Tag Archives: gospels

Martha Revisited

We listen to scholars who study the bible. Why not also to artists. Here’s  the 13th century Tuscan artist, Giovanni di Milano, looking into Luke’s gospel about  Jesus with Martha and Mary at Bethany.

The artist adds some delightful details of his own to Luke’s account. He’s let his imagination roam. The table’s set for four people. That would be Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

But, who are those others coming in the door?  Obviously, they’re Jesus’ disciples, led by Peter. One of them gestures towards Peter, as if saying, “He told us to come.”

Poor Martha in her apron holds up her hands, “What are we going to do?”

There will be no miracle, except the miracle of Martha’s hospitality.

More than four are going to be fed.

We need to read the gospels like this too.

Mother of Sorrows

Mary sorrow

We remember the sorrows of Mary on September 15th, the day after the church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. In John’s Gospel Mary stands bravely close to Jesus while others flee the dark happenings on Calvary. Standing beneath the cross of her dying Son was certainly her greatest sorrow.

Her sorrows were not confined to Calvary, however. They began earlier.  Early in Luke’s gospel, the priest Simeon in the temple, taking the Child Jesus in his arms tells Mary this child will cause a sword to pierce her heart. His words were etched in her mind as she left the temple holding her endangered Child. Fleeing to Egypt, she protected him in her arms. Later, she sought him anxiously when he was lost on a Jerusalem pilgrimage.

These were hardly all the sorrows she faced, though. What of her long waiting in Nazareth, not knowing all to expect? What of the years her Son ministered in Galilee, when he faced rejection even from his own family? What of the ominous journey to Jerusalem? Those years brought, not physical sufferings, but sufferings of another kind.

Mary’s sorrows were the sorrows of her Son. Mary’s cross was a daily one she bore day by day.  “O Lady Mary, thy bright crown is no mere crown of majesty. With the reflect of his own resplendent thorns, Christ circled thee.” (Francis Thompson)

Mary teaches us  that our sorrows, whatever they may be, reflect the Cross of Jesus. They will not crush us or beat us down; they lift us up to glory.

Irenaeus and the Gnostics

Many years ago I took a course on Gnosticism in Rome under Fr. Antonio Orbe, SJ, an expert on the subject. Gnosticism, an early heresy that threatened Christianity in the 2nd century eventually waned as a movement and its writings were destroyed. Until a large cache of gnostic writings was discovered recently in the sands of Egypt, most of what was known about the the gnostics came from the writings of St. Irenaeus, the bishop we honor today in our liturgy.

When I studied under Fr. Orbe, he was just back from Egypt and was busy deciphering a trove of gnostic writings. I remember an observation he made about St. Irenaeus.  He said he was struck by how accurately and fairly  Irenaeus reported  what the gnostics taught in his writings,  not distorting what they said or omitting their ideas. He was fair and respectful to friend and foe alike. He was a peace-maker.

Not a bad example for today when hot words and smear attacks, distortions and lies dominate our communications. Irenaeus was a peace-maker. Peace makers don’t destroy, they heal and unite. Blessed are they!

Ireneaus also respected the created world. wrote against the gnostic teachers of his day who claimed their wisdom was wiser than the gospels. He compared their teaching to the faith of “the great church,” the church all over the world. The widely-traveled Christian bishop knew that church; originally he came from Asia Minor, became bishop of Lyons in Gaul, visited Rome. He knew what Christians over the Roman world believed.He also knew what the new gnostics taught, and he wrote down their teachings in great detail in a book called:

A Lenten Journey with Jesus Christ and St. Paul of the Cross

I’ve been working on this book for two years now and it’s finally finished, in time for Lent. Christus Publishing from Wellesley, MA, a new publishing firm, asked me to write the book and I see they have it on their internet site today for sale. We’ll put it on Crossplace.com  ,our Passionist site for selling books and media, as soon as we can.

It gave me an opportunity to look again at St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, his spirituality and the community he founded. He was a great teacher of prayer, a gift we need today more than ever. He saw prayer as a gift given to everyone, and his letters to all kinds of people witness that conviction.

I appreciated the opportunity to write a short biography of the saint; I don’t think I copied others exactly. He lived in an interesting time, when the Enlightenment was pushing ahead in Europe, changing the worldview of the church and society. We’re still feeling its affects.

I read most of his letters while writing the book and was impressed by their earthiness. He was an earthy mystic who took people as they were and didn’t mind their darkness. I revised many of the present English translations of his writings for the book, perhaps for the better.

A recent exhibit at the Morgan Library in New York City featured the letters of Jane Austen. Letter-writing was the rage from the 18th century on and Paul of the Cross used this “new” communication to reach others. He would be using the new media today, I think.

I liked writing reflections for all the Lenten gospels for the book; the readings for Lent are indeed a treasure to be explored. Our catechesis and spirituality are becoming more biblically and liturgically based, and we need to see how a spirituality like that of  Paul of the Cross fits in to this new trend.

“From their place in heaven they guide us still.”