Friday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1

Rejection is a special kind of pain. Matthew’s gospel today describes the rejection Jesus experienced when he entered Jerusalem before his death. At first, he’s acclaimed by a large crowd as “the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” They spread their cloaks and cast branches before him. “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Then, Jesus goes into the temple and drives out those who were buying and selling there, a symbolic act that indicates he has come to restore this place of prayer. (Matthew 21, 1-18)

Reacting strongly, the Jewish leaders reject him and question his authority to do such things. He has been sent by God, Jesus says, and responds with a parable that condemns leaders like them who reject prophets sent by God.

Jesus remains convinced of his mission, but conviction does not insulate him from the pain that comes from rejection. Like the prophets before him he suffers from it, and his suffering only increases as the crowds that first acclaimed him fall silent and his own disciples deny and abandon him. All turn against him and he is alone.

The events described in today’s gospel and the parable Jesus told throws light on one suffering Jesus endured in his passion and death¬– rejection. Rejection and death will not be the last word, however: “the stone rejected by the builder will become the cornerstone.”

You went to Jerusalem, Lord,

to announce a kingdom come

a promise of God fulfilled.

a hope beyond any the mind could conceive.

Teach us to keep your dream alive

though we see it denied.


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CNN and the Holy Shroud


I watched CNN’s segment on The Holy Shroud of Turin on my computer last night. According to the Hollywood Reporter it topped the ratings last Sunday evening. Over 1 million people watched the first part of Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery.

The narrator began the program: “Jesus Christ, he changed the course of world history yet the most famous man that ever lived left no physical trace, or did he?” For most of the program it looked like the answer was going to be “Yes, the shroud is an authentic witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus.” But in the final moments it was declared a medieval forgery.

But wait. Maybe not. All the evidence may not be in. Come back next year to see what CNN has uncovered. There was a hint as the program ended of more to come.

Like so many religious programs from the mainstream media, Finding Jesus. Faith.Fact.Forgery presumes we don’t know much about Jesus at all. Finding him means sifting through a jumble of faith, facts and forgeries. So far, there’s not much, but eventually we’ll learn more. We’ll get it right. Until then, suspend judgment till we have more facts.

If we follow CNN, finding Jesus is a long way off.

If the shroud is a medieval forgery I wondered why CNN spent so much time reconstructing the story of the Passion of Jesus from it as they did. Their reconstruction was along the lines that Mel Gibson used in his blockbuster The Passion of the Christ. Blood and violence are popular tools of the media these days.

The four gospels don’t use that approach in describing the Passion of Jesus, nor do they care to describe what Jesus looked like, another concern of the CNN special.

The claim of programs like Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery that we have no physical traces of Jesus can be disputed, of course. In his day, eyewitnesses, real people, saw Jesus, ate with him, accompanied him. Their recollections are found in the gospels and letters they left or inspired. True, they’re not like the historical documents we have today, but substantial evidence is there just the same.

For most believers these are facts enough. More might come to light, but will they change the basic story about him? I don’t think so.

So we don’t have to stay on page 1 with CNN, waiting for more facts. Certainly we need to ask questions about Jesus, but questions of a deeper kind. What does it mean to follow him? What can we learn from him? We need to hold on to the signs he left us and ask: what does it mean to have his kingdom come to our world? Those questions are all in our Creed.

I don’t think we need the Shroud of Turin or CNN for that.

One more thing. What Jesus looked like is another concern of the CNN special. In the recent issue of The Hollywood Reporter, there’s a piece entitled “Jesus in Film and TV: 13 Devilishly Handsome Actors Who’ve Played the Son of God.”
There were the pictures of all the devilishly handsome actors who played Jesus in the movies or on television. None looks like Jesus to me. I go with Paul who says in his Letter to the Philippians that Jesus took on the form of a slave. If we met him on the street, we wouldn’t recognize him at all. But Hollywood can’t believe that.


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Thursday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1
The rich man In Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is so absorbed in himself and his “good” life that he sees nothing else, not the poor man at his door nor his own inevitable death. Other parts of scripture, like Psalm 49, point to the same blindness: “In his riches, man lacks wisdom; he is like the beasts that are destroyed.”

The warning is not just for the rich, however. The same psalm calls for “people both high and low, rich and poor alike” to listen. A small store of talents and gifts can be just as absorbing and make us just as shortsighted as a great store of riches. The parable is not just a warning to the rich. We can be absorbed in a small room. Whether we have much or little, we have to see the poor at our gate.

We also have to see a life beyond this one as our destiny; what we do and how we live here will count there. There will be a judgment.

But Jesus‘ parable offers another reminder. God has given us a sign in his resurrection from the dead that we have been called to share in his risen life. A great gift has been given. Like the sign of Jonah, some will not believe it, but Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, places this joyful mystery before us again.

May God give us grace to believe in it.

Lord, I see only so far, I live for the day

my vision is all on what’s before me,

Give me eyes to seek your kingdom

and desires to have it come.

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Wednesday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1

Mt 20,17-28

We usually think that Lent is a personal journey, but that’s not all it is. Lent is a time for the whole church to be renewed.

“We” are going up to Jerusalem, Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew’s gospel and they follow him to the holy place of challenge and reward, to be renewed by the graces of his paschal mystery.
On the journey, the mother James and John saw an opportunity for herself and them. “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” She’s looking for power and prestige.

Jesus reminds her that his followers are not to be served, but to serve. It will cost them and not make them rich, for “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The mother’s request for power won’t be the last request of that kind from disciples of Jesus. It’s a temptation most of us share. The church has always been beset by members using its resources and power for themselves. That’s why Jesus’ words are so important to hear during Lent. Service of others is a good part of the cross we should bear.

Writing to his brothers and sisters after his mother’s death, Paul of the Cross urged them to love and serve one another: “Obey one another, especially the younger toward the older although with you there should be no seniority. Be humble, wait upon one another, console one another. I particularly recommend that you respect your sisters much, showing them all possible deference, treating them charitably, and assisting them in all their needs.” (Letter 21)

Make me one who serves,
like you, O Lord.
At the table of life,
let me bend down to wash the feet of others;
help me give my life for them.

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Tuesday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1
Matthew 23,1-12
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Lord Acton, the 19th century British historian, once wrote. In every society there’s a tendency for those in power to use it for themselves and their own aims.

The Christian community for which the Gospel of Matthew was first written was closely connected to the Jewish communities of its day. As an emerging minority Christians then must have felt pressured as religious rivalry between the two groups increased following the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Christians turned Jesus’ warnings about the abuses of power against their Jewish neighbors.

But would they also recognize the abuse of power in themselves and their own communities? Abuse of power is there no matter what society, secular or religious, you consider, and it’s found on many levels, not just in those on top. It affects the most ordinary relationships.

It’s easy to blame others for abusing authority, especially those in authority or high positions, but would Matthew’s readers (and we who read his gospel today} see it in their own church and in their own actions?

St. Paul of the Cross was no modern social critic and had no grand design for reforming the society or the church of his day. But he did see temptations of power in people with authority over others, like Thomas Fossi whom he directed many years. Fossi, married and a successful businessman, tended to try to run other people’s lives, especially his own family’s.

Paul frequently urged Fossi to stop being bossy. He once offered himself as an example, when Fossi asked Paul to be his spiritual director:“You make me laugh…saying that you want me to take charge of you. You don’t even know me. I don’t want to be in charge of anyone, nor have I ever thought of being a director, neither yours or anyone else’s. If I thought I knew how to direct others, I would be a devil in the flesh. God deliver me from it…I want to serve everyone and to offer sometimes some holy advice, based on holy truth and on what the spiritual masters say–to anyone who asks it of me.”

lead me away from temptations of self-importance,
as if my ideas, my vision, my convenience matter most.
You came to serve and not to be served.
Show me how to wish for what’s best for others
but save me from being a know-it-all.
Show me my faults,
and then take them away.

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Monday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1
Luke 6,36-38
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus teaches his disciples on a mountain. In Luke’s gospel, read today in Lent, after praying on the mountain, Jesus descends to the plain, where he chooses twelve apostles and calls all his disciples to live a blessed life. We’re called to mercy, a favorite theme of Luke.  “Be merciful as your father is merciful.”

Mercy goes beyond not judging, not condemning, forgiving, he says. The merciful give gifts to others, like the merciful father of the prodigal son described  later in Luke’s gospel. The father showers his ungrateful son with a feast of unearned graces– “bring a robe–the best one–and put it on him, put a ring on his finger and scandals on his feet.” God’s mercy is hardly measured or cautious, and certainly not tied to recriminations.

Feuds, quarrels and vendettas were common in the small wary towns of the Tuscan Maremma where Paul of the Cross preached missions in the 18th century. He would often carry a cross into a deeply divided home and beg family members to forgive one another or their enemies in the name of Jesus Christ.

In religious communities too he often spoke of mercy: “Learn how to excuse your sister and speak kindly to her…See her in the Side of Jesus Christ and then you will love her with a pure and holy love. If she comes into the room, don’t show annoyance, but put up with her and then remain recollected in God in holy silence.” (Letter 21)

The Cross of Jesus is our measure for forgiveness.

let me see in myself
the same human frailty, selfishness and sinfulness that I see in others.
Let me be merciful
with the same mercy I have received.,
Let me measure forgiveness as you measured it,
when you hung on the cross
and prayed in the darkness:
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

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2nd Sunday of Lent B Jesus is Transfigured

To listen to today’s homily, select the audio file below:

Immediately before the account of his transfiguration on the mountain, which we read in Mark’s gospel this Sunday, Jesus and his disciples go up north to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, a major gentile city of the day. Mount Hermon, the great snow capped mountain that’s the principal water source for the Lake of Galilee and the Jordan River dominates that region. In bible, mountains are places close to God, where God reveals himself.

So here Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Some say you’re Elijah, John the Baptist come back from the dead, the disciples say. “Who do you say I am?” he said. “You are the Messiah,” Peter replied.

But as Jesus goes on to tell them he’s going to “suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and rise after three days,” Peter stops him. No, that’s not going to happen to you. That’s not the Messiah I mean. Jesus turns to him and says “Get behind me Satan, you are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do.”

‘You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do.” Mark’s gospel, more than the others, insists that despite his teaching and the wonders Jesus works, his own disciples whom you would expect would know him best, don’t understand him that well. They think as human beings do. Of course we do too.

And so Jesus takes them up the mountain and is temporarily transfigured before them. It’s a temporary experience. A brief encounter. His clothes become a dazzling white. The great traditional figures of Moses and Elijah appear; a terrifying cloud overshadows them, a voice says “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” That’s the way the gospels describe it.

The disciples want more. Peter wants to set up tents so they can stay there. But then it’s over. They only have a glimpse of the One who walks with them. After they come down from the mountain they still don’t understand him.

But, still, they follow him.

The mystery of the transfiguration of Jesus reminds us that God periodically reveals himself to us. Periodically,we have intimations,  glimpses of God. We can’t create that experience on our own. God makes himself known. In St. Luke’s account of the transfiguration, he seems to indicate that prayer is one way to enter God’s presence.

And so we do all we can, we wait for him like  the disciples, but we’re absorbed in our human thinking. “Thinking like human beings.”

The mystery of the transfiguration also offers the promise of something that awaits us, something that is permanent, and not temporary. “Follow me.” Jesus says. We try to get ready for him. God will come, but here in this life he comes when he wills. We wait, we watch, we listen.  Jesus saysa Kingdom is coming, where the limitation of human thoughts and actions passes away and our waiting is ended and we shall see God face to face, not for a time but for eternity.
“This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

The first reading for today is from the Book of Genesis. It begins “God put Abraham to the test.” He’s tempted. He takes his only son up a mountain to kill him. What a test that is to our human way of thinking. His only son, his beloved son. Everything he put his hopes in.

For Abraham this was the greatest temptation he or anyone could face. Everything’s lost; nothing more to live for. But God tells him  he’s not lost everything. No, he hasn’t. Go beyond your human thinking. God is for us, not against us.

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