Tag Archives: lenten season

Two Feasts for Tired Missionaries

The Passionists celebrate two feasts immediately before Ash Wednesday. Last Friday it was the Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ. On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the Prayer of Jesus in the Garden.

My intuition is that both feasts come from our missionary founder, St. Paul of the Cross, who spent lent for many years preaching in the villages and towns of the Tuscan Maremma, announcing the graces the lenten season promises.

It was a challenge. The Tuscan Maremma was a place where grace and good news seemed gone. An area in Central Italy facing the Mediterranean Sea of almost 2,000 square miles– roughly the size of Long Island and New York City together– it was the poorest, most troubled part of Italy in Paul’s day. Only gradually, towards the end of the 1700s, after his death, did it begin inching towards recovery.

St.PaulCross.017

The Tuscan Maremma is now a popular tourist destination; then it was an unhealthily mix of hills and swamplands. Malaria was widespread, roads were often impassible, dangerous because of bandits. Farmlands were abandoned; beggars were everywhere. The population in isolated villages and hill towns suspected outsiders.

Paul and his companions preached there for many years. Every year it was the same; it never seemed to change. You need other eyes and another kind of heart to work in a world like that and not get tired.

And so as they packed their bags for their lenten journey into the Tuscan Maremma they had to remind themselves what was there before them: the mystery of the Passion of Christ. They needed to pray so they wouldn’t forget. That’s what Jesus did before the mystery of his Passion.

It’s still so today. These are two feasts for tired missionaries.

We Have Signs

In today’s lenten reading at Mass from John’s gospel (John 10,31-42), Jesus goes to Jerusalem for another feast, the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple. It’s a feast celebrated sometime in late November to late December, recalling the rededication of the temple after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd century BC.

The Jewish feasts are signs in John’s gospel that reveal 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 (chapter 7-9)  he calls himself the light of the world and living water. On the Feast of the Dedication, 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.”

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!

“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.” ( Letter 8)

Lead me on, O Lord,

Through your holy signs,

through them, let me come to you.

Jesus in the temple

The temple in Jerusalem where Jesus often speaks these last few weeks of Lent has a significant place in Jewish prayers. For example, Psalm 24, from our morning prayer today.

 

The earth is the LORD’S and all it holds,

the world and those who live there.

For God founded it on the seas,

established it over the rivers.

Who may go up the mountain of the LORD?

Who can stand in his holy place?

“The clean of hand and pure of heart,

who are not devoted to idols,

who have not sworn falsely.

They will receive blessings from the LORD,

and justice from their saving God.

Such are the people that love the LORD,

that seek the face of the God of Jacob.”

Lift up your heads, O gates;

rise up, you ancient portals,

that the king of glory may enter.

 

Who is this king of glory?

The LORD, a mighty warrior,

the LORD, mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O gates;

rise up, you ancient portals,

that the king of glory may enter.

Who is this king of glory?

The LORD of hosts is the king of glory.

The temple was not considered a world apart from ours to the Jews but a place where God the Creator was present, who is always at work recreating the world. So this psalm begins by recalling that the earth is the Lord’s who founded it on the seas and established on the rivers. We know little about the temple’s ornamentation, but it would not be surprising to find it ornamented with symbols of the earth.

In our churches the great signs of the earth are bread and wine.

The temple was a place of blessing, where hearts and hands were blessed to take part in the Creator’s glorious work.

Yet, creation has a destiny beyond the form it has now, and that destiny is also signified in the temple. “This temple has two parts, one is the earth we inhabit, the other is not yet known to us mortals .” (St. John Fisher)

Given its importance, it’s understandable why Jesus spends so much time in the temple, according to John’s gospel. As the Word of God, he is the one “through whom all things were made.” He is the one who lifts up this world to a destiny “not yet known to us mortals.”

 

 

 

The Courtyard of the Gentiles

Last week Pope Benedict addressed people attending the opening of the Courtyard of the Gentiles before the great cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. It’s a space he hopes will be created throughout the world before our important Christian buildings to meet the world which Jesus invites into his temple. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Benedict sees the incident of Jesus cleansing the temple as a symbolic preparation for the entrance of the Gentiles to this holy place. “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his truth and we may walk in his ways.” Isaiah 2, 2-5  Here are the pope’s words:

“I am grateful to the Pontifical Council for having taken up and extended my invitation to open a number of “Courts of the Gentiles” within the Church. This image refers to the vast open space near the Temple of Jerusalem where all those who did not share the faith of Israel could approach the Temple and ask questions about religion. There they could meet the scribes, speak of faith and even pray to the unknown God. The Court was then an area of separation, since Gentiles did not have the right to enter the consecrated area, yet Jesus Christ came to “break down the dividing wall” between Jews and Gentiles, and to “reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility in himself”. In the words of Saint Paul, “He came and proclaimed peace…” (cf. Eph 2:14-17).

At the heart of the “City of Light”, in front of the magnificent masterwork of French religious culture which is Notre Dame, a great court has been created in order to give fresh impetus to respectful and friendly encounter between people of differing convictions. You young people, believers and non-believers alike, have chosen to come together this evening, as you do in your daily lives, in order to meet one another and to discuss the great questions of human existence. Nowadays many people acknowledge that they are not part of any religion, yet they long for a new world, a world that is freer, more just and united, more peaceful and happy. In speaking to you tonight, I think of all the things you have to say to each other. Those of you who are non-believers challenge believers in a particular way to live in a way consistent with the faith they profess and by your rejection of any distortion of religion which would make it unworthy of man. Those of you who are believers long to tell your friends that the treasure dwelling within you is meant to be shared, it raises questions, it calls for reflection. The question of God is not a menace to society, it does not threaten a truly human life! The question of God must not be absent from the other great questions of our time.

for full text.

Be interesting to have a Court of the Gentiles before all our Christian institutions.

The Man Nobody Helps

Jn 5:1-16

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate

a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.

In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.

One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there

and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,

“Do you want to be well?”

The sick man answered him,

“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool

when the water is stirred up;

while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”

Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

Now that day was a sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.’“
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a sabbath.

Tuesday, 4th week of lent

It’s interesting to compare the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethesda with the official in the previous story from John’s gospel who came from Capernaum to Cana in Galilee seeking a cure for his son. Obviously, the official had standing in the community where he lived. He knew how to get things done and came intent on getting Jesus to do something for him. He’s a resourceful man.

The paralytic at Bethesda, on the other hand, seems utterly resourceless. For 38 years he’s come to a healing pool– archeologists identify its location near the present church of St.Anne in the city– and he can’t find a way to get into the water when it’s stirring. He’s paralyzed; too slow, and he doesn’t know how to get anybody to help him. He doesn’t approach Jesus, but Jesus approaches him.

“Do you want to be well?”

Instead of lowering him into the water, Jesus cures the paralyzed man directly and tells him to take up the mat he was lying on and walk.

Through it all, the man has no idea who cured him until Jesus makes himself known later in the temple area. He’s slow in more ways than one.

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in this world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God,” St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

Here’s one of the weak, the lowly, the nobodies God chooses, and he wont be the only one..

The Finger of God

Lk 11:14-23

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,

and when the demon had gone out,

the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself,
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

(thursday, 3rd week of lent)

Talk of devils and demons and the miracles of God, so common in the bible, sounds strange to people today, especially in the western world. We prefer seeing other forces at work when something remarkable happens, as it did to the man who couldn’t speak. Some natural cause was at work–maybe the power of suggestion; whatever it was, we’ll discover it. We find it hard to see “the finger of God” causing miracles today.

Miracles of healing were among the signs that established the identity of Jesus among his early hearers, but they were not the only signs.

‘Listen to what I have to say to you about Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonder and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know,” Peter says to the crowds in Jerusalem after Pentecost. But the apostle goes on from these signs of Jesus’ ministry to the culminating sign of his death and resurrection.

“You crucified and killed him by the hands of those outside the law, but God raised him up…”(Acts 2.22-23)

No human power can explain this mystery, surpassing all others. Bearing  all human sorrows– the sorrow of the mute, the deaf, the paralyzed, the possessed, the dead, the sinner far from God– Jesus gave himself into the hands of his heavenly Father on the altar of the cross. And he was raised up, to give his life-giving Spirit to the world.

Some deny this sign too. but it’s great sign that we celebrate this holy season.