Monthly Archives: April 2011

We Have Signs

In today’s lenten reading at Mass from John’s gospel (John 10,31-42), Jesus goes to Jerusalem for another feast, the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple. It’s a feast celebrated sometime in late November to late December, recalling the rededication of the temple after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd century BC.

The Jewish feasts are signs in John’s gospel that reveal who Jesus is; they inspire his words and the miracles he does. In fact, he replaces them. On the Sabbath, (chapter 5) he heals the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethsaida. The Son will not rest from giving life as the Father never rests from giving life. On the Passover (Chapter 6), he is the true Bread from heaven, the manna that feeds multitudes. On the Feast of Tabernacles (chapter 7-9)  he calls himself the light of the world and living water. On the Feast of the Dedication, he reveals himself as the true temple, the One who dwells among us and makes God’s glory known.

Once more, Jesus proclaims in today’s gospel his relationship to the Father, “the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Yet, once more hostile listeners do not see the signs and accuse him of blasphemy, trying to stone him or have him arrested. But Jesus evades them and goes back across the Jordan to the place where John baptized and “many there began to believe in him.”

So many signs are given to us. We have the scriptures, the sacraments, the witness of the saints. How tragic not to follow them to the Word made flesh!

“To maintain this divine friendship, frequent the sacraments, namely confession and holy Communion. When you approach the altar do so for this one reason alone, to let your soul be melted more and more in the fire of divine love. Remember that you are dealing with the holiest action that we can perform. How could our dear Jesus have done more than to give himself to be our food! Therefore let us love him who loves us. Let us be deeply devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. In church we should tremble with reverential awe.” ( Letter 8)

Lead me on, O Lord,

Through your holy signs,

through them, let me come to you.

Knowing Jesus Christ

St. Augustine has an important reflection in his commentary on the psalms in today’s Office of Readings. It’s about the way we see Jesus Christ, who is God and also human, the Word made flesh.

“We contemplate his glory and divinity when we listen to these words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made. Here we gaze on the divinity of the Son of God, something supremely great and surpassing all the greatness of his creatures. Yet in other parts of Scripture we hear him as one sighing, praying, giving praise and thanks.

We hesitate to attribute these words to him because our minds are slow to come down to his humble level when we have just been contemplating him in his divinity. It is as though we were doing him an injustice in acknowledging in a man the words of one with whom we spoke when we prayed to God. We are usually at a loss and try to change the meaning. Yet our minds find nothing in Scripture that does not go back to him, nothing that will allow us to stray from him.

Our thoughts must then be awakened to keep their vigil of faith. We must realise that the one whom we were contemplating a short time before in his nature as God took to himself the nature of a servant; he was made in human likeness and found to be human like others; he humbled himself by being obedient even to accepting death; as he hung on the cross he made the psalmist’s words his own: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

We pray to him as God, he prays for us as a servant. In the first case he is the Creator, in the second a creature. Himself unchanged, he took to himself our created nature in order to change it, and made us one with himself, head and body. We pray then to him, through him, in him, and we speak along with him and he along with us.”

In these final weeks of Lent John’s gospel sees Jesus claiming to be “I am,” the Word confronting his opponents in the temple. Soon, we will see him praying with fear in the garden, silent before his enemies, struggling to bear his cross, dying a cruel death.

If we neglect his divinity, we call into question God’s gift of redemption to our world and our our own call to be God’s children. If we neglect his humanity, we call into question our own humanity, becoming other-worldly and ignoring the lowliness of our human condition.

We need to keep a “vigil of faith” as Augustine says.

Jesus in the temple

The temple in Jerusalem where Jesus often speaks these last few weeks of Lent has a significant place in Jewish prayers. For example, Psalm 24, from our morning prayer today.


The earth is the LORD’S and all it holds,

the world and those who live there.

For God founded it on the seas,

established it over the rivers.

Who may go up the mountain of the LORD?

Who can stand in his holy place?

“The clean of hand and pure of heart,

who are not devoted to idols,

who have not sworn falsely.

They will receive blessings from the LORD,

and justice from their saving God.

Such are the people that love the LORD,

that seek the face of the God of Jacob.”

Lift up your heads, O gates;

rise up, you ancient portals,

that the king of glory may enter.


Who is this king of glory?

The LORD, a mighty warrior,

the LORD, mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O gates;

rise up, you ancient portals,

that the king of glory may enter.

Who is this king of glory?

The LORD of hosts is the king of glory.

The temple was not considered a world apart from ours to the Jews but a place where God the Creator was present, who is always at work recreating the world. So this psalm begins by recalling that the earth is the Lord’s who founded it on the seas and established on the rivers. We know little about the temple’s ornamentation, but it would not be surprising to find it ornamented with symbols of the earth.

In our churches the great signs of the earth are bread and wine.

The temple was a place of blessing, where hearts and hands were blessed to take part in the Creator’s glorious work.

Yet, creation has a destiny beyond the form it has now, and that destiny is also signified in the temple. “This temple has two parts, one is the earth we inhabit, the other is not yet known to us mortals .” (St. John Fisher)

Given its importance, it’s understandable why Jesus spends so much time in the temple, according to John’s gospel. As the Word of God, he is the one “through whom all things were made.” He is the one who lifts up this world to a destiny “not yet known to us mortals.”




God’s Forgiveness

Time and place are tools that help us understand the gospels. On our lenten journey, we are in Jerusalem with Jesus. From the 4th week of Lent, John’s gospel, describing what Jesus did in the Holy City, is the preferred source for our Mass readings on Sundays and weekdays before Easter.

Unlike the synoptic gospels which present him making a single journey to Jerusalem, John’s gospel indicates that Jesus went often to the Holy City, as one would expect. He’s more than a dutiful Jew visiting the temple to celebrate the Jewish feasts, though. He’s more than a simple Galilean peasant from Nazareth caught in a random attempt by the city’s leaders to squelch a possible revolution. In John’s gospel, he is the Word made flesh, the Savior of the world, replacing the temple and its worship; he’s God’s presence on earth. “I am.”

Going to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts was essential for Jesus’ mission. During the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple, and the Feast of Passover he makes startling claims before the Jewish people and their leaders. The false witnesses who testify later at his trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin are not far from the real claim he made; he came, not to destroy the temple, but to be its replacement.

Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman (3rd Sunday A), which John describes at length, takes place as he returns from Jerusalem after driving out the buyers and sellers from the temple during the feast of Passover. He is the purified temple and all will be drawn to him. The Samaritan woman and her neighbors who welcome him stand for all the outsiders called to worship “in spirit and in truth.”

The temple was the place where sin was forgiven. Today’s reading about the woman caught in adultery (Monday, 5th week) takes us to the temple area and reminds us that Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world. He is a sign of God’s mercy to the woman standing before him, and to all of us. His forgiveness is far beyond the forgiveness of the scribes and pharisees who would stone the woman to death, according to the Law of Moses.

God’s forgiveness goes far beyond their forgiveness–and far beyond ours too.

Raising Lazarus

John 11,1-45

The wonderful story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus helps us appreciate the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Lazarus belongs to an influential family that welcomed Jesus to their home in Bethany, a village about two miles from Jerusalem. Martha and Mary were his sisters. Jesus stayed with them when he visited the Holy City.
When Lazarus died some days before the Passover, Jesus had left Jerusalem because of threats to his life and was staying in the safety of the Transjordan, the region where John the Baptist had baptized. Notified of his friend’s death, Jesus returned to Bethany, unconcerned for himself.
Death in its many forms was what Jesus came to take away, our gospel wants us to understand, and the dead Lazarus was a sign of what he wishes to do for all humanity. Lazarus was his friend, but Jesus, the Word made flesh, befriends the whole human race.
In the stirring conclusion of today’s gospel, Jesus calls the dead Lazarus from the tomb and “the dead man came out,” bound with the burial cloths that claimed him for death. “Untie him and let him go,” Jesus says. Those powerful, hopeful words are said to us too. We are called, not to die, but to live.
Later, on Calvary Jesus himself becomes our sign. A painful death does not claim him, nor will the grave hold him. He is our hope.
The same hope nourished Paul of the Cross: “ You ask me how I’m doing. I’m more sick than well and full of ailments. I can hardly write this…(but) I find it very good. Bearing the chains, the ropes, the blows, the scourges, the wounds, the thorns, the cross and death of my Savior, I fly to the bosom of the Father, where the gentle Jesus always is, and I allow myself to be lost in his immense Divinity.” (Letter 1925)
Like Martha, the sister of Lazarus, O Lord,
I believe you are the Resurrection and the Life.

Is It All Worthwhile?

“Is it all worthwhile, we ask in worldly wise?” A question asked in an old novena prayer.

I woke up today asking that question about the mission at Plainville.

The number of people who came to the services wasn’t impressive. Maybe 200 for the two services in the morning and evening. It was good to see the young people preparing for confirmation there in the evening. The priests of the parish were there too.

What surprised me was the number of visits to this blog during the mission, over 500 for the 4 days. I invited the people on Sunday to visit the blog, to invite others to follow it as a way of making the mission, and they evidently responded. How can I expand that part of the mission I wonder now?

I’m convinced  missions should be more catechetical and scriptural in nature. People need to reflect on their faith and they can do this by reflecting on the scriptures that communicate faith. So much of this is done through the liturgy; yet as people stop going to church they miss out on this vital communication. This is especially true of young people.

I thought our services were beautiful this week. Simple, prayerful, with beautiful music .

I had an interesting talk after the mission with Jean, the catechist at Our Lady of Mercy. They use the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for their very young children and an intergenerational approach for the rest of their program. They bring old and young together to learn. After a number of years, this program using the scriptures as its base seems to be gaining acceptance.

Jean thinks the lack of religion in the home has a lot to do with the drift of young people away from the church. You don’t talk about Jesus Christ, the gospels, the issues of life that faith raises, at home. Our people are confused by the times and by the scandals in the church.

Yet, as the readings from John remind us in these last weeks of Lent, Jesus Christ is the  source of life for us and for our world. We cannot ignore him.

During this mission I became more convinced that the traditional goal of the Passionists is still vital: to preach the Passion of Jesus Christ. He is there on the Cross of Confusion and the Cross of Uncertainty and the Cross of Diminishment we are experiencing in our world. Our dreams of success are bursting. We need to put ourselves into the hands of a mysterious God as Jesus did.

How shall we fulfill that goal today? I wish I knew. But it will come to us.

“Is it all worthwhile, we ask in worldly wise? Yes!”


The Passion of Jesus

Wednesday evening: Mission at Plainville, CT

The writers of the gospels are like painters, not photographers. They tell stories of Jesus with their own purposes in mind. They tell them with great artistry and beauty. Even though they spoke languages that we may not understand, and their world is so different, we are moved when we hear them today.

Last Sunday we heard the story of the blind man given the gift of sight by Jesus, a dramatic story that involved the blind man’s parents, his neighbors, the pharisees and Jesus and his disciples, all interacting with one another. The story is told in John’s gospel with great skill.

The greatest story in the gospels is the story of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. That story would never have been written if Jesus had not recalled it to his disciples after his resurrection. When he appeared to them on Easter Sunday, “he showed them his hands and his side.” It was a story they wanted to forget.

But he reminded them of what happened to him, even though they want to forget it. The story was not to be forgotten; it was to be remembered. It was the first story of the gospels to be written. It’s a book of many lessons. The rest of the stories of the gospel cluster around this one.

At this evening’s service we listen together to the Passion of our Lord according to St. Mark.

Then we pray that the Lord whose presence continues in Bread and in us will show us his hands and his side and, like the disciples, we will  rejoice.

Learning to Pray

Last night at the mission I spoke about learning to pray. First of all, we have a gift for prayer. It’s a unique gift, like the face we wear. You can find some of the material I covered at

It’s a good summary of this important part of our lives. Take a look at it, if you have time. There’s a lot there.

Last night, I also spoke about Matthew’s gospel, which presents us with Jesus the Teacher. We’re neglecting the teaching role of Jesus today, I think, as we look on religion as outmoded, outdated, having nothing to say to us. Then too, the church has had its scandals, and they turn people away.

Matthew presented Jesus as a Teacher to counter the pharisees who, at the time he wrote (about 90 AD) were increasingly assuming the leadership of Judaism and claiming teaching aurthority. Matthew says to the church of his time, and to ours too, Jesus is the wise teacher who will always lead us to the mountain as his disciples and sit down with us and teach us.

I spoke of some of Jesus’ teachings in his Sermon on the Mount, especially his words against anger and forgiveness. As our times get worse, we get mad. Anger can be a good response, but it also can kill.

In the same way, we can become unforgiving. We need to have respect. Looking again is God’s way. We have to look again.

Jesus in Jerusalem

John’s gospel has Jesus coming to Jerusalem three times, while the synoptics present him on one journey to the Holy City. Beginning with the 4th week of lent, John’s accounts of Jesus activity in the city are read in church in the weeks before Easter; they feature his extensive dialogue with “the Jews,” in which he claims to be God’s Son. That claim is strongly rejected and leads to his death.

Most of these dialogues take place in the Jerusalem temple. Where in the temple? It seems in the Court of the Gentiles, which according to scholarly reconstructions was the largest area in the imposing structure Herod the Great built.

Besides his claim to be God’s Son, Jesus also claims to be sent to realize the prophecies that all nations are to come to this place where an area has already been assigned to them. Now, however, Jesus claims he is the new temple. All peoples will come to him.

I told the people at Mass this morning, about 60 were there, to look at the empty space in their beautiful church. It was there for people to fill and they have a mission to call them. Many in this neighborhood once were here; they need to be invited to come again. Others were never here; they need to be called too.

I mentioned the pope’s recent suggestion that every church have a “court of the gentiles” a place that welcomes the world. That may be a physical space or, more likely, a symbolic space. But more importantly, our churches should welcome outsiders. They belong here.

Living Waters

The church of Our Lady of Mercy, where I’m preaching a mission,  is a beautiful church, rather recently renovated. I thought it provided a wonder visual presentation for the first reading for today from Ezechiel, chapter 47. The prophet is promising a new temple and from its right side water flows out to all the world, giving life to the earth and all nations.

Jesus, of course, said he was the new temple.

The figure of Jesus hanging on the cross above the altar is pierced on his right side. John’s gospel says “blood and water flowed out” when the soldier pierced his side with a lance.

The altar receives his blood and the beautiful baptistery visually connected to the altar and the cross receives the water that flows from his side bringing life to the world.

I had to take of picture of that baptistery. It’s so good when the church’s symbols support the scriptures being read and the mysteries being celebrated.

The pope in his new book Jesus of Nazareth, part 2 has a nice treatment of Jesus as the new Temple.