Monthly Archives: October 2011

Following Jesus Christ: Monday Night– Oct 3

Following Jesus Christ in St. Matthew’s Gospel into the days of his death and  resurrection, we hope to learn from him. In a previous post,  we considered lessons Jesus taught as he began his last days.

He recognized that God was with him, even as he faced death.  “Thy will be done,” Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Galilee. “Thy will be done,” Jesus cried trembling as he faced death before his arrest that dark night in Jerusalem. God’s with you, he says to us, even in life’s darkest moments.

It’s a lesson we hope to learn. We welcome God’s will when life’s good, but find it hard to accept when times are bad. “My thoughts are above your thoughts, and my ways above your ways,” God says. God’s plans are often hidden, like seed in the ground or treasure in a field. We find God’s plan especially hard to understand in suffering and death.

And so, many today deny a plan of God exists in our world. If God exists–and some would say he really doesn’t– God is uninvolved in our world in any way. Some say there are no plans at work in our world at all; life is random, without rhyme or reason; everything just happens.

Or some say life is what I want it to be. I can make it happen, and there’s no point in looking for God’s will. I decide.

We believe God has a plan and his plan is for our good. God’s wills our good, even though it may sometimes be hard to see.

“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus before Caiaphas

After his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus is taken to “Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and elders were assembled,”  Matthew’s Gospel continues. What shall we learn here?

Caiaphas’ residence would be somewhere in Jerusalem’s Upper City where influential Jews lived. It was an area close by the Temple and Herod’s Palace, where Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor also resided when he was in the city. Jesus would be taken to that well-to-do area of the city.

Recently, archeologists have excavated some of the homes of Jewish officials in the Upper City and they’ve found  Roman style villas with courtyards and elegant furnishings. They would be among the red-roofed buildings seen in the model below of Jerusalem at the Israel Museum.

Jesus would be judged and sentenced to death, scourged and crowned with thorns in the Upper City. His followers would be few there,  unlike Bethany where we said previously  he had strong support. 

Matthew presents Jesus’ appearance before the Jesus leaders in dramatic form. Caiaphas probes his identity thoroughly in what is more of a cross examination than a court trial.  At the same time Jesus is being questioned, Peter the Apostles is also  questioned.  Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Peter strongly professed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, now just as strongly he denies he ever knew him.

The gospel invites us into this story to ask what we say.  For Caiaphas Jesus is a trouble-maker or maybe a religious fanatic. He and his friends are worried that Jesus might start a revolution endangering all  they held dear.

Who do we say Jesus is? If he’s only a healer, a teacher, a social revolutionary with delusions of grandeur, then he’s only  another innocent person victimized by powerful enemies. Is he only another human being?

But if he’s God’s Son, the face of God to us, then he’s tremendously important to us and to our world.  “Who is he?” “Who is this who suffers and experiences such humbling?” “Why?”  are new questions before us.  God is here, and attention must be paid. Jesus, God in human form, not distant or untouched by human circumstances, suffers and dies and lives and loves as we do.

“Tell us under oath whether you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”   Caiaphas asks Jesus.

“You have said it,”  Jesus answers.

Jesus who prayed in fear in the garden, who feels abandoned and alone, whose sweat falls to ground as the dark engulfs him is the face of God before us. Jesus who gave himself to his disciples in bread and wine, who knelt before them in the Supper Room and washed their feet is the face of God. He comes humbly before us that we might meet him unafraid.

With Peter, we say “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” With Thomas, we say, “My Lord and my God.”

Notice how Matthew’s gospel strongly asserts the reality of Jesus’ human experience  He really suffers, he really fears, he really knows our sorrows and pains, for he has borne them himself.   He does not “seem” to be human, he is human.

“Why did be come among us?” we ask. Because God who lives in light inaccessible, wishes to draw us into his light. Jesus who shares our human experience leads us into that light.

We remember the Passion of Jesus to grow in love of him. His Passion is a book to be read over and over,  always wise, always new, always true. It leads us to peace. From its pages we know a loving God wants to be near us.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of my community, called the Passion of Jesus the door into the presence of God. It invites us to approach God bravely, to enter God’s presence with confidence and then rest in the presence of the God who loves you.


As the Jewish leaders send Jesus off to Pontius Pilate, Matthew recalls the tragic end of Judas, who betrayed Jesus. “I have sinned in betraying  innocent blood,” the disciple says as he flings the 30 pieces of silver into the temple. What lesson can be draw from this event?

“His second tragedy,” Pope Benedict says of Judas,”is that he can no longer  believe in forgiveness. His remorse turns into despair. Now he see only himself and his darkness; he no longer sees the light of Jesus, which can illumine and overcome the darkness. He shows the wrong type of remorse; the type unable to hope, that see only its own darkness.” (Jesus of Nazareth, p 68)

Judas would not believe the story of the Prodigal Son. Such sadness hangs over the fate of Judas. We learn from the tragedy of Judas to believe in God’s forgiveness, even for the greatest sinner.

When you read Matthew’s  account of the Passion  notice the gradual silence of Jesus. As the hours go by, his words become fewer and fewer. He works no obvious wonders, no obvious cures. His own power seems to slip away leaving him more and more helpless, and his powerful enemies more in control.

In the garden, he prays a short troubled prayer, over and over: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not my will, but your will be done.”

He looks for the comfort of friends but finds none. They fall asleep and seem to not notice.  “Pray that you don’t enter temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” Jesus tells them.

His words are few before Caiaphas. Quick to answer false charges before, he says nothing to the false witnesses bringing charges against him.  Only when Caiaphas directly asks if he is the Messiah, the Son of God,  does Jesus answer: “ You have said so. I tell you from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Similarly, Jesus is mostly silent before Pilate. “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks him. “You say so,” Jesus answers. Then, he says no more.

He’s silent when the crowd calls for Barrabas; he has no words but cries of pain when the soldiers scourge him. He makes no response to their mockery as they lead him away to be crucified.

The only words he says towards the end in Matthew’s gospel–Mark’s Gospel also reports these words–  are the final words from psalm 22, which the evangelists quote in Aramaic, as well as Greek:  “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.?”

“It is not ordinary cry of abandonment. Jesus is praying the great psalm of suffering Israel, and so he is taking upon himself all the tribulation, not just of Israel, but of all those in this world who suffer from God’s concealment. He brings the world’s anguished cry at God’s absence before the heart of God himself. He identifies himself with suffering Israel, with all who suffer under “God’s darkness”; he takes their cry, their anguish, all their helplessness on himself–and in so doing he transforms it.” (Jesus of Nazareth, )

In the Passion of Jesus we find God as a companion, as “one like us in all things but sin.”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Following Jesus Christ: Sunday Evening October 2, 2011

Reading from the Gospel of Matthew this evening, we follow Jesus Christ from Bethany, the town where he stayed when visiting Jerusalem, to the Upper Room in the city where he celebrates the Last Supper, to the Garden of Gethsemane where he prays in deep distress and is identified by Judas with a kiss and arrested. We come to learn from him.

Our gospel reading begins.

When Jesus finished all these words,* he said to his disciples, “You know that in two days’ time it will be Passover, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they consulted together to arrest Jesus by treachery and put him to death. But they said, “Not during the festival,* that there may not be a riot among the people.”

Jesus is finished speaking, now his actions are his message. He calmly announces that he will be handed over “to be crucified.” The Jewish leaders also announce their plans, but the divine plan is far greater than theirs.  Their plan to eliminate Jesus because of the resurrection of Lazarus and Jesus’ symbolic action of cleansing the temple is based on political expediency–common enough in the world of politics– but it will serve  God’s greater plan.

God’s plan is there. It’s always there underneath, sometimes not seeming to be there at all, but it’s there. God’s plan is good, even though it’s goodness may be hidden. God’s plan is wise, even though it may not always seem wise. As he enters his Passion Jesus asks that “God’s will be done.”

This is an important  lesson Jesus would have us learn:  to trust in God’s plan and pray that “God’s will be done.” That’s what he did.

Notice that Jesus speaks “to his disciples,” in this passage. When Matthew’s gospel mentions disciples, it often means all those who will follow Jesus, not just those whom he called in his lifetime. So, he’s speaking to us as well as to them; we’re there in the stories we hear. We must recognize ourselves in the disciples who followed Jesus then.

A Gospel for Changing Times

Matthew’s gospel was written about the 80 AD, possibly in Galilee or Syria, where the followers of Jesus, mostly Jewish-Christians, were facing hard times. The temple and Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD and many Jews fled into Galilee and Syria to build up Judaism again. They saw the followers of Jesus as a fringe group opposed to Jewish restoration and they started to drive Christians out of the Jewish synagogues.

At the same time, gentiles were accepting the message of Jesus; Jewish Christians wondered what to do in changing times. Matthew gospel reminds them that God’s plan is at work underneath. Jesus recognized it in that uncertain time of his quick arrest,  his unfair sentence and brutal death.


BETHANY 19th Century

Bethany’s on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, about “two miles from Jerusalem” ( Jn, 11,18). It was Jesus’ home away from home. The town’s on the outskirts of Jerusalem,  up the road from Jericho and the Jordan Valley. I spent two week at the Passionist house in Bethany last November, and from the roof you can see down to the Dead Sea and the Judean desert. It’s the road Jesus would have walked to Jerusalem.

Bethany was the first place Galilean pilgrims came to as they approached the city to celebrate their feasts. They camped among the olive groves. They say the Mount of Olives was sometimes called the Mount of Galilee because of the many Galilean encampments there.

Martha, Mary and Lazarus welcomed Jesus to their home in Bethany. Along with his Galilean followers, they made Bethany a Galilee of believers.

Followers like them shouted “Son of David”  as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. They accompanied him in temple. They provided Jesus with a protective shield so that, even though the Jewish leaders wanted to put him to death, they were “afraid of the people.” That’s why the leaders welcomed Judas, an insider, who could lead them to Jesus ‘when there was no crowd present.” (Luke 22, 6)

The Anointing at Bethany.

Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,

a woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and said, “Why this waste? It could have been sold for much, and the money given to the poor.”

Since Jesus knew this, he said to them, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me.

In pouring this perfumed oil upon my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.

Amen, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken of, in memory of her.”

Bethany  Mk 14,3-9; Mt 26, 6-13, Jn 12,1-8

The meal Jesus had in Bethany in the house of Simon the Leper “six days before Passover” was a meal with friends who believed in him and supported him. Did Jesus make Simon clean? Martha, Mary and Lazarus were there. Martha served and Lazarus sat at table with him. Mary took costly ointment and anointed his head, according the Matthew. John’s gospel says he anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair,” and the room was filled with the fragrance.

Like her sister Martha, Mary believed in resurrection. She knows the danger Jesus faces. The ointment is a human attempt to ward off the ravages of death, but it’s also a sign of hope and love. “She’s preparing my body for burial; she will never be forgotten for this.” Jesus says.

The Bethany meal prepares for the resurrection of Jesus. After raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus goes forth to defeat death itself. His resurrection will be different from that of Lazarus, sitting beside him at table. Lazarus came from the tomb the same man who was  buried four days earlier, and he’ll die again. But the Risen Jesus will know a more complete resurrection and will not die again.

The meal at Bethany points to resurrection.  But a dark side is here too.  “Then one of the twelve, Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I betray him to you?’ And they gave him thirty pieces of silver.”

Judas isn’t alone at the meal in Bethany. He’s not an isolated villain. There are rumblings of doubt and disagreement from  “all” the disciples, as the woman anoints Jesus.  “They were angry and said ‘ Why this waste? This ointment could be sold for much and given to the poor.’”

The woman’s faith is much stronger than theirs. As the gospels note, the women who were considered weak were the strongest believers in him. Later, after Jesus is risen, his male disciples will not believe the women who announce “He is alive!” The women were disciples who believed, the gospels say.

The Last Supper

The Meal at Bethany describes the love of a woman.  The Last Supper is about the love of Jesus for his weak disciples.

“His appointed time” had come;  Jesus  chooses to eat this supper at the time and place God gives him. The Passover Feast is near. We don’t know exactly where they ate the Last Supper, but a reliable early tradition says it was on Mount Zion, near the present location of the Cenacle. That puts the supper room close to the Jewish temple, and the time of the meal approximately before the time when the lambs for the Passover were to be slaughtered nearby.

At table Jesus becomes the new temple, the new presence of God in this world, the Lamb of God, replacing the temple sacrifices with the sacrifice of himself. He would would offer himself to his Father through the signs of  bread and the wine, which we take and eat and drink. How closer could God come to us than this?

Later, at his trial before the Jewish leaders, witnesses say he threatened to destroy the temple and rebuild it. His mission was not to destroy the temple, however, but to replace it as the Presence of God among us. Matthew’s gospel gives a condensed account of the Last Supper, reducing it to its essentials.

Matthew 26, 26-30

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.”* kThen he took a cup, gave thanks,* and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.”

Just as at the meal in Bethany, the disciples hardly understand this mystery of love.

From the Supper Room Matthew’s gospel takes us to Gethsemane and as disciples we enter the story.   “Then, Jesus came with them to the place called Gethsemane and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” Then, three disciples accompany Jesus deeper into the garden; we are to look on from our distance.

“My soul is sorrowful even to death.* Remain here and keep watch with me. ”He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father,* if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”

The Mount of Olives was a place of prayer in Jewish tradition. King David went thee to pray after his betrayal in the city by his son Absalom. Jesus, the Son of David, now goes  to pray on this mountain. Across the valley, he could see the temple of God and the walls of Jerusalem. He wept over these places before from this mountain.

Here Jesus faces death as all of us do, and he experiences it in all its force. The disciples fall sleep, and so he loses all  human support. His death comes, not from old age, or a chance accident, but from human injustice and malice. His death will be death of the worst kind.  Prostrate on the ground, emptied of everything, alone, he prays to his Father that this cup pass from him and  yet “not what I will, but what you will.”

By entering the mystery of death, Jesus changed death forever.

We wonder where death comes from. We want to live. But in death we seem to lose life and everything we know and love. Even God seems to abandon us at death. “My God, my God, why have your abandoned me?” Jesus says from the cross.

St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Chapters 4-5)  connects death with sin. Death is where we experience our distance from God and from the life that God gives. That’s also what sin does.

And so, when Jesus comes as our Savior and Redeemer, he comes to save us from sin and death. He enters that the same dark moment that we experience; he fears it as we do; and he changes to a moment of salvation.  “Dying, you destroyed our death; Rising, you restored our life.”

We believe that Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, is with us when we die. He experienced that same mystery we experience. He is there at that moment as our merciful Lord, who welcomes poor sinners like ourselves.

Let’s not forget the disciples in this account. They remind us of ourselves. They are not  onlookers. Jesus calls them to pray with him, for they’re facing trials too. As disciples, we must pray too. Jesus prayed for heavenly strength, more so must we pray, or else or we can fail  when trials come.

The drowsiness, the sleep of the disciples, a sign of their forgetfulness of this mystery is a sign of our forgetfulness too. “Stay awake!” Jesus says in the gospel.

“Nowhere else in sacred Scripture do we gain so deep an insight into the inner mystery of Jesus as in the prayer on the Mount of Olives.” (Benedict XVI}

Sunday Night at Mission

Tonight, we are going to visit three important events in the life of Jesus, which I notice  are pictured in the windows of the church here in St. Clement’s, Matawan.


They are all found in St. Matthew’s Gospel:


  1. The Supper at Bethany
  2. The Last Supper
  3. The Agony of Jesus in the Garden.


Here are pictures of two of the windows.


Mission: St. Clement’s Parish, Matawan-Aberdeen, NJ

We know from the gospels that Jesus used examples from his time to speak to the people of his day. Today’s readings tell us that.  Since Jesus lived most of his life in Galilee in northern Palestine, and most of the people he preached to were farmers who made their living on the land or fishermen fishing the sea, Jesus talked to people about fishing and their farms and vineyards and planting seeds.

So how would he speak to us now?  Would he Google the place?

I’m here for your parish mission for the next three days. Tonight, tomorrow night and Tuesday night at 7:30 PM.  I googled “Matawan” for information about your town, or borough, to use the right word, and Wikipedia said there are about 9,000 people here in Matawan. in a space of 2.3 square miles. The median age about 36.

In a New York Times article last year entitled 2 Lakes, the Shore and a Train to the City  the writer said that Matawan was a good place to live, to bring up kids,  close to the train, close to the shore, close to the water. The statistics say you’re more prosperous here than other parts of the country, but the 2000 census did say that 5.5 of your population were below the poverty line. I’d guess that might be greater these days.

Now, I don’t think that Jesus, if he came here to talk to you, would go on a lot about statistics. The gospels say he urged people to be grateful to God for what they had.  Don’t forget God who gave you everything; God should be at the center of your life.

Be like your Father in heaven, aim high. Live a grateful life and love the way God loves.

The gospel also says that Jesus was not someone who was always calling people out. He saw the heartbreak, the sorrow, the sickness, the pain that’s present in everyone, no matter where they live. He saw sinners. Sinners are those who get life wrong. He spent a lot of time with them. He’s God’s face for us to see.

For the next few evenings I’ll be using the Gospel of Matthew to follow Jesus Christ through the last days of his life and his appearances as Risen from the dead. These are the most important parts of the gospel.  We’ll  follow him as disciples, which means we’ll learn from him, our teacher and Lord, how to live today from the way he lived yesterday.  I’ll go slowly through the scriptures step by step, so if you come to these evening sessions might be good to bring a bible along.

I hope this mission helps us to appreciate Jesus Christ and give us a greater appreciation for the scriptures that speak of him. In our church today, the scriptures have become our catechism and our prayerbook.

But you know as well as I that many don’t read the scriptures much or understand them too.

An article in a recent issue of the Jesuit magazine, America, ( discussed the way American Catholics read the scriptures. Actually, they don’t read them much or know much about the writings we call the Word of God, the author, Brian B. Pinter, says. Also, Catholics who do read the scriptures, may read them literally, like fundamentalists. But the Pontifical Bible Commission in 1993, Pinter points out, warned that  “Fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide.”

Last summer the pope urged Catholics to take up and read the scriptures. It wasn’t a pious wish, he was dead serious. The scriptures are the Word of God that nourish our faith and help us know God’s will.

A couple of weeks ago was catechetical Sunday, when parishes began their religious education programs for the year. Most of these programs are for our young people.  But you know religious education involves more than young people. All of us are called to grow in our faith and live what we believe.

Unfortunately, adults may think that faith is something you learn as a child in school or in a religious education program and you never have to learn about it again.

The Catholic writer Frank Sheed once said the problem with adult Catholics is that they don’t keep engaged in the faith they learned as children. He used the example of our eyes. We have two eyes. Let’s say one of them is the eye of faith; the other is the eye of experience.

As children, in religious education we may  see the world with two eyes; but as adults we may see the world only with the eye of experience. And so we lose the focus that faith gives, another dimension. We won’t see right. Faith helps us to see.

“You are all learners,” Jesus said. It’s not just children who learn, all of us learn. We are lifelong learners. Lifelong believers, engaged believers, struggling believers, even till the end.

So, I invite you to our mission this week as lifelong learners. Some of you may not be able to make it, but let me make a deal with you. How about doing a little online learning? I have a blog on the web called “Victor’s Place.” I’ll put up some material from our mission every day, starting with this homily. If you can’t get here yourself, or have a neighbor who wont darken the church door, or have a daughter in California who’s not going to church, take a look at “Victor’s Place.”

You saw me bring up a cross at the beginning of Mass and put it next to the pulpit. That was to remind me and to remind you that Someone Else is here speaking during these days of mission. The Lord is with us. He wants to speak to us here in this place where 9,000 people live, a place of  “2 Lakes, near the Shore and a trainride to the City.”

The mission services, a short catechesis, a longer reflection on the scriptures, hymns, prayers and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament will be about 1 hour. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday Nights at 7:30.

I’ll be celebrating the morning Masses on Monday and Tuesday at 8 AM  and preaching a short homily. Afterwards I’ll be available for confessions.

Fr. Victor Hoagland, CP

mission poster 2