only in passing does the gospel mention that evil is in play here. Judas, “the one who would betray him,” complains that the anointing is a waste, but his voice is silenced. Believers are honoring the one they love.

How fitting that Holy Week begins with this gospel when, like Mary, we kneel and pour out the precious oil of our love upon him who pours out his precious life for us.

“May the holy cross of our good Jesus be ever planted in our hearts so that our souls may be grafted onto this tree of life and by the infinite merits of the death of the Author of life we may produce worthwhile fruits of penance.” (St. Paul of the Cross,Letter 11)

Let my prayer rise up before you like incense,
The raising of my hands like an evening offering. Ps 141
Your sentence to death frees us,
The cup of your blood is poured out for us,
We breathe the fragrance of your love.

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Mission in Marlboro

I’m preaching a mission at St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, New Jersey, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, March 30, April 1-2, “Finding Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.” On Monday at 7 PM I’m speaking about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry described in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. On Tuesday at 7PM  the Passion of Jesus. Wednesday evening at 7 is the parish penance service. Each morning I’m celebrating the 9AM Mass.

St. Gabriel’s has a fine audio-visual setup which offers an opportunity for some material on the Holy Land I’ve gathered through the years.

Mark’s gospel, influenced by the apostle Peter, says that Jesus goes immediately to Galilee after John’s arrest, to the Sea of Galilee, to Capernaum where Peter the fisherman and other followers lived with their families.

Luke’s gospel, on the other hand, has Jesus beginning his ministry in the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth. John’s gospel has Jesus begin his ministry at a marriage feast in the neighboring town of Cana

Clearly, Mark has chosen Peter’s story. “He came first to Capernaum, my town, to my synagogue; he lived in my house.” Peter would say. Interestingly, Mark does not dwell on the baptism of Jesus by John as the other gospels do. His account of Jesus’ baptism is the shortest.

A recent segment of the CNN special on “Finding Jesus” claimed that Jesus was a disciple of John, a follower who did what John his mentor did and taught as his mentor taught. Mark’s gospel tells a different story. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom, not in the desert as John did, but in the towns and synagogues of Galilee and in the city of Jerusalem. John avoided all these places.

In fact, Jesus choses first the towns and synagogues of Galilee. He lives in Peter’s home in Capernaum; he goes into gentile territory and announces God’s kingdom there. He makes his way to Jerusalem.

John waits in the desert for the Day of the Lord which he expects soon. But Jesus enters the world of his day, to its towns and cities, its synagogues and homes. He travels to the wider gentile world across the Sea of Galilee to announce the Kingdom of God and a time of mercy.

You wish the creators of specials like CNN’s would take a better look at the gospels. There’s great artistry and spiritual teaching in the simple details of Mark’s gospel. Great drama. Great truth.


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Palm Sunday B: My God, My God, why?


The Gospel of Mark, the first of the gospels to appear in written form, presents Jesus going to death in utter desolation, draining the cup of suffering given him by his Father. His enemies viciously reject him; his disciples mostly betray or desert him. Only a few remain as he goes on his way. His cry from the cross is a cry of faith mingled with deep fear and sorrow: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This gospel, taut and fast-paced, brings us into the dark mystery of suffering that Jesus faced. We face it too. This mystery leads to life, a risen life.

The desolation Jesus faced took many forms, some quite hidden from our eyes and understanding. Yes, the cross means physical pain, but suffering can also come from spiritual and psychological experiences. Paul of the Cross spoke of this to a priest of his community who was experiencing the cross of spiritual desolation. God’s grace would lift him up to bring life to someone else, the saint assured him. The mystery of the cross never ends in death.

“From what you tell me of your soul, I, with the little or no light that God gives me, tell you that the abandonment and desolation, and the rest you mention, are precisely preparing you for greater graces that will help you in the ministry for which his Divine Majesty has destined you either now or at some other time. Of that I have no doubt.” (letter 1217)


let me hear joy and gladness,

let the bones you have crushed rejoice…

Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Ps. 51

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Stations of the Cross

On the fridays of Lent we reflect on the Passion of the Lord. On Palm Sunday this year we will read the account of the Passion from Mark’s gospel. An early persecution of Christians in Rome during Nero’s reign is probably behind the composition of the Gospel of Mark, which would be directed then to a church reeling from  Nero’s absurd persecution?”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cries from the Cross. His only words.

Probably some of those early Christians were put to death in Nero’s gardens, which now in part are the gardens of the Passionist Monastery of Saints John and Paul in Rome. The  Stations of the Cross in this video are found  in that garden. 

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Thursday, 5th Week of Lent

Lent 1
In the last four Lenten gospels from John Jesus speaks in Jerusalem in the temple area during the Feast of Tabernacles. You had to be cautious speaking at such a place in such a time. It was not the freer space of Galilee where Jesus taught and did great works. (John 8, 51-59)

The Jewish authorities controlled the temple area and those who heard Jesus there were often hostile. At times, they cry out to arrest him and  pick up stones to kill him.

Yet, Jesus will not be silenced. “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM,” he says to them in this sacred place. He proclaims fearlessly his divine status: “I am always there.”

Are we fearless enough to tell his story, to repeat his message, to proclaim him everywhere, even where he and his works are rejected? “I know him,” Jesus says about his Father, “and if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know him and I keep his word.”

The world today, especially our western world, can be hostile to Jesus Christ. Are we brave enough to witness to him where his name is ridiculed or ignored?

The 18th century world of St. Paul of the Cross surely wasn’t the same as ours, but if he were alive today, wouldn’t this zealous man be a zealous witness to Jesus Christ? He exhausted himself preaching the gospel in the poor, unhealthy swamplands of the Tuscan Maremma. What would he do now? Zeal always finds a way.

“Today I am leaving for a mission amidst fierce storms. But no matter–it’s for God’s glory. You should accompany me with fervent prayers for the conversion of souls.” (Letter 18)

Lord Jesus,
you spoke the truth,
even when others rejected your word.
Make me a zealous witness,
never fearing to speak your name
and help me live according to your teaching

whatever the time or place.

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