Monthly Archives: March 2015

Mission in Marlboro

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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.

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)

Lord,

let me hear joy and gladness,

let the bones you have crushed rejoice…

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

The Annunciation of the Lord

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The feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, March 25, is nine months before Christmas, December 25. It’s an old feast celebrating the moment the Word of God became flesh in the womb of Mary. There’s an early tradition that claims Jesus also died on this day and so this day begins and brings to an end the Son of God’s earthly existence. Then, he rises to a new life.

If we consider the feast in this more expansive way, we can say that the Word not only became flesh, but dwelt among us. Recall how St. Paul described Jesus dwelling with us in his letter to the Philippians, read during  this feast.

Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Mary figures prominently in this mystery. “Be it done to me according to your word,” she says to the angel who announces God’s invitation to bring his divine Son into the world. Her involvement in the Incarnation doesn’t stop as the Word takes flesh in her womb. She is intimately involved in her son dwelling with us. Jesus is born and brought up as a child in her care. For most of his life he lives in Nazareth with Mary and Joseph before beginning his ministry in Galilee and then going to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

Mary had a great part in those first years of his life. When Jesus begins his ministry she only appears occasionally with him until the time he dies. The bond with her son is life long, though. She follows him, even to the cross.

John’s gospel sees Mary standing beneath the cross of Jesus with other women and the beloved disciple. In the other gospels the women who come up from Galilee stand at a distance watching. Though they don’t mention Mary, his mother, we naturally presume she was among them. She has a role in Jesus’ life even to the end.

So many of the sufferings of Jesus are described in Psalm 22, the psalm that provides a framework for the Passion narratives in the gospels. His physical sufferings are described vividly in the psalm, but other kinds of suffering are recalled too. The most prominent is a feeling of being abandoned by God and by those one loves.

We know the opening words of that psalm, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” But some lines later those words are rephrased: “Where is God who drew me forth from my mother’s womb and made me safe from my mother’s breast?” Do the words suggest that Jesus was looking for the comfort of his heavenly Father but also of his earthly mother?

I was talking recently to an experienced hospice nurse who said it was not unusual in her experience for those who are dying to look for loved ones, family members, particularly a mother, to be with them in passing from this life to the next. Was Jesus’ death different than ours? Yes, he was looking for his heavenly Father, but was he also looking for his earthly mother? And she was there, “Be it done according to God’s word.”

Monday, 5th Week of Lent

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Readings
The story of the woman accused of adultery takes place in the temple area during the Feast of the Tabernacles when Jesus proclaimed himself the light of the world and living water bringing life. His enemies fiercely disputed his claims. Did they introduce the woman to discredit him? Earlier, he said “As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just…” (John 5, 30) Here was a test.

Moses, according to the woman’s accusers, commanded she be stoned. What is his judgment?

From our perspective today adultery–which is still wrong–is not the only issue here.
Gender injustice is also at stake. The woman was treated badly by men. Where is the man in the case?

Then, Jewish religious law said that if a woman were caught in the act of adultery and two men witnessed it, she could be stoned to death or strangled. The system led to abuse, historians say; two witnesses paid by a vengeful husband or a husband who wanted to get rid of his wife, might give false testimony and have her stoned to death.

The Word made flesh brings a lens of justice and mercy to every age and in the temple that day, the woman received life and light from him. Her accusers also were struck by the judgment of Jesus. We believe he offers that same light for knowing what is right and just today to all of us.

From the time of his spiritual conversion as a young man, Paul of the Cross was particularly conscious of God’s grace enabling him to know himself. It made him see himself, his motives, his weaknesses. He called himself “a miracle of God’s infinite mercy.”

“During the day I had a special knowledge of myself. I know that I told my Divine Savior that I could call myself nothing other than a miracle of his infinite mercy.” (Diary, December 28)

Lord,
let me judge others with your eyes, your heart and your mind.
Help me work for a world that is right and just.
Give me the grace to know myself.

Words from the Cross

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Jesus spoke the language of his time and place, and so in his Passion he used the Jewish scriptures, especially the psalms, to speak of his suffering. In Mark’s gospel his only words on the cross are from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” It’s a cry of lament, one of the longest psalms in the psalter. The psalm is a window into Jesus’ thoughts and feelings as he suffered and died.

In the psalm we hear the voice of someone suffering so much that they feel abandoned by God. Life and hope seem gone, the blessings of God taken away, but still they hold on. The psalm ends with a cry of faith: “God did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out.”

The psalm is a vivid description of real, acute pain Jesus endured:

“Like water my life drains away;
all my bones are disjointed.
My heart has become like wax,
it melts away within me.
As dry as a potsherd is my throat;
my tongue cleaves to my palate;
you lay me in the dust of death.”

There’s no relief in his suffering, no comfort from the abuse of his enemies:

“ I am a worm, not a man, scorned by men,
despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they curl their lips and jeer;
they shake their heads at me:
“He relied on the LORD—let him deliver him;
if he loves him, let him rescue him.”

The love he knew all his life, from childhood and his mother’s womb, the respect he had from his years of his ministry, the warmth of God’s presence seem gone. Where is God, the psalm complains “ who drew me forth from my mother’s womb and made me safe from my mother’s breast?”

“They have pierced my hands and my feet
I can count all my bones.
They stare at me and gloat;
they divide my garments among them;
for my clothing they cast lots.”

It’s evident that the gospel writers later used this psalm to frame the story of the Passion of Jesus.

Paul the Apostle says in his Letter to the Philippians, that Jesus ” who was in the form of God, emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, and coming in human likeness and found human in appearance, he humbled himself becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross.”

Jesus became human, Paul says, even taking on the humanity of a slave dying on a cross. Far from being immune to suffering or the human experience of death, Jesus took on the darkest form of human experience: he became a slave on a cross.

Psalm 22 gives no answer for the suffering it describes. It says only that God does not abandon his creatures when suffering occurs, even suffering of the worst kind.

God does not abandon Jesus on the Cross, Paul tells the Philippians. He “ greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

In other words, God raised Jesus from the dead and glorified him. Again, there is no answer for suffering, but we have a promise in Jesus of resurrection. It’s the resurrection even of a slave on the cross. In Jesus’ death we’re assured that God is present to those who seem most abandoned. God’s love enters the most desperate circumstances and most unpromising situations.

“God so loved the world that he sent his only Son,” John’s gospel says.
Nothing in creation or humanity is abandoned by God, the creator. We know this because God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn it, but to save it and give it life.

We look at Jesus on the Cross, not just to take stock of his sufferings or mourn them; but to draw hope for ourselves and our world from them. This is a blessed mystery. We bend our knee before it and confess with our tongue, that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.

5th Sunday of Lent: Strengthening Signs

 

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


Our gospel today (John 12,20-33) is part of the Palm Sunday event, when crowds acclaimed Jesus by casting palm branches before him as he entered Jerusalem, crying “Hosanna to the Son of David.” We will celebrate that aspect of his entrance into Jerusalem next Sunday.

But this Sunday we enter into the mind of Jesus as he enters the city. He’s troubled as he enters the city, as well may he be. “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.”

He understands what’s going to happen to him. It’s a critical moment. Jerusalem’s religious establishment, resenting his words and actions, want to dispose of him. He has just raised Lazarus from the dead; his popularity is growing; he could easily topple the uneasy balance at a volatile time and place for the Jewish nation.

So he enters Jerusalem a marked man. But as he enters the city, he’s given a sign to strengthen him, a very simple sign. Some Greeks, pilgrims for the feast no doubt, approach Philip and Andrew and say, “We would like to see Jesus.” In their request and eagerness to meet him, Jesus sees the lasting fruitfulness of his mission on earth. “Like a grain of wheat I will fall to the ground and die,..”

The gospel of John is known for signs like this, signs that point to glory. They are signs that say it is not the end, but the beginning. The Greeks who come as Jesus approaches his death are like the Magi at his birth. They are people from afar, we don’t see what will happen by the coming, but they are the first of many. There will be consequences of their coming, People will come from the east and the west; they will come from centuries beyond his own.

Like a grain of wheat, he falls to the ground and dies, but his life and his death bring much fruit .

We ask the Lord to help us see signs like he saw, signs so small, like a grain of wheat, they may be missed.
Yes, signs are there in our lives, especially as we struggle. Sometimes it’s an outsider whom we never expected help from at all. Sometimes it’s something unexpected we never thought about before. Sometimes it’s as small as Bread, the Bread of the Eucharist, which tells us we shall be fed.
God works great wonders, but we know them most through simple signs: words, things, moments that seem like nothing but they tell us all will be well.

The Greeks who came to Jesus were like that. They told him all will be well.

Friday, 5 Week of Lent

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Readings

Jesus celebrated the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, John’s gospel says. (John 10,31-42) It’s a feast celebrated sometime in late November to late December and recalled the rededication of the temple after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd century BC.

John’s gospel looks at the Jewish feasts as signs that reveal Jesus and inspire his teaching and miracles. On the Sabbath, (chapter 5) he heals the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethsaida; the Son will not rest from giving life, since his 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 reveals himself as the light of the world and living water. On the Feast of the Dedication, he claims to be the true temple, who dwells among us and makes God’s glory known.

Once more in today’s gospel, Jesus proclaims his relationship to the Father “the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Yet, once more hostile listeners are blind to the signs and accuse him of blasphemy, trying to stone him or have him arrested. But Jesus evades them and goes to a place across the Jordan where John baptized. “Many there began to believe in him.”

Many signs are given to us– the scriptures, the sacraments, the witness of the saints. It would be 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.” ( St. Paul of the Cross, Letter 8)

Lead me on, O Lord,
Through your holy signs,
through them, let me come to you. Amen.