Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

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.

The Solemnity of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ

Today, March 25th, is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, the beginning of Jesus’ life in the womb of Mary. The Angel Gabriel came to Nazareth and invited Mary to become the mother of Jesus, who would “save his people from their sins.””Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,” Mary answered. On this day we celebrate the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. (John 1)

Today’s an important holy day that’s celebrated by all the ancient Christian churches from earliest times. It has links to other feast days. Today we celebrate Jesus conceived in Mary’s womb. Nine months from now, December 25, her pregnancy will end; we will celebrate the birth of Jesus on the feast of Christmas. 

Some ancient church calendars also saw today, March 25th. as the day Jesus was crucified. The day, then, marks the beginning and the end of Jesus’ earthly life. 

I remember a PBS special “What Darwin Never Knew” produced awhile ago by Nova. I don’t remember or understand a lot of the scientific material it contained, but its description of DNAs and embryonic development caught my attention.

According to scientists, embryos from different living beings–humans, animals, birds, fish– appear remarkably alike at an early stage of development, as if they were from the same source. Then, something triggers a different development in each species. Humans sprout arms and legs and begin human development.  Other species develop in their own way.

It’s a complex, fascinating path all living things take in their embryonic development. All creatures are on the same journey of life. All creation is on a journey to life.

“The Word was made flesh.” The Word of God became flesh in Mary’s womb. Early theologians, like St. Irenaeus, said the Word became truly human. He went through the same process of development within the womb as we do. After his birth he continued to develop “in wisdom and age and grace” as humans do. He faithfully followed the path of human development. 

The early theologians also said Jesus Christ assumed all that he would redeem. He took on himself human nature, but he also became “flesh” and took on himself the created world.  In his early embryonic journey Jesus Christ brought all creation to himself to redeem it.

“Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Elizabeth says to Mary.(Luke 1,42) The time Jesus was in her womb was blessed. Even then, the Word of God  promised redemption to another infant in the womb, Elizabeth’s son John, who leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb.  

The Feast of the Annunciation is a time to renew our respect for life, from its beginning to its end. It’s a time to remember Mary, the Mother of Jesus and her acceptance and her respect for the life in her womb. We pray for the grace she had, who said yes to bringing the Word of God into this world.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women ad blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.”

St. Joseph

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Readings

“Each year Jesus’ parents went up to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, and when he was twelve years old they went up according to festival custom.” Luke 2,41

At twelve, Jesus entered a new stage in life – his “Bar Mitzvah,” when he took on the responsibilities of the law, which later he summarized as: “Love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart…Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Who led him to that new stage? It had to be Joseph and Mary. Matthew’s Gospel gives Joseph a major role in Jesus’ birth. He provides Jesus with a genealogy going back to Abraham. He’s told by the angel not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife; he shouldn’t divorce her as Jewish law called for, and he should name the child, Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”

After the visit of the Magi, Joseph was directed to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Then, the angel tells him to return to Israel with them after Herod’s death. Finally, he makes a home in Nazareth in Galilee, where his family would be safer away from Herod’s heir, Archelaus, who ruled in Judea.

Clearly, according to Matthew’s gospel, Joseph is an important figure in the birth and early life of Jesus Christ. Then, he silently disappears from the gospels. There’s no record of his role at Nazareth or his death.

The gospel calls Joseph an “upright” man. He was upright because, like his neighbors at Nazareth, he observed all the Jewish laws. But not from lip service. Joseph firmly believed in his heart in the God of Israel, who loved all things great and small, yes, even Nazareth and a humble carpenter.

An inward man, Joseph saw in the simple, ordinary world about him more than others saw. His neighbor casting seed on the family field he loved – wasn’t God’s passionate love for the land of Israel like that? Even as he built a village house or a table, his thoughts sometimes turned to another world: was not God building a kingdom for his people?

An inward man, Joseph saw beyond the fields and mountains of the small town of Nazareth, but he said little about his inmost dreams to others. A quiet man, he kept his own counsel.

Jesus, the Son of God, was known through his earthly life as Jesus, the son of Joseph, “the carpenter’s son.” Growing up as children do, he naturally would acquire some of Joseph’s traits, perhaps the way he walked and spoke.

From Joseph, Jesus first learned about the people of the village, their sorrows and their joys. He saw his love for Mary and the people of his village. As a child Jesus learned from him how to use a carpenter’s tools and began to work at his side. The rabbis said: A father who does not teach his son a trade teaches him to steal.

The two were constant companions at the synagogue in Nazareth. Together they celebrated regularly the great Jewish feasts, listened to the Scriptures, and journeyed as pilgrims to Jerusalem.

Jesus must have seen in Joseph a simple, holy man who trusted God with all his heart. Someone like Joseph, so unassuming, so steady, so quietly attentive to God, was like a treasure hidden in a field. He could easily go unrecognized.

Later, would Jesus remember lessons and tell stories he learned earlier at Nazareth from Joseph, the carpenter?