Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Abraham, The Unwavering Nomad

We call Abraham “Our father in faith” in our 1st Eucharistic Prayer. That’s because Abraham believed when God called him to leave his own land and go to a land he did not know. He believed in God’s call.

A pastoral nomad, sometimes settling down but then moving on. Abraham was on the move, on the way to a permanent home. That’s us too. Abraham trusted in God rather than in himself. As an old man, he believed God who said he would generate a child.

The great patriarch was tested. Faith grows through testing. Abraham’s greatest test came when God asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac.

My favorite reflection on Abraham is Jessica Power’s beautiful poem:

“I love Abraham, that old weather-beaten
unwavering nomad; when God called to him
no tender hand wedged time into his stay.
His faith erupted him into a way
far-off and strange. How many miles are there
from Ur to Haran? Where does Canaan lie,
or slow mysterious Egypt sit and wait?
How could he think his ancient thigh would bear
nations, or how consent that Isaac die,
with never an outcry nor an anguished prayer?

I think, alas, how I manipulate
dates and decisions, pull apart the dark
dally with doubts here and with counsel there,
take out old maps and stare.
Was there a call after all, my fears remark.
I cry out: Abraham, old nomad you,
are you my father? Come to me in pity.
Mine is a far and lonely journey, too.

Daily Reading, Daily Bread

Reading the scriptures daily and on Sundays in the lectionary is one of the great reforms begun by the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. It’s part of the church’s effort to seek renewal through the Word of God. But it’s going to take us awhile to get used to it.

For one thing, reflection on the daily and Sunday readings is a new way to reflect on our faith.  The scriptures are old and we live in a new world.  Pope Benedict, describing his own search for “the face of God” in scripture said you have to “trust” you will find it there.

We have to trust we will find God and enter God’s presence as we take up this daily discipline. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” God promises to speak today. The daily scriptures are daily bread, and they offer a varied diet. We go from Matthew, preoccupied with the tensions of his church with Pharisaic Judaism,  to Luke preoccupied with an outreach to the gentiles, to the other New Testament writings, each with its own purpose.

Then there are the varied readings from the Old Testament. They can be hard to understand, but the church wisely keeps them side by side with the New Testament. They hold a treasure all their own. We need to understand them better.

We need help to appreciate this daily bread, this varied diet served up. We need people like those people on the cooking shows on television who not only  tell you what to eat but make those strange dishes appetizing and appealing. We need good homilists and good catechists.

We need a “lamp, shining in a dark place.” So we ask: Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with your light.”

Saints Philip and James

We celebrate a feast of the apostles each month. Why? “Every family wants to find out how it began. We go back to the apostles because they were at the beginning of our church,” the early Christian writer Tertullian says. Today. May 3rd, we have two apostles together, Philip and James.

They’re celebrated together because their relics were placed side by side in the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Rome, when it was built in the 6th century. Philip was called by Jesus to follow him the day after he called Andrew and Peter, St. John’s gospel says. James, who is also called James the Less to distinguish him from James, the brother of John, was a cousin of Jesus who later became head of the church in Jerusalem and was martyred there in the year 62.

On a feast of an apostle you expect to hear one or more of his heroic acts or wise sayings, but in today’s reading from St. John’s gospel for the feast of these saints we hear instead an apostle’s clumsy question. During his Farewell Discourse, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.”

“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Philip says to Jesus, which brings an exasperated response from the Lord:

“Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.”

The gospels continually picture Jesus’ apostles as slow, uncertain, fearful–even ready to betray him. Philip isn’t the only one who can’t fathom the message or person of Jesus.

Called by Jesus, they’re human. Their humanness and slowness makes us realize where the power of our church comes from. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us be the glory!” The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ.

Light in Darkness

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The Easter readings tell us  Jesus Christ is the light of the world, who shines in our darkness. Mary comes to the tomb while it’s still dark. The dark of evening comes as the disciples hide in the Upper Room. The disciples fish all night, in the dark, and catch nothing. Then, Light comes.

Listen to Maximus of Turin’s reflections on Jesus Christ, “Light from Light.”

“Yes, we have the light of Christ, but it is a light that shines in darkness.  The light of Christ is an endless day that knows no night. Christ is this day, says the Apostle; such is the meaning of his words: Night is almost over; day is at hand. He tells us that night is almost over, not that it is about to fall… This is why John the evangelist says: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overpower it.

And so, my brothers and sisters, each of us ought surely to rejoice on this holy day. Let no one, conscious of his sinfulness, withdraw from our common celebration, nor let anyone be kept away from our public prayer by the burden of his guilt. Sinner he may indeed be, but he must not despair of pardon on this day which is so highly privileged; for if a thief could receive the grace of paradise, how could a Christian be refused forgiveness?”

I like sitting on the porch this morning watching the light come in the morning. It always comes, sometimes muted, sometimes bright and clear, but it always comes.

Today, the feast of St. Athanasius, I was thinking of the Word proclaimed by the heavens and the earth.

“When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,

…O LORD, our Lord,

how awesome is your name through all the earth!”

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The Easter Season: a School of Faith

Nicodemus

Nicodemus reminds us that faith doesn’t depend on how sharp our minds are or how many books we’ve read. Faith is God’s gift to us. We are all still in the school of faith.

On Friday of the Second Week of Easter we begin reading from John’s gospel about Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish near the Sea of Galilee. (John 6) There’s a lot of unbelief in the crowd that Jesus feeds, according to John. “Many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him,” . Besides those who radically reject Jesus’ claim to be the bread come down from heaven,  others appear to have little appreciation for this great sign. Commentators suspect this this section of John’s gospel may indicate there were troubles over the Eucharist and over the identity of Jesus in the churches John is writing for.

Most of the gospel readings for the last weeks of the Easter season are taken from the Farewell Discourse in John’s gospel. There too the disciples seem far from perfect. They’re fearful, they seem to understand Jesus so little. He calls them “little children,”  not far removed from the children making their Communion this season.

There are no perfect believers  in the gospels of our Easter season. Plenty of imperfect believers, like us, which tells us that faith is something to pray and struggle for. More importantly, they reveal the goodness of Jesus, who showed the wounds in his hands and his side to Thomas, who never dismissed Nicodemus to the night, who came to table with his disciples and fed them again, who called them “his own” and prayed that they would not fail.

We’re in a school of faith in the Easter season where the Risen Christ speaks to us in signs like water, bread and wine, words that promise a world beyond ours and teach us how to live in our world today.  He is our Teacher and Lord.

Resurrection Thinking

On February 11, 2012 the Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright, a highly regarded New Testament scholar, addressed the Conference of Italian bishops on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His theme was “Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” 1 Corinthians.  I found his thoughts on the  resurrection particularly interesting. The theme of the Italian bishops’ conference was “Jesus, our Contemporary.”

He begins with this challenging picture of the Risen Christ.

“ On the one hand, it is precisely because Jesus is risen from the dead that he is alive in a new, unique way; that he is able to be with us as a living presence, which we know in prayer and silence, in reading scripture and in the sacraments, and (not least) in the service of the poor.

“All those things he has promised us, and his promises do not fail. He is, in that sense, truly our contemporary. But at the same time, as our title indicates, in his resurrection Jesus stands over against us. He is different. He is the first fruits; we are the harvest that still awaits. He has gone on ahead while we wait behind.

“What is more, the meaning of his resurrection cannot be reduced to anything so comfortable as simple regarding him as ‘contemporary’ in the sense of a friend beside us, a smiling and comforting presence. Because he is raised from the dead, he is Lord of the world, sovereign over the whole cosmos, the one before whom we bow the knee, believing that in the end every creature will come to do so as well.

“It’s not enough that Jesus intervenes at the moment of our death. He is the Lord of creation.”

Wright says that our belief in Jesus as Lord of creation has been undermined by the thinking of the Enlightenment, which placed God (if God exists) beyond our world. We are the lords of creation, then. This life and all in it is in our hands to shape and control as we think best.

Our belief in the Risen Christ is influenced by this thinking, Wright believes. The only role we give to the Risen Lord is to save us from death and bring us to heaven. But he is Lord of Creation, present here and now. We must live in him today and continue his work, not in a heavy-handed way, but humbly as Jesus called for in his teaching on the beatitudes.

“This is how Jesus wants to run the world: by calling people to be peacemakers, gentle, lowly, hungry for justice. When God wants to change the world, he doesn’t send in the tanks; he sends in the meek, the pure in heart, those who weep for the world’s sorrows and ache for its wrongs. And by the time the power-brokers notice what’s going on, Jesus’ followers have set up schools and hospitals, they have fed the hungry and cared for the orphans and the widows. That’s what the early church was known for, and it’s why they turned the world upside down. In the early centuries the main thing that emperors knew about bishops was that they were always taking the side of the poor. Wouldn’t it be good if it were the same today.”

Do Not Cling To Me

“Do not cling to me.” Jesus says to Mary Magdalen in the Easter gospel. His words seem dismissive, but they’re not.

His resurrection was not the same as the resurrection of Lazarus his friend. When Lazarus came from the tomb they took the winding sheets from his body and saw immediately he was the same Lazarus they knew before. No doubt his sisters, Martha and Mary, embraced him and brought him home where he continued his life as before.

Living again, Lazarus did what he always did; he spoke, he ate, he thought as before. On the fateful week Jesus died, he sat at table with him and all recognized him as Lazarus who had died and came from the dark tomb after four days.

Eventually, he died again, as we all must do.

But when Jesus rose from the dead, he took on a new existence. He did not return to his ordinary life and he cannot die again. He was changed and became the first to enter a new life, a new world. He is “the first fruits” of those who die, scripture says; we are meant to follow him.

He goes before us. “Stop holding on to me,” he tells Mary, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go tell my brothers, ‘ I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

He does not dismiss Mary; he invites her to follow him.She does not follow him alone; she remains to tell others he is going forward to his God and their God. We will follow him.