Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Betrayal


By Colleen O’Sullivan
The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, That I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.  Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; And I have not rebelled, have not turned back.  I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting… See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?  (Isaiah 50:4-6, 9a)
One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”  They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.  (Matthew 26:14-16)
Piety
Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me.
For I know my transgressions; my sin is always before me.  (Psalm 51:4-5)
Study
Betrayal.  We all know how it feels.  That first, horrified gasp of realization.  The hurt that gradually seeps into every nook and cranny of our being.  The humiliation.
Jesus endures so many betrayals.  Judas sells him out for 30 pieces of silver.  The sleeping disciples turn their backs on his anguish in the garden at Gethsemane.  Peter denies ever knowing him.  Once the Lord is in custody, his friends all flee.  You and I who gather at his table every week betray him time and again – whether out of fear, greed, anger, desire for power or any of a host of other motivations.
Yet Jesus never stops loving us.  He carries on, gently washing the feet of his disciples, including those of his betrayer Judas.  He shares an intimate last meal with his friends, knowing they will all fall away.  In his final moments on the Cross, he prays for forgiveness for us, saying we don’t know what we are doing.  He dies for us, offering us redemption and the promise of eternal life.
Action
Consider the differences between Judas’ and Peter’s reactions when each one realizes the import of what they have done.  Judas throws in the towel and quits.  Peter weeps bitter tears of sorrow and repentance.  Jesus forgives Peter and even goes on to entrust his flock to Peter’s care. 

Jesus’ arms are always wide open, ready to embrace and forgive us when we are sincerely regretful and remorseful for our sins.  Try to spend some quiet time today reflecting on the moments when you have betrayed our Savior, and pray for forgiveness.  

God's Arrows


By Beth DeCristofaro

The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.  He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.  He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me. (Isaiah 49: 1-2)

Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.  If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once. … “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.” (John 13: 31-32, 36)

Piety
You are my hope, Lord; my trust, GOD, from my youth.
On you I have depended since birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength; my hope in you never wavers.
I have become a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge!
My mouth shall be filled with your praise, shall sing your glory every day.
        (Psalm 71:5-8)

Study
In this chapter from John, Jesus also tells his disciples I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34).  In the recent stories about people who risked their lives in Rwanda to save their neighbors during the genocide, love looks like Isaiah’s polished arrow.  People acted decisively with a fierce love that saved many.  We know that the disciples became as sharp-edged swords of love and truth that changed not only their spiritual landscape but the political landscape of the world as they carried forward Jesus’ Word. 

God’s majesty can come through tragedy.  Daughters gather around their dead mother, tenderly preparing her for the funeral home while telling stories in laughter and tears about how she raised them.  A man forgives the murderer of his brother in a courtroom.  This Holy Week, when halleluiahs are followed by betrayal and shouts of disdain, we can deliberately join the Passion of Jesus, accepting His overwhelming act of love for us individually and humanity as a whole with a humility which allows God’s glory to shine.   

Action
We are not all called to acts of such extreme courage.  But where He is we can follow.  In what ways have I been a polished arrow, a sharp-edged sword or a quiet in-the-wings follower of Jesus?  Look for ways this Holy Week to do so again.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Grasped


Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spreads out the earth with its crops, Who gives breath to its people and spirit to those who walk on it: I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.  Isaiah 42:5-7

So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.  Let her keep this for the day of my burial.  You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”  John 12:7-8

Piety
Christ has no body now but yours
no hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
with compassion on this world
yours are the feet with which He walks to do good
Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world

Yours are the hands,
yours are the feet
yours are the eyes
You are His body

Christ has no body now but yours
no hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
with compassion on this world
Christ has no body now on earth but yours

Study

“Many of the Jews were turning away…”

Just as we get a sign of the success of Jesus’s ministry, the bottom begins to fall out.  From the outset of John’s Good News, the message of the day has always been “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  Turn away from your past.  Now, after all the signs – culminating in bringing Lazarus back from the dead – the turning away from the old ways and turning toward the new message Jesus preached has really picked up momentum.  This was the momentum Jesus tried to avoid when asking people to tell no one of his signs.   

Yet some remain hard-hearted.  Judas would deny Jesus the anointing today and any success in the future.  The Pharisees would deny Jesus any congregational following that comes at their expense. 

If the turning has begun, to what are we/they turning toward?  For that answer, we need look no further than the first reading from the Hebrew Bible.  Isaiah tells us that we have been formed like Jesus to “To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”  Our mission mirrors that of the Nazareth manifesto Jesus announced at the outset of his public ministry.  As his time with humanity draws to a close, it is our time to pick up that mission as our own.

Action

Holy Week is when the mission and manifesto of Jesus becomes ours to own and to carry out. He has held it tight but now passes it to us.

Has this Lenten season opened your eyes to what you have not seen before?  Has this Lenten season helped you learn by what you are imprisoned?  Has this Lenten season provided the light to get you out of darkness?

Although we have to prepare for the day when we do not have Jesus with us, we always have our own lives to change and each other as the aim of our apostolic action.  What are we going to do?  Sit on the sidelines with the crowd and Judas and the Pharisees?  Or dive right into this work that is thrust into our hands like the Cyrenian?  Grasp onto it. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

He Emptied Himself


By Fr. Joe McCloskey, SJ

“This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”  Matthew 21:11

Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.  I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.  Isaiah 50:4c-6

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:6-1

After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over him there.  And they placed over his head the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.  Matthew 27:35-37

Piety
A deep-seated piety of love of the Lord is what life is about.  It is the goal of our journey to realize the perfect imaging forth in our life of what our creation in the image and likeness of Christ is.  When we finally discover who we are meant to be in the service of the Lord, we will have realized the plan of God in our person-hood.  The real self is who we are in Christ.  Our uniqueness as a person will be how we image the Christ who does not create clones, but rather is the uniqueness of who we are meant to be.  We wave the prayers and the good actions of our lives as the welcome we offer to Christ, our truth, our way and our life.

Study
When we study Christ, we are studying who we are meant to be in our day and age.  Christ has come so that we might have the life of the Father in who we are.  Christ died for our sinfulness so that we might have his life as the meaning of who we are.  There is no bypass of his cross.  We are all called to go up to Jerusalem with him.  We are all given the opportunity to die with him.  We have eternal life in us as we are raised up to his love forever.  We have Christ as our destiny for all the good thing we have done in our lives.  Palm Sunday with its Passion narrative gives us the connection between our happiness to receive Christ in our lives and all the difficulties of following him closely to his death on the cross.

Action
We welcome Christ to his destiny in living to bring us salvation by entering into the Passion of Christ with all our heart and soul.  Once a year, we are given the chance to relive with Christ the glorious meaning of God’s love for us.  God loved us so much that he wanted to be one of us.  We have the chance to love God back in the ways we live out the crosses in our lives in the name of Christ.  Even as we rejoice to offer up the crosses of our lives in his name, we fill up what is wanting to the suffering of Christ’s body, the Church.  We can rejoice in our sufferings in the name of Christ in the realization that our crosses of life, carried in the name of Christ, will be our claim to fame in heaven.  Palm Sunday gives us the chance to glory in our suffering in his name.

What Are We Going To Do?


Thus says the Lord GOD: I will take the children of Israel from among the nations to which they have come, and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land.  I will make them one nation upon the land, in the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one prince for them all.  Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.  Ezekiel 37:21-22

Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.  So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do?”  John 11:45-47a

Piety
Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along The Way
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

(*This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Card. John Dearden in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included in a reflection book a passage titled "The mystery of the Romero Prayer." The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him.)

Study
The last day of the last week of Lent.  Holy Week commences tomorrow with Palm/Passion Sunday.  And the question hangs in the balance for us:  What are we going to do? No more can we look back to see how we did with our prayer, fasting and almsgiving over Lent.  Now is the time for action.  “Do or do not. There is no try.”
We have not just the five weeks of Lent.  Many of us have 25 or 55 or 75-plus years of five weeks of Lent.  But the question remains.  What are we going to do?
We, like the Pharisees have heard the Word.  We see the sunrise.  We see the miracle of birth.  We see people with illnesses cured.  Yet, despite all this, Jesus is about to be executed – a victim of the cruelest form of capital punishment: crucifixion.  Why?  If his message was about love, what got people so riled up against him?  Maybe his core message was not just a happy-slappy, hippy-dippy lovefest.  Think back to the very roots of his opening message:  “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.” (Mark 1:14-15)
What are we going to do?

Action
Last night, at the Franciscan Mission Service annual benefit and celebration, award honoree Jack Jezreel of JustFaith Ministries, in accepting the Anselm Moon award, noted that this idea of the kingdom of God or reign of God is mentioned by Jesus dozens of times in the New Testament. 
What is this Kingdom of God?  As we bridge from Lent to Holy Week, we will have the chance to spiritually experience this and answer that core question.  What is this Kingdom of God and What are we going to do to bring about its reign?
During Holy Week, we will go to church.  For some of us, we will go many times more than any other week in the year.  As the message sinks in, we also will leave church.  How will we make the great commissioning at the end of every Mass resonate in how we live out that Good News with love in action for our neighbors, strangers and enemies that build the kingdom brick by holy brick?

“It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Like a Mighty Champion


By Melanie Rigney

I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!” All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. “Perhaps he can be tricked; then we will prevail, and take our revenge on him.” But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not prevail. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion. (Jeremiah 20:10-11)

In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice. (Psalm 18:7)
“If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)

Piety
Lord, You matter above all else. Help me to remember that, and to be indifferent to the opinions of those here on earth as long as I am doing Your will.

Study
Earlier this month, Pope Francis announced the canonization of three new saints, including Marie of the Incarnation, born Marie Guyart on October 28, 1599, in France. She died on April 30, 1672, in Canada.

Marie’s story is a difficult one to understand. A relatively wealthy widow with a son, she chose to become an Ursuline nun when she was thirty. She left her son, who was about ten, in the care of her sister and brother-in-law. Ten years later, she felt called to serve in Canada, then known as New France. She was the first woman religious to come to the region.

Marie’s decisions caused some hard feelings within her family, including a story her son and some classmates attempted to gain entrance to her monastery in France. The son, Claude, later became a priest and while the two carried on an active correspondence, but it does not appear they ever saw each other again after she left France.

It’s hard to imagine the Lord calling a mother away from a young child, isn’t it? Fortunately, He doesn’t ask many of us for that sort of sacrifice. But Marie faced the challenge with courage. Among the remarks for which she is remembered is this one: “O my great God, you can do all things and I can do nothing! If you wish to help me, I am ready. I promise to obey you!”

Action
As we head into the holiest time of the year, give some thought to what God is asking of you… and how you can answer the call, as difficult as it seems.

Keep His Word


God also said to Abraham: “On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.”  Genesis 17:9

Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’  You do not know him, but I know him.  And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar.  But I do know him and I keep his word. John 8:54-55

Piety
Father, help us to continue moving away from the sins of Adam.  By following in the footsteps of Jesus, we can learn the ways to move from keeping our own agenda to keeping your agenda.  Please continue to send the Holy Spirit upon our journey to show the way when our mind, our heart and our eyes may be distracted.  Amen.

Study
This covenant is a two-sided agreement.  From Abraham to Jesus, it is clear that we have to hold up our side of the contract to keep his word. Yet, what does that mean: “Keep his word?” 

In Leviticus, keeping the covenant was a set of strict rules.  Do this.  Don’t do that.  Yet, when pressed in the New Testament, Jesus offers much more complicated answers.  Keeping the covenant is less about following a prescribed path but it is more about making the changes needed in our selfish ways.

The covenant in John’s Good News is rooted in the connection between the message from John the Baptist and Jesus.  That message can be summed up in one word:  Repent.  Change. But it is a change in which we turn (with a sense of sorrow) from our old ways to something new, something different, something better.  As Fr. Tom Keating would say, “Change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.” 

Two additional examples of this new covenant we can study are found in Jesus’s interaction with Nicodemus and the rich man.  In the evening lessons to Nicodemus, we learn, “[W]hoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”  (John 3:21).  Knowing the truth and living the truth become the goals.  Not knowing the box score pf last night’s Yankee game or the Final Four.  Not having a great retirement outlook.  Not a big salary, car or house.  Our study and action have to be aligned with learning the Word as exemplified by Jesus and acting upon it. 

The other example is in the encounter with the rich man.  The covenant is revealed to go beyond following prescribed commandments.  As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  (Mark 10:15) 

The answer is to change course. This man’s course was following the money and the old laws.  To do inherit eternal life, we must roll away the stone that blocks our view of Jesus.  We must untie ourselves from what connects us to this life.  And we must come out of our mortal existence and follow the example set by Jesus…and example of marked by hearing the word of God and living it out.  Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  (Mark 10:21)

Action
There are seven days left in Lent until Holy Thursday.  What new paths can you continue to blaze in the journey?  Will those paths lead to the Garden next week?    

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Truth Will Set You Free


By Colleen O’Sullivan
Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How can you say, ’You will become free’?”  Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.  A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains.  So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.  (John 8:31-36)

Piety
For it’s only in Your will that I am free,
For it’s only in Your will that I am free,
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

Study
Our Christian faith is often paradoxical.  A lowly carpenter’s boy from Nazareth turns out to be the Son of God.  Jesus tells us that in God’s Kingdom, the last will be first and the first will be last.  On another occasion he says that if we try to save our lives, we will lose them, but if we lose our lives for his sake, we will find them.  Jesus also tells his disciples, “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.” (Mk 10:43)  In the end, the message of the Cross looks like foolishness to the world, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God. (I Cor.1:18)

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is talking about slavery and freedom.  The paradox here is that true freedom involves not doing whatever we please but surrendering ourselves to Christ, giving up the things of this world that we idolize, and living steeped in God’s word.  The Lord’s audience protests that they’ve never been slaves.  (I guess they’ve forgotten about their years in Egypt and Babylon.) Jesus responds that anyone who commits sin is a slave. 

If Jesus were having this conversation with us today, I think it would take a different turn.  We would be fixated on the concept of freedom.   In our culture, freedom of the individual is one of the most highly prized values.  I can imagine the scornful looks and curled lips at the notion that freedom might mean giving up or surrendering anything.  Freedom 21st century, American-style means I have the right to express myself any way I want to.  It means I can say anything I choose.  I can do whatever makes me feel good at the moment.  Somehow, I don’t think this is what the founders of our country had in mind, and I am sure our views on freedom simply prove Jesus’ point about our being enslaved to sin and the ways of the world.

Action
In his latest newsletterFr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, in a meditation on Jesus before Pilate, writes that “…through submission to the God of heaven (Jesus) escaped the power of the gods of earth.”  That’s what real freedom is.  To be free in Christ, what idols do you still need to give up?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Please God


By Beth DeCristofaro

But with their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!”  (Numbers 21:4-5)

So Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me.  The one who sent me is with me.  He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him. (John 8:28-30)

Piety
In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving.
You are our mother, brother, and Savior. In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvelous and plenteous grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. Amen (Julian of Norwich)

Study
Recently I heard a sermon wherein the priest reminded us that even though it is difficult to talk about the fact that our loved ones eventually die, that in fact, dying is very much a part of life.  He said “Someone dies and we act surprised!  We say ‘How could that happen?’”   But bad times, tough breaks, real suffering, frustrations, failed dreams are all very much a part of life.  It is pretty tedious being around people who always see themselves as victims, held back or given short shrift in life.  They seem surprised, angry or even despairing.  In reality, life is pretty difficult but life is, at the same time, very awesome.  That same “wretched food” (manna) which the Israelites complained about came directly from God who saved them from starvation.  While it is tempting to ask how they could be so short sighted, it is probably more advantageous to ponder how likewise shortsighted we might be.

Jesus, however, did not see himself as a victim.  He was not powerless in the face of political or religious leaders.  He was not held back or denied what he might consider a rightful place in the world order of things.  Jesus was always with God, doing what pleased God and never alone. Jesus knew life as bigger than what humans could see.  Life was from God and as God-given held the promise of eternity through him.  Even on the way to Jerusalem and the Cross, Jesus focused on his relationship with his father.  

Action
God saved the Israelites from the serpents when He instructed Moses to raise a bronze serpent on a pole.  But all those Israelites eventually died of something.  Even as Jesus challenged the temple leaders and healed the sick, he knew he would die not as a victim but as willing sacrifice.  Contemplate the Ash Wednesday prayer “Remember that thou are dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”  Someday we will be ashes, or dust in the ground.  Are we in denial or victims to be burned, buried and gone?  In the last days of Lent, how can we act as co-creators of God’s kingdom doing what is pleasing to God? 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Thus Was Innocent Blood Spared


The whole assembly cried aloud, blessing God who saves those who hope in him.  They rose up against the two elders, for by their own words Daniel had convicted them of perjury.  According to the Law of Moses, they inflicted on them the penalty they had plotted to impose on their neighbor: they put them to death.  Thus was innocent blood spared that day.  Daniel 13:60-62

“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.  And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.  So he was left alone with the woman before him.  Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  She replied, “No one, sir.”  Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”  John 8:7-11

Piety
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee like the accusers of Susanna and the woman caught in adultery.  We are not worthy for you to enter under our roof.  However, we know that all we have to do is turn to you and our sins will be forgiven.  Amen.

Study
Easy it would be to write about the difference in the Lord sparing the innocent Susanna and forgiving the presumed guilty woman caught in adultery.  However, the different parallel is seen in the accusers. 
Jesus challenges them:  “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Such a line also could have been used by Daniel.  That approach might have saved Susanna, too, because the accusers in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are not without sin. 
The love that Jesus injects is to NOT condemn the accusers – either those who accuse the woman of adultery or those who accuse Jesus of heresy.  Even the accusers who have sinned will not be condemned by Jesus.  After all, he did not come into the world to condemn us but to save us. This shows how Jesus acts out the words from John’s Good News:  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:17-18)
While Susanna’s innocent blood was spared and Lazarus was brought back to life, in the end, the innocent blood of Jesus will not be spared but it will flow out and back into the Earth until he redeems the sins of all accusers.

Action
Who do you rush to judge?  Politicians?  Entertainers?  Business people who get rich off our work?  Your neighbor?  Have you spent time discerning if you are without sin?  Have you spent time considering whether they have truly sinned.  Do you have what it takes to cast the first stone?
We are in the prime season to participate in the sacrament of Reconciliation to atone for the sinfulness we share with all accusers.  Because of the central importance of Easter, the Church requires all Catholics who have made their First Communion receive the Holy Eucharist sometime during the Easter season, which lasts through Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Easter.  We also should take part in the Sacrament of Penance before receiving this Easter communion. 
As we enter the final week of Lent before the Triduum, this reception of the Eucharist and Penance is a visible sign of our faith and our participation in the Kingdom of God. (Naturally, we can receive Communion daily or as frequently as possible.  Our "Easter Duty" is simply the minimum requirement set by the Church.)


Untie Him and Let Him Go


By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

You shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and make you come up out of them, my people!  I will put my spirit in you that you may come to life, and I will settle you in your land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD. I have spoken; I will do it—oracle of the LORD.  Ezekiel 37:13-14

He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth.  So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”  John 11:43-44

Piety
Piety is an expression of the great expectations we have of the Lord.  Our piety asks the Lord to protect those we love.  When there has been a serious accident and a loved one is suffering we hear ourselves asking for the miracle of a healing.  Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, is a good example of our dilemma.  We do not ask of the Lord the miracles we really want.  He wants the miracle we are looking for even more than we do.  He never says “no” to our requests.  He often gives us right away what we are asking without our realizing it.  He will sometimes give us something better that makes it hard to recognize we already have what we are asking.   Sometimes he will give it at another time when it is more important.  How to open our hearts to be recipients of the miracles the Lord is forever doing in our lives is what we need to study.

Study
The two sisters believed in the healing powers of Christ.  But he was not there to keep Lazarus from dying.  We make the Lord present by our prayers.  We do not even have to be where the miracle takes place.   It can happen by prayers from elsewhere.  Love covers a great distance. It is the recognition of the miracle that needs the presence of the one praying.  Life itself is an ongoing miracle of God’s love for us.

Action
The need of a miracle is an ongoing call for our prayer.  We need to crowd heaven with the call of our prayers for those we love that need the miracle of life.  Our human experience does not give us much comfort in expecting the impossible.  Yet nothing is impossible to the plan of God.  The power of God’s love is seen when we let God use our inadequacies for others.  God takes care of our shortcoming.  We need to work as if everything depends on God.   Belief in Jesus frees us to live as if nothing is impossible to our love when we live our love in Jesus for the sake of each other.  We can never ask enough.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

A Trusting Lamb


Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter, had not realized that they were hatching plots against me: “Let us destroy the tree in its vigor; let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will be spoken no more.”  Jeremiah 11:19

Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, “Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?”  John 7:50-51

Piety
From Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?” (16 August 1967, Atlanta, Ga.)

Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.
Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.
Let us be dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.
Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.
Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.
Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.
Let us be dissatisfied until men and women, however black they may be, will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin. Let us be dissatisfied.
Let us be dissatisfied until every state capitol will be housed by a governor who will do justly, who will love mercy, and who will walk humbly with his God.
Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.
Let us be dissatisfied, and men will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.

Study
We can hardly open a newspaper or magazine, turn on the TV or the radio without being confronted by another poll, study or election which seeks to drive people apart with another wedge issue.  “My rights or opinions or life cannot be trampled upon by your rights, opinions or life.”  Yet people have been trampling on each other since Eve gave Adam the apple.  Jeremiah faced an uprising from angry crowds who felt that the prophet was invading their comfort zone.  Those crowds foretold of the crowds that would eventually turn against Jesus.
It is easy to become part of the crowd mentality going along with what everyone else is doing in order to get along.  Far more difficult a path is blazed to break away from the crowd and go in a new direction.  Yet, if you can break away from the crowd privately, then no one will know.  That is exactly where Nicodemus is when his encounters with Jesus start.   
Of all the people in the Bible, Nicodemus ranks up there at the top of my favorites list.  He keeps company with the conversion story of the Prodigal Son, the Woman at the Well and the former fisherman Simon Peter.   The very human characteristics portrayed in their stories are remarkably like the issues we have and the mistakes we make.  The growth and change witnessed in them provides evidence that there remains hope for me.
The story of Nicodemus is not the story of an ordinary Jewish man.  He was a ruler of the Jews, most likely a member of the Jewish council, the Sanhedrin.  Yet he also was a trusting and curious lamb drawn to his shepherd.  His story – like that of Lazarus raised from the dead – only appears in the Gospel of John. 
We first see Nicodemus sneak under the cover of darkness to a private encounter with Jesus.  That night, he learns more about the essence of what Jesus preaches.  Today’s Good News provides our second glance into the heart and mind of curious Nicodemus as he starts to challenge his peers about Jesus.  We will see him again when the “true” apostles are hidden away from the authorities for fear of death.  That is when Nicodemus reveals his true friendship in action as he assists Joseph of Arimathea with taking Jesus from the cross and providing a proper burial for the body.
Nicodemus might have been a Pharisee but he was cut out of different cloth.  When his status quo was threatened, he was open to change.  He was one of the only people speaking up and acting on behalf of Jesus as the crowds and the authorities got more agitated.
From their first encounter, Nicodemus learns that Jesus is not here to condemn us.  The Word brought light to Nicodemus even though he started in physical, intellectual and spiritual darkness.  The light that Nicodemus picked up there continued to shine in the darkness of the plotting Pharisees and through the darkness that fell on the land at the Crucifixion. 

Action
Nicodemus is a great symbol for us at Lent and in our Fourth Day.  Where do we go from here? 
In the Atlanta speech referenced above, Dr. King used the Nicodemus story to show how individuals and society must change.  Here is how he described what happened with Nicodemus and what must happen with us:
One day, one night, a juror came to Jesus and he wanted to know what he could do to be saved. Jesus didn't get bogged down on the kind of isolated approach of what you shouldn't do. Jesus didn't say, "Now Nicodemus, you must stop lying." He didn't say, "Nicodemus, now you must not commit adultery." He didn't say, "Now Nicodemus, you must stop cheating if you are doing that." He didn't say, "Nicodemus, you must stop drinking liquor if you are doing that excessively." He said something altogether different, because Jesus realized something basic: that if a man will lie, he will steal. And if a man will steal, he will kill. So instead of just getting bogged down on one thing, Jesus looked at him and said, "Nicodemus, you must be born again." In other words, "Your whole structure must be changed."

Where are we now?  Where do we go from here?  How can we go through these stages so our whole structure will change?  From curious exploration to open advocacy in front of a small group to public works of love in action without fear of what the crowd will do or say to us.  

Thursday, April 03, 2014

His Hour Had Not Yet Come


By Melanie Rigney

The wicked said among themselves, thinking not aright: “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our trainings.” (Wisdom 2:12)

When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. (Psalm 34:18)
So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said, “You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come. (John 7:28-30)

Piety
Patience is a virtue of the Lord: He awaits the return of His children. Forgive my trespasses Oh Lord Jesus, for many times have I tested You. I deserved the wrath of Your hand, but You saw greater things for me: Your patience has been enormous! Grant me a droplet of such endurance, That I may abolish my impious impatience, Refraining from using unpleasant words, and always reflecting Your serenity. Great is the Lord Jesus in His ways! (Prayer for the Virtue of Patience from Catholic.org)

Study
A woman asked about deliverance prayers at a conference I attended recently. Both speakers looked a bit flummoxed; finally, one of them referred her to the Lord’s Prayer as the best deliverance prayer ever.

I felt a connection with the woman as someone who’s not a psychologist or learned scholar. Aren’t there times you just say to God, “Enough’s enough! I can’t take anymore!” about what seems to be intolerable suffering or pain or frustration? Sometimes, it ends. Sometimes, it doesn’t. And in those cases, we summon up strength or patience or endurance from inner wells we thought were completely drained or didn’t know existed to begin with.

In today’s Gospel reading, we see the people of Jerusalem in essence taunting Jesus, and Jesus responding by all but saying he is the Messiah. But his arrest does not come; John tells us Jesus’s hour has not come. And so he soldiers on, just as we must, knowing God remains by our side, even when our deliverance cries appear to be vanishing into the ether.

Action

Try not to ask for deliverance from anything today. Instead, try a gratitude prayer for the good things in your life.