Monthly Archives: March 2012

Palm Sunday

The Gospel of Mark, the first of the Gospels to appear in written form, presents Jesus going to his death in utter desolation, draining the cup of suffering given him by his Father.

His enemies viciously reject him; his disciples mostly betray him 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?”

As we read this Gospel, taut and fast-paced, we share with Jesus the dark mystery of unexplained suffering that all of us face in life. Yet, this mystery leads to life, a risen life. The desolation Jesus experienced takes many forms, some quite hidden from what people see. Yes, the cross can mean physical pain, but suffering may also come from spiritual and psychological situations.

Jesus reveals that God can be found even here: “In Mark’s account, Jesus dies with a wordless scream that echoes from that dread hill, splitting the veil of the temple and igniting faith in the centurion’s heart. This unlikely witness sees in the manner of Jesus’ death for others the true revelation of God. The sight of the Crucified Jesus triggers in him the full first confession of faith expressed in the gospel: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (15:39). A startling revelation–God’s power revealed not through staggering prodigies but in a selfless death motivated by love.” Donald Senior, CP

 Donald Senior’s beautiful account of Mark’s Passion narrative can be found here.

Here’s Rembrandt’s account of the Crucifixion.

Jewish Feasts as Signs

Jesus came again to Jerusalem for another feast, the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple, John’s Gospel read in as today’s Lenten reading says. It’s the Hanukkah feast celebrated sometime in late November to late December, recalling the rededication of the temple after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century BC.

In John’s Gospel the Jewish feasts are signs revealing 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 (chapters 7–9) he calls himself the light of the world and living water.

On the Feast of the Dedication, (chapter 10,31-42) 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.” He will return to Jerusalem to raise Lazarus from the dead. (chapter11)

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! Follow the feasts and let them speak to us.

Ponce de Leon

Just down the road from Immaculate Conception Parish here in Melbourne Beach is a small park on the beach commemorating the spot where the Spanish explorer and 1st Governor of Puerto Rico, Ponce de Leon (1475-1521) touched down in Florida in April 2, 1513. He came with three ships and over 200 crewmen, looking for gold and new land for Spain–not for the  “Fountain of Youth” as later legend claimed.

He called the land “Florida” because it was the Easter season, in Spanish “Pascua florida,”  “Easter of the flowers.”

There’s going to be a big celebration here next April, 2013, 500 years after his arrival.

Certainly, that day brought grief to the native peoples, many of whom suffered death and enslavement at the hands of the newcomers. The Spaniards who came were battle-hardened veterans of the recent triumphant campaign against the Moors and they used the tools of war to get their way.

So what’s to celebrate? Can we say this was in God’s plan that his kingdom come through Jesus Christ. The conquerors were Christians who came here, and  like their Jewish predecessors who invaded Canaan from the Sinai desert centuries ago,  they came by way of the sword. Unfortunately, we learn the teachings of Jesus slowly, “Put your sword into its place, for those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.”

Religion, in spite of what many think, looks to the future more than the past. It’s about what is to come and how we can get there. Our nation is dedicated to Mary, under the title of her Immaculate Conception. She was free from the sin that marked her ancestors and ours. The dedication expressed a hope that this new land be unmarked by the old rivalries, ambitions and sins of the Old World.

That hope may still be unfulfilled, but it’s interesting that close by the site where Ponce de Leon came ashore, where the 500th anniversary celebration will occur next Easter, is the Church of the Immaculate Conception, dedicated to the humble woman who carried no sword.

Can our Catholic faith offer that noble hope for the years to come?

Resurrection Thinking

I spoke today, the final day of  our mission at Immaculate Conception Church, Melbourne Beach, Florida, about the mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus, a crucial mystery of our faith. Each of the gospels presents it in its own way. Here’s a summary from a previous blog of mine.

A recent presentation on the Resurrection by Bishop Wright, the Anglican bishop of Durham, to the Catholic bishops of Italy, is particularly interesting. I put it on my blog last month.

I began my presentation talking about Harold Camping’s prediction from last spring that the world was going to end on May 21, 2011. It didn’t, of course. But Harold’s thinking probably reflects the widespread gloom in our western world, in particular, about where the world is heading.

Our belief in the Risen Christ affects the way we see our church, ourselves and our world. We learn from this mystery to trust in the Risen Christ who King of all creation, our Way, our Truth and our Life. We need Resurrection Thinking.

Here’s a visual meditation on the Passion of Jesus from Rembrandt:

Always There

Once again, our lenten gospel for today reports what Jesus said in the temple area during the Feast of Tabernacles. His urgent words address especially those who oppose him. The time is short; the Light that guides the world has appeared, but Jesus “is going away” and those who reject him will die in their sins.

We’re not detached observers of a time long ago, as we listen to this Gospel, watching others challenged to believe. The challenge is not just to someone else; we’re challenged ourselves to answer the question: Who is Jesus Christ? He is “I AM,” a divine title his enemies find blasphemous, but believers find true.

In Hebrew it means “He who is always there.” Later in John’s Gospel, Thomas bows before Jesus and says “My Lord and my God,” for he recognizes that the One lifted up on the cross is indeed “IAM.”

An interesting title for God, isn’t it? “Always there.” Another way of saying the “Eternal One” perhaps, but “Always there” puts it in another way. “Always here” “Always present” “Always powerfully present.”

Our Gospel calls us to reverence the One lifted up on the Cross as the days of Holy Week approach. He is “I AM,” true God, sent by the Father, “who so loved the world that he sent his only Son.” And he will always be there.

 

Lord Jesus Christ,

Draw me to your cross

and show me your wounds, your bitter death,

your triumph over the tomb.

God with us, always there,

God who loves us so much,

keep me in mind of you,

save me from forgetfulness.      Amen.  .

Immaculate Conception Parish: Mission–Monday

Jesus of Nazareth

Following up on the pope’s remarks about the blurred picture of Jesus we have today, here are some reflections on what we know about Jesus today. I’m offering these reflections at our parish mission:

“Tell me the landscape where you live and I’ll tell you who you are.” (Ortega y Gasset)

Thanks to recent archeological discoveries and historical studies we know more about the land where Jesus lived and the ancient texts of the bible than has been known for centuries. These new resources help us know Jesus Christ.

New editions of the bible like the New American Bible Revised Edition and the New Jerusalem Bible Revised Edition (both Catholic sponsored) make use of these resources.

We know more about Galilee, the northern part of Palestine where Jesus lived most of his life, than we knew before. He grew up and was raised by Mary and Joseph in the Galilean hill town of Nazareth, the gospels say. Extensive excavations have gone on in Nazareth, today the busy capital city of modern Galilee.

After his baptism by John in the Jordan River Jesus made his home in the Galilean town of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee–also extensively excavated in recent times. From there, he visited the small Jewish towns scattered nearby in the fertile plains and mountains, teaching in their synagogues, healing and performing extraordinary signs. New historical studies tell us much about Jewish life in these places.

In Galilee Jesus proclaimed the good news that God’s kingdom was at hand. He used images from this land, like the seed and the sower, in his preaching as well as the scriptures he knew so well. Today Galilee still offers a picture of the land as he knew it.

“After John had been arrested,

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:

‘This is the time of fulfillment.

The kingdom of God is at hand.

Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”  Mark 1

Under the rule of Herod Antipas, Galilee during Jesus’ public ministry was dotted with important cities like Tiberias, Bethshan, Sepphoris, and the seaport of Caesarea Maritima, all with large gentile populations. Matthew’s gospel calls it the “Galilee of the gentiles.” Hardly the backwater land once thought, the region was an important provider of food for the Roman world.

The gospels suggest that Jesus avoided these important Galilean cities. Instead, he saw himself sent first to the “children of Israel,” although  he occasionally performed cures for some gentiles, like the Syro-Phoenician woman who sought him out and the Roman centurion whose servant was sick in Capernaum.

The arrest and execution of John the Baptist by Herod may have been a practical warning about the danger of places where the powerful lived.

After his baptism in the Jordan River by John, Satan told Jesus to reveal himself in a spectacular way in the temple of Jerusalem, the religious center of Judaism; some disciples urged him to go there too.  However, Jesus made Peter’s simple home in Capernaum his home and from there brought his message to Jews and some non-Jews who lived on Galilee’s farmlands and fished in the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth and his ministry was mainly in Galilee, but he customarily celebrated Jewish feasts, like the Passover, in Jerusalem. Visiting the Holy City, he likely camped among the olive groves that surrounded Bethany, where other pilgrims from Galilee stayed.  He had friends in Bethany– Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, and also some friends in the city itself.

His visits to the temple at Jerusalem became more significant as the years passed. Even at twelve, he began to dialogue in the temple courtyard with the rabbis who marveled at his questions and answers; he spoke of the temple as “my Father’s house.” (cf. Luke ) After his baptism in the Jordan his dialogue with the rabbis sharpened and the claims he makes about his relationship with his Father increased.

John’s gospel, which we read extensively in the last weeks of Lent, offers some of his exchanges in the temple courtyard about his relationship with his Father. The scriptures and the prophets testify to him, he says. (John 5,31-47  Thursday 4th wk) “I am from him, he sent me.”  (John 7,1-30 Friday, 5th wk) “ Just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.” ( John 5,17-30 Wednesday, 4th wk)  “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize I AM.” (John 8,21-30Tuesday, 5th wk ) His divine claims were violently opposed by the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem.

The gospels, especially Luke’s, emphasize Jesus’ love of people. He reached out to those in need; he welcomed women as well as men to his company. His acceptance of outcasts like tax collectors and sinners brought him criticism from others. When John’s disciples asked him “Are you the one who is to come?”  he replies, “Tell John what you see and hear: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead rise, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. “

“Come to me all you who are weary and I will refresh you, for I am meek and humble of heart,” he said, and he urged his followers to also welcome the weary: the sick, the prisoner, the homeless, the naked, the hungry needing refreshment.

He taught that God should be loved above all and we should love our neighbor as ourselves. He said we should forgive those who have offended us, because God forgives our offenses. He told us to pray to God thankfully and ask for what we need.

People listened to his teaching and knew that he lived what he taught himself.

After his resurrection, he appeared on a mountain in Galilee to his disciples and told them to go out to all the nations and preach the gospel, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  From the “Galilee of the gentiles,” he sent his disciples out to farthest corners of the earth.

Become like children, he said, because those with the spirit of the child belong in the kingdom of heaven.

According to St. Leo the Great, Jesus does not ask us to return to our play pens. We can’t do that. The spiritual child is

  1. free from crippling anxieties
  2. forgetful of injuries
  3. sociable
  4. wonders at all things.

Immaculate Conception Parish: Melbourne Beach, Fl

Today we began a parish mission in Immaculate Conception Parish, Melbourne Beach. I’m preaching at the Sunday Masses and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at Masses at 8 AM and 7 Pm.

Here’s the sermon at the Sunday liturgy.

“We would like to see Jesus”

In his remarkable books on Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict describes his own personal search for God as he follows Jesus through the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection. Jesus is the way to see the face of God. The pope, who spent most of his life as a theologian, understands especially how modern scholarship has influenced the way we see Jesus.

The figure of Jesus has become “more and more blurred” today by different interpretations of him, the pope says. For example, some say  that “Jesus was an anti-Roman revolutionary working–though finally failing–to overthrow the ruling powers.” For others, “ he was the weak moral teacher who approves everything and unaccountably comes to grief.” Jesus loves everybody and everything goes.

What we face today, the pope says, is widespread skepticism about our ability to know Jesus at all. “This is a dramatic situation for faith, because its point of reference (Jesus Christ) is being placed in doubt: Intimate friendship with Jesus, on which all else depends, is in danger of clutching at thin air.” The pope wrote his books on Jesus of Nazareth to affirm who Jesus is and what he means to us and to our world. They’re worth reading.

( Jesus of Nazareth, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Ignatius Press 2008,  foreward xi)

It’s true what he says, isn’t it? If you go into the religion section in a big book store like Barnes and Noble today, you face an array of books about Jesus Christ that see him in totally different ways. If you search the internet, you find the same situation. The figure of Jesus becomes “more and more blurred;” some wonder if we can see him at all. Then, of course, others say he’s totally irrelevant to our times and our lives.

That’s why today’s gospel (John 12,20-33)–part of the Palm Sunday event we’ll celebrate next Sunday– is so interesting. Let’s look at its context. Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead.  A crowd is ready to acclaim him by casting palm branches before him as he enters Jerusalem, crying “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Many of them see him as a political messiah, someone who is going to change the government and restore Judaism to its golden age. As his popularity grows, his enemies see him as a dangerous troublemaker in a volatile time and place. Jerusalem’s religious establishment has decided to kill him. Jesus, of course, sees death coming.

Even before he enters the Garden of Gethsemane, he’s fearful about what lies before him.

Just then, some Greeks approach Philip and Andrew and say, “We would like to see Jesus.” It seems like a minor thing, some Greeks requesting to see him, but John’s gospel loves simple signs like this, signs that point to something else, signs that point to glory.

The Greeks who come to Jesus tell us it’s not the end, but the beginning. They come as Jesus approaches his death, like the Magi who approached him at his birth. They’re people from afar; they’re the first of many, the promise that others will come from the east and the west, from centuries beyond his own.

And Jesus rejoices at their coming. At this crucial uncertain time, when so many misunderstand him, when so many oppose him, so many ignore him, these strangers want to see him.

He sees the lasting fruitfulness of his mission on earth. “Like a grain of wheat I will fall to the ground and die, but if I die I’ll bring much fruit.” “My soul is troubled now, yet what shall I say, “Father, save me from this hour. But it was for this hour I have come.” His Father gives him this sign to strengthen him.

The unnamed Greeks received an immense grace when they saw Jesus at this time. An immense grace can come to us when we see Jesus at a time like theirs, when we search for him and find him.

The Greeks see him as seed falling to the ground, as the one rejected by his own, as a suffering man who dies on a cross. Shall we join them?

Help us see signs like those you gave them, Lord,

Unexpected signs like the mystery of your cross,

Dark signs like a church in decline,

Small signs like Bread and Wine

And Words from an old Book.

We want to see you,  Jesus.