Tag Archives: Passion of Jesus

The Quality of Mercy

We’re reading from the Prophet Amos all this week at Mass. His message is “one of unrelieved gloom,” one commentator says, as he speaks  to 8th century Israel, the prosperous northern kingdom of his day.

God doesn’t like anything about it: “I hate, I spurn your feasts…I take no pleasure in your solemnities…Away with your noisy songs! I will not listen to the melodies of your harps.”

God can’t stand the songs they’re singing, the music they’re playing, their beautiful liturgies, because they show no justice towards the poor. So destruction awaits them.

But wait! This Saturday God turns in mercy to his people in one of Amos’ most beautiful passages:

“On that day I will raise up
the fallen hut of David;
I will wall up its breaches,
raise up its ruins,
and rebuild it as in the days of old…
Yes, days are coming,
says the LORD,
When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,
and the vintager, him who sows the seed;
The juice of grapes shall drip down the mountains,
and all the hills shall run with it.
I will bring about the restoration of my people Israel;
they shall rebuild and inhabit their ruined cities,
Plant vineyards and drink the wine,
set out gardens and eat the fruits.
I will plant them upon their own ground;
never again shall they be plucked
From the land I have given them,
say I, the LORD, your God.”  (Amos 9,11-15)

A beautiful definition of mercy. God comes to humanity at its worst, in its sham, its blindness, its evil, and raises it up again. Mercy does not depend on merit. It’s God loving us in spite of ourselves.

We see mercy best as it’s exemplified in the Passion of Jesus. In spite of hypocrisy and injustice, God offers his love to heedless humanity and the promise of a kingdom.

Have mercy on us, O Lord.

A Heart Says it All

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Faith has a way of saying great things in the simplest of ways. Sometimes a few words say it all, like the simple words the publican in the gospel utters, not raising his head. “Be merciful to me, a sinner!” Sometimes signs like bread and wine point far beyond themselves to an infinitely generous God.

Today’s Feast of the Sacred Heart offers the sign of the human heart as a way of expressing divine love that cannot be measured. How is it possible to sum up all the words and works of Jesus Christ? He burned with love for us.

The feast of the Sacred Heart is always celebrated on Friday, the day Jesus showed us the depth of his love. The day he faced rejection, he gave himself to us. The day he died, he gave us life. John’s gospel sums up this mystery by pointing to an important but easily overlooked moment of that fearful day– a soldier pierced the heart of Jesus on the cross and blood and water poured out. “Immediately blood and water poured out.”

Look at these signs with eyes of faith, John’s gospel says. They are powerful signs of God’s love for us and for our world. A pierced heart says it all.

Almighty God and Father,  we glory in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, your beloved Son,  as we call to mind the great things his love has done for us.Fill us with the grace that flows in abundance  from the Heart of Jesus, the source of heaven’s gifts.Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,  one God, for ever and ever.Amen.

Consider

Consider who hangs on the cross for you,

his death gives life to the dead,

his passing heaven and earth mourn, 

even the hard stones split.

Consider how great he is, who he is.

He slept on the cross 

that the church be formed from his side

and scripture might be fulfilled:

“They shall look on him who they have pierced, 

One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear,

blood and water flowed out

paying the price of our salvation.

He gave his blood that the sacraments give grace,

living water eternal life.

Bride of Christ, arise and like the dove,

like the sparrow finding a home,

drink from the wells of your Savior.

He is the spring flowing in the midst of Paradise.

from him four rivers flow to every heart,

watering the whole world and making it fruitful.

Run with longing,

cry out from your inmost heart:

Beauty of God most high,

Shining everlasting light,

Life that gives life to all life,

Light that illumines every light,

Water eternal and unseen, clear and sweet,

flowing from a spring hidden from all,

A spring whose depths can’t be plumbed,

whose height can’t be measured,

whose shores can’t be charted,

whose purity can’t be muddied.

From him flows the river 

that makes glad the city of God. 

So with songs of thanksgiving,

we sing hymns of praise.

With you is the fountain of life

and in your light we shall see light. 

Adapted from St. Bonaventure.

Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ

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The Passionists celebrate the Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Friday before Ash Wednesday as Lent and Easter begin. If you want to pray this feast with the Passionist, see here.

Here’s St Cyril of Jerusalem on this mystery:

“The Catholic Church glories in every deed of Christ. Her supreme glory, however, is the cross. Well aware of this, Paul says: God forbid that I glory in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!

“At Siloam, there was a sense of wonder, and rightly so: a man born blind recovered his sight. Yet still, how many blind people are left in the world! Lazarus rose from the dead, but even this affected only Lazarus: what of the countless numbers who die because of their sins? Those miraculous loaves fed five thousand people; yet this is a small number compared to all those now still starving in ignorance.

“For us all, however, the cross is the crown of victory. Indeed, it has redeemed the whole of humanity!” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem)

“A book of life, it teaches the way to life and communicates life,” the Passionist bishop Vincent Strambi writes. “The one who reads this book day and night is blessed.”

“The Passion of Jesus is a “sea of suffering” but also a “sea of love,” St. Paul of the Cross writes. So many do not know the depths of this mystery.  “Like people living in a swamp,” he says,  an image probably taken from the swamp lands of the Tuscan Maremma in Italy where Paul ministered  much of his life.

“We must awaken them from their sad state. We must send them quickly zealous workers, truly poor in spirit and detached from every creature, that by the trumpet of God’s word they might, through the holy Passion of Christ, awaken those who ‘sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

Almighty God,

awaken within us a spirit of prayer.

Give us devotion to the Passion of your Son

and the grace of fostering it in others

by our preaching and example,

and we ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The Faith of Abraham

Abraham and Isaac
Roman catacombs, 3rd century

What does it mean to believe? Abraham is “our father in faith.” We read his story from the Book of Genesis at the Easter Vigil, where it appears as a key reading, and in odd years from Monday of the 12th week of the year to Thursday of the 13th week of the year.

First, faith is a gift by which God invites us to a life far beyond what we have now. “The Lord said to Abram: ‘Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land I will show you.’” It’s not a land we discover, but a land God shows us. We must leave a land we know and enter a land unknown.

Faith’s a gift, but also a challenge. Genesis 22,1-19 begins: “God put Abraham to the test.” There would be no greater test for Abraham than to take his son, Isaac, “your only one, whom you love,” and go up a high mountain and “offer him up as a burnt offering.”

Intimations of the Passion of Jesus are here: “the high mountain… the only son, whom you love.” Approaching the mountain, Abraham takes “the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulders.” “God will provide the sheep.” Abraham tells Isaac. He builds an altar and arranges the wood. “Next he ties up his son Isaac, and put him on top of the wood on the altar.” All suggesting the Passion of Jesus.

But when Abraham takes his knife, God stops him. “I know how devoted you are. You did not withhold from me your beloved son.” And God blesses him. “I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as the stars of the sky and the sands of the sea.”

The Letter to the Hebrews says, “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.’ He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead and he received Isaac back as a symbol.” (Hebrews 11,18-19)

“He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead.” He faces sadness and cruelty. He’s not a dumb executioner, immune to what he was to do, but “he reasoned,” he believed deep within that God was a God of life. Like Jesus, Abraham faced an absurd death like this, and he believed in a God of love and promise. Like Jesus, his answer was “Not my will, but yours be done.”

The commentator in the New American Bible describes Abraham’s test. “… after the successful completion of the test, he has only to buy a burial site for Sarah and find a wife for Isaac. The story is widely recognized as a literary masterpiece, depicting in a few lines God as the absolute Lord, inscrutable yet ultimately gracious, and Abraham, acting in moral grandeur as the great ancestor of Israel. Abraham speaks simply, with none of the wordy evasions of chapters 12 and 21.  The style is laconic; motivations and thoughts are not explained, and the reader cannot but wonder at the scene.

We ask for Abraham’s faith.

Abraham’s sacrifice is portrayed frequently in the Christian catacombs of Rome, where believers also faced the mystery of death. (above)

A medieval book for artists, “Speculum humanae salvationis,” the prime resource medieval artists used for comparing New Testament stories with the Old Testament, pairs the story of Abraham bringing Isaac to be sacrificed with the story of Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary, as shown in the example below:

abraham Passion

Friday Thoughts: A Silent Film

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Rembrandt, “The Three Trees”, 1643 


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“But when he saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion…

—Matthew 9:36


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What we can never do

What we can never say

What we can never express:

Love

Pure Love

Melted into a single drop of His blood…


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“And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last.”

—Mark 15:37


Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653

Rembrandt, “The Three Crosses”, 1653

….

—Howard Hain

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The Passionist Charism

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Recently, Father Joachim Rego, superior general of the Passionists, sent a letter to “the Passionist Family” commemorating the approval of the Passionist Rule 275 years ago, on June 11, 1741, by Pope Benedict XIV. Father Joachim addressed the letter to ‘brothers, sisters and friends in the Passionist Family.” He was writing not just to professed members of his community but to everyone attracted to its charism.

When Pope Benedict approved the Passionists as a religious family in the Catholic church 275 years ago, he was heard to say, “This is the last community to be called into the church; it should have been the first.” The pope, considered the greatest pope of the 18th century, was devoted to the Passion of Jesus. He renovated the Church of the Holy Cross in Rome, where the ancient relics of the passion, brought to the city by Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, were venerated. Still more, he wanted to rebuild faith in the mystery of the Passion of Jesus at a time when many were becoming forgetful of this great mystery.

In our times, too, many forget this mystery, as well. Let’s keep it in mind.

In his letter, Father Joachim calls attention to a “rescritto”, a special condition that was part of the pope’s letter of approval: “This ‘special condition’ required the Passionists to commit themselves to preach and serve in those areas and islands where, due to the unhealthy environmental conditions, the people are abandoned and forgotten.

“From our very beginnings, the Church has named our special vocation to show a preferential option for the suffering, the marginalized, and the “the crucified” of their times. As we remember this joyful moment for Paul of the Cross and his first companions on 11 June 1741, may we – his companions today ‐ also take the occasion to review and renew our commitment and vocation to keep alive the memory of the Passion of Jesus as the greatest act of God’s love and mercy, and to promote this memory in the lives and hearts of people today…” especially those who are poor and neglected; we seek to offer them comfort and to relieve the burden of their sorrow.” (Const.#3)

“Let us keep challenging ourselves as Passionists to ‘look back’ and appreciate with greater depth the SPIRIT of our Holy Founder, so that we may ‘look forward’ to live and practice with fidelity our Passionist vocation in the various contexts of the church and the world of today.”

I like Father Joachim’s call to look back to the spirit that brought the Passionists into the church and then ask how can we make it present today. A religious community’s rule is important, but charism precedes a rule and keeps it alive. How do we reach out to the suffering, the marginalized and the crucified today?

Something Strange is Happening

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From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Jesus.”

At our mission last night I mentioned the inadequacy of some recent books on the bible. One example is Bill O’Reilly’s, Killing Jesus, which many are reading this Lent. Check out this review by Fr. Paul Zilonka, CP, a Passionist scripture scholar who died recently. Paul sees O’Reilly’s book as part of the “Quest for the historical Jesus.” New historical studies can increase our understanding of the times of Jesus, but unfortunately they can cause us to miss the meaning the biblical authors wished to leave us.

http://passionofchrist.us/recent-studies/killingjesus/

In our catechesis last night, I spoke  about the way our gospels, beginning with the passion narratives, came about. Here’s what I said:

We hardly can imagine what a shock the crucifixion of Jesus was to his disciples, to Peter and James and John and all the rest who came up with him to Jerusalem from Galilee.  Last Sunday’s gospel. remember, was about the news of a tower that fell near the temple in Siloam, killing 18 people. Also, Pilate killed a number of people in the riot. In those days in Jerusalem news traveled fast, especially anything about Pontius Pilate and the Jewish leadership. It was a political city,  and everybody’s eyes and ears were turned to what was going on.

Especially a crucifixion. Crucifixion was a Roman method of execution, and the Romans made sure everybody knew about it. They meant crucifixion to be a deterrent, a warning. They deliberately publicized it. The place where Jesus was executed, the Roman place for execution, was right outside the city gates on a main road on a raised ground the shape of a skull. Calvary. People going in and out of the city had to see it. They were meant to see it. The Romans made sure those to be crucified were marched through the streets to their execution. The crown of thorns the soldiers put on Jesus was an added touch: Don’t try to be a king here.

Today, with the help of archeologists and historians we can trace the last hours of Jesus very well, from Bethany in the eastern part of Jerusalem where he stayed when he came up for the Passover feast, to the garden on the Mount of  Olives where he prayed and was arrested, to the place where the Jewish leaders questioned him in the upper part of the city, to the judgement place where Pilate condemned him, to the soldiers’ barracks where they scourged him and crowned him with thorns, to Calvary where he was nailed to a cross and crucified, to the tomb where he was buried, “a stone’s throw away.”

Today, if you stand on the walls of the Citadel, the ancient fortress on the highest point of the Old City of Jerusalem, which is close to where Jesus was condemned, you follow the route Jesus took his death and resurrection. You can see the Mount of Olives to the west; you’re standing near where Jesus was judged by Pilate; and looking over to your left you can see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built over Calvary and his tomb.

His followers were shocked when he died. Luke’s story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus after his crucifixion describe their lost hope. “We were hoping he would be the one to redeem Israel,” they say to the Stranger who appears at their side. (Luke 24,13-35)

When he asks who they’re talking about, they’re surprised:  “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” Everybody knew what happened “ to Jesus the Nazarene, a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. Our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.”

They tell him that “some women of our group have  astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”

Then Jesus began to tell them that Moses and the prophets said the Messiah had to suffer to enter into his glory. Finally, he will reveal himself to them “in the breaking of the bread.”

When his followers first speak to the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas about the death and resurrection of Jesus, they use the same Old Testament scriptures. God has revealed this tremendous mystery to us, they say, it was promised in the scriptures. And we also have seen him. We hear that early proclamation in the preaching of Peter and the others in the first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles.

Our four gospels come years later; they’re not accounts taken down that day. The gospel of Luke, for example, was written about 40 or so years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s an account that has been enriched by years of reflection on that happened when Jesus died and rose again. We shouldn’t miss the wealth of reflection it contains.

Mission: St. Joseph, Keyport, NJ

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I’m leading a 3 day mission at St. Joseph Parish in snowy Keyport, New Jersey, ending Ash Wednesday. The theme of the mission is: Following Jesus Christ. Last night, we remembered how Jesus called others to follow him into the world. Parishioners read from the call of the disciples from St. John’s gospel and I spoke about the way Jesus in Mark’s gospel led his disciples into the town of Capernaum, into its synagogue, the house of Peter and then on the road where they met a leper.

Today Jesus calls us to go with him into our world, into our towns and cities, our churches, our homes and along the road where we meet the poor, the lepers of today. He’s leading us there.

In the catechesis I suggested we look again at the simple ways we were taught to pray, like the Sign of the Cross and the Our Father. In prayer we come know Jesus Christ. For our closing rite we held lighted candles, symbols of our baptismal call. We listened to a wonderful testimony from a couple who returned to church recently; the choir provided inspirational music. Afterwards there were refreshments in the parish hall.

Praching (2)

Tonight we turn to the Passion story of Mark. In our catechesis I suggested reading the bible during Lent, because we can know Jesus Christ through the bible. In recent times our understanding of the bible has grown as archeologists, historians and other studies enlarge what we know of the world Jesus lived in and the early writings that tell of him. The New American Bible Revised Edition is a good choice to read because it contains the same translations read in the liturgy and its notes are up to date and well written.

Knowing more about the books of the bible can help us understand them better. For example, the Gospel of Mark, generally considered the earliest gospel, was probably written in Rome for Christians who had been shaken by a fierce, unexpected persecution under the Emperor Nero. The persecutions caused Roman Christians to question their faith in the light of this absurd injustice.

Mark’s gospel doesn’t answer their questions. Instead, it presents the innocent Jesus as he faces suffering and death holding on to a belief he is in his Father’s care. From death, he will rise again.

Tonight we read from the story of the Passion of Jesus in Mark and reflect on its meaning. We’ll also hear a testimony from one of our young parishioners here at St Joseph’s and be given a small cross as a reminder of Jesus’ words, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Reading the Gospel of Mark

MarkThe Gospel of Mark is the first of the four gospels, written sometime between the year 65 to 70 AD. It’s read at Mass on weekdays from the end of the Christmas season until  Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, from chapter 1, verse 14 to chapter 10.

The readings begin with the announcement that “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

In each weekday reading Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God, first in Galilee and then in Jerusalem, by miracles and powerful signs. He also faces growing opposition that eventually brings him to death.

From its very beginning, Mark’s Gospel offers intimations of the tragic mystery of the Passion of Jesus. Coming from the Jordan River where he is baptized by John, Jesus is led “at once” by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. “ He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.” (Mark 1,13) In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus constantly faces the forces of evil and death.

Almost half of Mark’s 16 chapters describe the final period of Jesus life, when he went up to Jerusalem and suffered, died and rose again. As chapter 8 ends, Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is. “You are the Messiah,” Peter answers, but Jesus announces he must go up to Jerusalem and be rejected and killed and raised up. Peter will have nothing to do with it. In response, Jesus calls him “Satan” and tells him he’s thinking as man thinks and not as God does.

In God’s thinking, Jesus, his Son, must die and rise again. All who follow him must do the same. Peter’s not alone in not understanding God’s thinking; all the disciples, including us, are slow to understand. Our lack of understanding is emphasized in Mark’s gospel, which some have called “A passion narrative with an extended introduction,”

Many commentators say that Mark’s Gospel was written in Rome for the Christians of that city who suffered in the first great persecution of the church by Nero after a fire consumed the city in 64 AD.

I lived in Rome for a few years in the Monastery of Saints John and Paul on the Celian Hill. The monastery was built over the Temple of Claudius; its gardens were once part of Nero’s gardens. From its heights you could see the Circus Maximus a short distance away where the great fire of 64 AD started and the extensive area that burned in the fire, up to Tiber River. Probably over a million people were affected by it.

The Roman historian Tacitus says that Nero blamed the Christians for the fire and had many of them arrested and put to death in his gardens and at the Vatican circus across the city.

I was living in the gardens where some of those early Christians were put to death, I believe. On the other side of the Colosseum, a short distance away, was the Roman prefecture and prison were many of them would likely have been held and sentenced. The Church of St. Peter in Chains stands there today.

I narrated a video about that church and the early persecution which may help you understand the church Mark wrote for. The persecution must have had a devastating affect on the Christians of Rome at the time, innocent people completely taken by surprise by this brutal injustice. They didn’t understand it at all. Neither did his first disciples understand, Mark’s gospel says.