Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

Nine months before the birth of Jesus, March 25, we celebrate the Annunciation, when Mary consented to be the Mother of God. At that time the Angel Gabriel told her that “Your kinswoman Elizabeth is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible for God.” So that puts the birth of John the Baptist six months ahead of Jesus’, June 24. Between the two events, Saint Luke tells us, Mary went to visit Elizabeth, and May 31 is a good time to do that.
The traditional explanation for her visit has been that she went to assist her kinswoman. Since she would certainly not doubt the Angel’s word, she did not go to verify God’s word to her. But I think that misses the point. She went to see the wonderful sign. If someone says, “Come see the beautiful sunset!” I’m not going to say, “It’s beautiful, I’m sure, but I’ll take your word for it.” If I am at all courteous, free, generous and naturally attracted to beauty, I’ll get up see it. Mary surely had a desire to see the wonderful sign of which the Angel spoke.
This particular passage is the high point of Saint Luke’s infancy narrative and every word, phrase and sentence is rich with meaning. Innumerable homilies and sermons have addressed it; thousands if not millions of books draw inspiration from it. A merely historical reading of the text insults its pregnant mystery.
Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is her first apparition. She will appear again in Acts of the Apostles, John and Revelation. She has appeared in private revelation many times in many parts of the world. I am sure those who see her have often exclaimed, “How does this happen to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” Whether she appears in Knock Ireland, Lourdes France, Fatima Portugal, or Medjugore Yugoslavia she is greeted with wonder.
Even more often she appears in our private meditations as we read the scriptures, intone the Angelus and recite the rosary.
If the Angel Gabriel is the first angelic evangelist, Mary is the first human evangelist, especially because she trusted that the Lord’s word to her would be fulfilled. As she enters Elizabeth’s house she carries the undivided word of God in her mind and heart and womb. She is filled with God.
Elizabeth’s ecstatic greeting of Mary must be our own. We are amazed, delighted and grateful for her coming. Something mysterious and wonderful leaps within us. Were not our hearts burning within us as she greeted us?
We are fascinated by Mary because she is Jesus’ mother. if there is any doubt about his humanity, she is there to tell us, “I bore him in my womb and nursed him at my breast.”
In 1998 I arrived as pastor of an African-American Catholic church in Louisiana. I was in many ways The Lone Ranger, without family or friends. Or perhaps I was Melchizedek :
Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest for ever. (Hebrews 7: 3)
The Catholic congregation greeted me warmly but I was a stranger to them – until my mother arrived. Her friendly presence, her pride in her son, her foolish attempts to say she was not prejudiced – all made me somewhat more human to my people there. She seemed to open doors of friendliness in the Church that I could never find.
Mary introduces us to Jesus, and we never quite know how humanly beautiful he is until we meet her.

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

A wild strawberry
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.
Sing to the Lord a new song
of praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in their maker,
let the children of Zion rejoice in their king.
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.

In today’s gospel the Lord warns his disciples about the coming persecutions:
…in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you
will think he is offering worship to God.
That sounds pretty grim and yet the tenor of this season is not grim. We read the Acts of the Apostles throughout the Easter Season and the dominant themes are the joy and freedom and courage of Jesus’ men and women. They cannot be silenced, repressed or terrified by Jews or gentiles, by civil authorities or lawless mobs.
There is nothing new about persecutions and ostracism. So long as there are different nationalities, religions and languages people will torment one another along those arbitrary lines. And where there are no lines they’ll create them!
The persecution of Christians will be different because, as we see in scripture, it only encourages us to greater joy and greater freedom:
…when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, (the disciples) rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.  (Acts 5:40-42)
This is a baffling phenomenon and skeptics might well doubt it if twenty centuries of martyrdom had not given witness to it. How is it that people who are abused and mistreated come out of the experience freer, happier and more committed to their course of action?
This is certainly not the common experience of victims of violent marriages or incestuous families. Nor is it the story of oppressed minorities.
Rather, it is a sign of the Holy Spirit which fell upon Jesus and guided him from the Jordan River to Calvary. It testifies to the Spirit which accompanied Mary from Galilee to Bethlehem to Egypt and Nazareth – and finally to Calvary.
It begins with the realization of strength within oneself. “They can hurt my body but they cannot touch my spirit, for the Lord is with me.” There is an assurance that, though I am alone before my enemies, I am not alone for the Lord and his saints move in me.
And, “It’s not about me. Whatever they think or say about me has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the Lord.”
As a priest I can ponder these things fully aware of my own shortcomings. In fact when confronted I usually get my hackles up and confront right back. Meek I am not. Nor do I suppose that I would rise to the occasion if I were challenged to surrender my faith or die. But I hope with a spiritual hope that the Spirit of God would be there to suppress my violent instincts and advise patience:
When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Mark 13:11
My daily prayer is not for persecution. In fact it’s quite the contrary. I pray, “Lead us not into the temptation (or the trial) but deliver us from evil.”
And my daily prayer is also, “Lord what do you want of me today?” if I make a habit of that, I am sure of the Holy Spirit’s guiding hand through every difficulty.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

I will ask the Father, 
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.

Throughout the Gospel of John Jesus speaks as clearly as possible words to convey the essence of his mission and message. 
The disciples within the story, before the Resurrection, cannot fathom what he is saying. Their questions express only addled confusion; they serve the Evangelist’s purpose of opening Jesus’ words even further. After his resurrection and the coming of the Paraclete, they will understand well enough to announce the gospel, to found the Church and to write the New Testament.  

The gospel today describes the heart of the individual Christian and the essential spirit of the Church: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Love, not fear, is the beginning of our relationship with God. We fear only displeasing and disappointing our God. We act not out of fear of God's wrath but because we want so much to please him. Clearly he has done everything possible to please us.

Perhaps you've heard the story of the Catholic and Protestant in conversation:
The Protestant says, "If I didn't believe that God loves me and supports me, I couldn't get up and go to work."
To which the Catholic replies, "If I believed God loves me and supports me, I wouldn't get up and go to work." The latter needs to do some spiritual work! 

The Holy Spirit which Jesus gives us – variously called the Spirit of Truth or The Paraclete -- guides our way of life from within our hearts. As we pray together, pondering the scriptures, celebrating the seasons, sharing the Eucharist, initiating new members and so forth: the way of God becomes more and more clear. The ways of perdition seem less and less attractive; if one or the other member suggests such foolishness the rest of us dismiss the notion.
Inevitably our customs, liturgies, fellowship, expectations and language will set us apart from others. Even our humor is guided by prudence and charity. We didn’t set out to be different but we are.

In today's second reading, Saint Peter addresses that issue:
Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.
Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,
but do it with gentleness and reverence,
keeping your conscience clear….

The world may not know Christ but it knows hypocrisy. They have their fill of that. They need people of integrity who speak of Jesus with gentleness, reverence and a clear conscience. The world also has its fill of people who feel entitled to security, power, wealth and pleasure; and they know what Christians often forget: we are not called to a life of privilege.

Rather, like the Whos of Whoville, we are those resilient souls who rise with hope when our homes are struck by tornadoes or floods, or our families are afflicted with unemployment or sickness. We experience disappointment and distress but always we lift high the cross and follow where it leads.

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

During the night Paul had a vision.
A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words,
“Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

The call from Macedonia, delivered by way of a dream, signifies the world’s eagerness to hear the word of God. Macedonia is in Greece, that is, Europe. So far in Luke’s writing the gospel has spread only in Asia and, by way of Simon of Cyrene and the Ethiopian eunuch, to Africa.  Jesus told his disciples to announce the kingdom to all nations, even to the ends of the earth. Paul’s crossing the Hellespont on his way to Macedonia is a big step in that direction.
But the world has a singularly mixed response to the gospel, as Jesus prophesies in today’s reading from Saint John:
If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
and I have chosen you out of the world,
the world hates you.

That mixed response begins in the world’s ambivalence about itself. I am reminded of the time I had an enormous splinter under my fingernail. It hurt like the dickens and I wanted Mom to get it out. But when she took hold of my ring finger and went at it with needle and tweezers, I begged her to let go. “I’ll live it with it!” I said. Of course she didn’t let go and finally succeeded in yanking the slab of wood along with a pound of flesh and a quart of blood from my finger. The world wants salvation but is afraid of the pain that entails.
Jesus has taken upon himself most of the pain, but left some for us. Losing that splinter hurt but the pain subsided immediately.
The world knows it has a deep investment in violence, poverty, illiteracy, disease and death. The world knows these are evil institutions but it fears losing the few gains it has made. Some will say, “At least not everyone is poor, sick, illiterate or insecure. I got mine!” 
Inevitably the world will create rationalizations for the abyss between rich and poor, safe and unsafe. Theologians will point to the doctrine of double election: some are born to be saved and others are born condemned. Economists can argue there’s not enough to go around. Politicians must represent their constituency.
But the world is still calling to us, in the night, in our dreams, “Come to Macedonia and help us.” And we still follow in the wake of Saint Paul:
When he had seen the vision,
we sought passage to Macedonia at once,
concluding that God had called us to proclaim the Good News to them.

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

A footbridge in Trim, County Meath, Ireland

I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.

When I was a high school seminarian at Mount Saint Francis our professors coordinated their efforts and introduced us to the theme of friendship in our religion, literature and Latin courses. I remember especially Cicero and his essay De Amicitia:
Friendship is nothing else than entire fellow feeling as to all things human and divine with mutual good-will and affection; and I doubt whether anything better than this, wisdom alone excepted, has been given to man by the immortal gods. Some prefer riches to it, some, sound health, some, power, some, posts of honor, many, even sensual gratification. This last properly belongs to beasts, the others are precarious and uncertain, dependent not on our own choice so much as on the caprice of Fortune. Those, indeed, who regard virtue as the supreme good are entirely in the right, but it is virtue itself that produces and sustains friendship; without virtue friendship cannot by any possibility exist.
Even the “pagan” Greek and Roman writers knew how “precarious and uncertain” are health, power and posts of honor; and how reliable is friendship. This wisdom was taught throughout the ancient world. If our schools still taught the classics our children would learn that those who neglect their families as they build their fortune build houses on sand.

Jesus’ gift of friendship is an eternally assured covenant: “You shall be mine and I shall be yours.” So long as there is a future we have friendship with God.
His gift of divine friendship is more than the patronage the ancients sought from their gods. He is not simply our protector and benefactor in exchange for our loyalty and devotion. A patron doesn’t owe his clients intimate love or confidential information. He will use them for his own purposes and they will serve him in the hope of reward. He makes disclosures to them on a “need to know” basis. But Jesus has told us “everything I have heard from my father.”
In John’s gospel the only person called a friend of Jesus is Lazarus; and, by calling him from the grave Jesus signed his own death warrant. This was to fulfill his own words, “Greater love than this no man has than to lay down his life for his friend.”
Lazarus represents each of us; we are friends of Jesus. Although we remain under his discipline; choose the narrow gate; and follow the road to Calvary; we enjoy the assurance of his words, “I call you friends.”

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, priest

On the contrary, we believe that we are saved
through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.”

Acts of the Apostles describes in some detail the first crisis of the church. It came not from persecuting Romans or ostracizing Jews but from within, as “old Christians” wondered what to do with the “new Christians.” The old ones were Jews who had come to believe in Jesus as the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law and the Hebrew Prophets. He was their long-awaited priest, prophet and king.
The new Christians were gentiles who might know something of Jewish moral teachings but would show little immediate interest in Jewish history or customs. Clearly they were enthusiastic about Jesus and were convinced he had set them free from their old, evil ways. But could they really know Jesus without knowledge of the Law and Prophets? Could they appreciate the challenge he represented to Jewish customs and the satisfaction he gave to those who believed in him? Do they bring real faith to the Church or just a passing enthusiasm?
This is no unfamiliar crisis. Many “Anglo-Catholic” parishioners in the United States are reluctantly ceding their parishes to Hispanic or Asian immigrants. They were baptized, made First Communion and got married in these beloved old structures, and now – in their final years -- they feel like they’re entering a foreign country when they go to church. They often heard about but paid little attention to the international dimensions of their “Roman Catholic Church.” Now they wonder, “Who are these people, anyway? And why have they come here? If they have to be here why can’t they learn our language, songs and customs and forget their own?”
The ancient crisis is reflected also in the skepticism about the new converts. The Jewish Christians in the Acts of the Apostles might have asked, “Are these enthusiastic gentiles going to stay with Jesus after they have refashioned our religion? Do they have the stamina we have developed after centuries of persecution and ostracism? Or will they finally want to conform to the ways of the world?”
But faith in Jesus could neither survive nor flourish without reaching beyond one nationality. He commanded us to “make disciples of all nations” and when those nations make it easy for us by showing up in our own neighborhoods, schools and churches, we cannot turn them away!
Facing today’s crisis in America and remembering its roots in the Acts of the Apostles, we should appreciate all the more the wisdom and courage of Saints Peter, Paul and James as they allowed the Holy Spirit to guide them into an unknown and unpredictable future. 

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Because there arose no little dissension and debate
by Paul and Barnabas with them,
it was decided that
Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others
should go up to
Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters
about this question. 

It seems the first Christians were not as na├»ve about religion and spirituality as many American Christians. They did not suppose saints should be free of controversy. The Acts of the Apostles records not only the successful movement of the faith from Jerusalem to the “ends of the earth;” it also documents the first crisis of the faith. Saint Luke, the mildest of the New Testament authors, often puts a benign spin on his reporting, but he does not skip over this quarrel.
The conflict first appeared concerning the care of Jewish and gentile widows. Despite their good intentions the distributors of alms, perhaps unconsciously, were favoring the Jewish poor. If the benefactors could not see it, as they often don’t, the recipients did. Their complaints led to the first major reorganization of the church and the appointment of “deacons” to manage the day to day affairs.
But as more and more gentiles joined the church and the Jews found themselves a shrinking minority, some of them introduced policies to stem the tide of new converts:
Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.”
Most men would find that a daunting prospect. How many people today insist they believe in Jesus but cannot pay the price of church attendance? If minor surgery of the most painful and personal kind were required of them, even fewer would come out!
But the argument could not be dismissed outright. The apostles and first leaders were all Jews and felt an intense loyalty to the Mosaic Law. Many still hoped that all Jews would come over to Christ; others believed that Jesus’ mission was to the Jews but not to the entire world. If a few gentiles joined the fold that was no problem; but if the church became majority gentile, it would certainly lose its focus on baptizing Judaism.
The controversy finally came to a head and the leaders gathered to discuss it. They would not sweep their differences under the rug and allow the church to be shattered by varying opinions. As they met in Jerusalem they remembered clearly the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper – that all should be one (John 17:21).
(When people today wonder why the Church seems so backward in some policies and so forward in others, they should consider the challenge of keeping an international church of rich and poor, sophisticated and rough, old and young, and every imaginable culture together.)

Their decision, prompted by the Holy Spirit, for unity and universality would change the course of the Church forever.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

A bridge in Cherokee Park
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

As Jesus disappears into the maelstrom of agony and death he breathes shalom upon his disciples. As he predicted, his disciples will be scattered by fear and horror, only to reunite when he calls them together on Easter. His terror had felled Jesus to the ground in Gethsemane; theirs pursued them to Emmaus and beyond for a few days; but his shalom finally calls them back, soothes their fear, and binds them together with unexpected courage.
Occasionally I meet devout men and women whose lives have been shattered by alcoholism or prescription drug abuse. They have hit bottom and want both healing and peace, but they are still unwilling to join a group. “I should be able to pray my way out of this.” they think. “God will help me (on my terms.)” For whatever reason, they fear sharing their anguish and remorse and hope with others. 
The two men on the road to Emmaus, recognizing Jesus in the breaking of bread, did not make that mistake. They immediately hurried back to Jerusalem, although the hour was late and darkness had descended with its threat of thieves and murderers. Generously they announced to their fellows, “The Lord has risen!”
They found their peace in the sacramental fellowship, with its customs of prayer, sacrifice and mutual reassurance. This is nothing like the peace the world gives, which is fastened to the uncertain mooring of wealth and weapons and human alliances. The best one can hope of that peace is to die of "natural" causes.
Jesusshalom is an outreaching generosity, a willingness to sacrifice and suffer hardship, and a joyful assurance that all things will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

Thank you, Jesus, on this 36th anniversary of my ordination. 

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him,
“Master, then what happened that you will reveal yourself to us
and not to the world?”

Judas’ question may be the first question American Christians would ask of Jesus. We have a particular understanding of fair play and democracy and a certain uneasiness with our calling. So we ask, “Why me? Why do you reveal yourself to some and not others? To me and not to everyone?”
Jesus’ reply should be framed by Isaiah:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

Recently a woman explained the Holy Trinity to me. “It’s just like water.” She said, “It can be a liquid, a gas or a solid.” I guess that’s better than “The Trinity is like the three musketeers, one for all and all for one.”
But the doctrine is a very deep mystery that can neither be kept in secret nor revealed in public. Although it is fundamental to our understanding of Jesus, it is revealed only to the loving heart by way of faith.
Saint John’s Gospel discovers the Trinity where everyone can find it and no one will notice it. It dwells in the human heart.
Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.

Jesus’ words fulfill the ancient promise of Moses beyond our wildest imagination:
For this command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky, that you should say, 'Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?'
Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?'
No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.

Finally, the Christian may still ask, “Why me?”
The only reply is “Because I love you!”
And if the questioner persists in asking, “…and not others?” she will learn, “It’s not about you.” 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Cascading flowers

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.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

The dialog in Saint John’s gospel is often contentious. People ask Jesus questions; he explains; they don’t understand; he explains more; they take offense and leave. But some remain and, by the time we get to today’s passage from Jesus’ farewell discourse, we have an identifiable group of true disciples. The last of his betrayers, Judas Iscariot, has left the room.  
Jesus’ would wrap his arms around this group and embrace them to his heart. His affection for them is palpable. Repeatedly he assures them there is nothing to fear. He tells them over and over how dear they are to the Father. He promises the Father and the Son and the Paraclete will abide among them forever.
But they are wobbly. They don’t understand; they cannot fathom what is happening to them and around them; they wonder where this is going; they keep asking the wrong questions and making the wrong observations. They have already been through many trials; they believe him and trust him; but they lack insight:
Thomas said to him,
“Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?”

Philip said to him,
“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”

What Jesus teaches -- that He and the Father are equals and enjoy total agreement of heart and will -- is neither irrational nor implausible, but it demands submission and openness. And submissive openness requires brokenness. Despite their eagerness the disciples keep stumbling over their own feet; they get in the way of their own success. They will not understand until they see Jesus crucified, buried and raised up.
In that hour, because they are baptized and eucharisted and confirmed in him – they are in effect his own flesh -- they too will be shattered. They will die with him and rise with him. Then they will understand what is beyond human explanation; they will have a “keen grasp of the obvious” although it had been incomprehensible. They will know him as he knows the Father; and will find in the core of their being the wisdom, power, authority and courage of his Holy Spirit.

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

A cardinal greets the sunrise
at MSF
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”

Saint Paul insisted the Christian lives by faith, but I will add the Christian lives by hope. Our hope is an expectation like that of the end who charges twenty-five yards down the right side of the field, glances over his left shoulder, catches the ball with unbroken stride and runs for the goal line. Our hope is an assurance that, if we ask anything in Jesus’ name, he will do it; and so we never hesitate to throw ourselves into the work he has given us.
Part and parcel of the Christian’s life is our mission. We don’t simply ask God for help as we pursue our own ambitions; we’re not asking the favor of divine attention. 
We pray first that we will know what to do with our lives and then, having found that place where God wants us, we ask his favor upon the work he has given us. Whether we’re building a church or a gas station, whether we’re purchasing a house for the family or a pool table for our leisure, we do all things in the name of the Lord.
As we rise to the challenge of Muslim proselytism in the United States, we must remember what we have to offer. Ours is not a religion that promises personal favors from a wise, benevolent, omnipotent and insufferably paternalistic God. Rather, we invite people to join us in the very heart of the Trinity. 
Nor do we suppose we were chosen by God because we are in some way superior to others. In fact he seems to have chosen the dregs of the earth to display how much he can do with so little. 
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. (I Corinthians 1: 27-29)

We are swept into life and love by the love of God. We live in hope that he will find us useful, as the useless Onesimus proved to be so useful to Saint Paul, in the work of salvation. 

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. 
No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The Gospel of John continually confronts us with riddles. What does Jesus mean when he says, “I am the way and the truth and the life?” Saint Thomas is stumped, as are all the disciples.
I don’t know how the ancients discussed this question and I certainly don’t suppose the Church was clueless until the twentieth century; but in our time we frame Jesus’ teaching in terms of dialog and relationship. To know salvation we must be caught up in conversation with Jesus, an intense dialogue in the context of a very deep relationship.

Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher and scholar, described dialogue in his classic work, I and Thou. Dialogue is an encounter of two profoundly mysterious entities; and their mysteries can only appear within that context. If I drive a car I am simply the driver. If I hammer a nail, I am only a carpenter. But if I speak with another human being, I become a person. Unless, of course, I am only using that person as one might use a car or a hammer. In that case I have no real personhood; I am only a thing among things.
Dialog enables a transparency of two persons to recognize and honor one another. They cannot penetrate one another; their integrity as individuals remains. And yet each knows the other exists; and the other cannot be manipulated like a tool. He or she has a separate existence and experience.
The narcissist is trapped in a world of self and is unable to know others around him. His world is himself and wherever he looks he sees only himself. The New Yorker Magazine had a cartoon several years ago which I thought perfectly described the narcissist. A very sick patient lies in a hospital bed, clearly in dire straits. Standing by the bed are a doctor with his clipboard and a woman. She is perhaps the patient's wife. She says to the doctor, “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” 
Her distress may be forgivable when an ordinary day has turned into catastrophe; but if she persistently fails to see the patient and his distress, she may be a narcissist. Wherever she looks she sees only her feelings, her worries, her advantages and disadvantages. 
Jesus comes to us as the apostle from God, the ambassador of Truth. He is a mysterious "Other" who cannot be classified, contextualized, controlled or manipulated. He insists upon being understood on his own terms; and his opponents cannot make head or tail of him. He remains defiantly untouchable until he permits himself to be arrested, tried, tortured and crucified. And there are moments even during that episode when he demonstrates his authority and freedom. With absolute assurance he says, “No one takes my life from me. I lay it down freely and freely I take it up again.”
To follow his way is to allow Jesus to take my hand and lead me where I cannot see the road ahead, where I have little authority or control. Discipleship means I am not the center of my world; and most things that happen have little to do with me. When someone tells me about his surgery, I should not suppose he wants to hear about mine. Hearing of catastrophes in the Mideast I need not think, “The price of gasoline will go up.” Approaching the ballot box, I should vote for the persons and policies that will best serve the common good, rather than my interests.
Political pundits say, “In international politics there are no friends or enemies; there are only interests.” That's a formula for narcissism on a global scale.
Jesus did not divide the world between friends and foes because He was not the center of his own world. He surrendered continually to the authority of his God whom he called Abba. When he warns "whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." he is simply telling the truth about his singular authority. 
In obedience to his God he invites us to come to God through him. He is the way, the truth and the life.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Rushes and a fallen tree
in MSF Lake

(After Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them)
Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.  “Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master, nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.  

With his Last Supper, Jesus created a new ceremony for his disciples. It had many of the familiar songs and gestures of the old Passover ceremony, and borrowed heavily upon that tradition; but Jesus’ ritual – which scripture calls the Breaking of Bread and we call the Mass – would include two entirely new gestures:
First, instead of a meal of roasted lamb, we would eat his body and drink his blood, under the appearances of bread and wine. We have never ceased to celebrate this sacred meal.
Secondly, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Catholics observe this custom once a year, on Holy Thursday. Although we do this ceremony less often, it is an integral part of the Mass, and critical to our understanding.
But the disciples during that first ceremony could hardly fathom what it meant. They saw only their beloved rabbi humiliating himself and his office, and embarrassing them as he washed their feet. What was he doing, playing the clown like that? Peter spoke for the group when he initially refused to have his feet washed. It was just too unexpected, too ridiculous and too unorthodox. If the gesture had any meaning, it was overwhelmed by the gut reaction of the disciples.
Jesus, always the teacher, would not let his disciples remain in that confusion. If they wanted an explanation – and most of our liturgical gestures require at least some explanation – he would give it to them:
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.
Every vestige of competition or authority or rank must disappear among his disciples. They must be eager to serve one another; each one should volunteer to be the first to do the most undesirable services:
o        Langdon Gilkey described how the Jesuits interned in a Chinese war prison marched right in and cleaned the latrines which were ankle-deep in filth.
o        Saint Clare insisted on emptying the chamber pots in the convent infirmary.
o        Any bishop, provincial or abbess can tell you leadership in the church is nothing but a cross.
And that is where Jesus is leading us. We understand his insistence that we eat his body and drink his blood when he washes our feet; and we understand his washing our feet as he carries his cross to Calvary. That invitation to service occasionally leads to martyrdom, but more often it entails mundane toil like washing dishes, grading homework, and attending meetings. No one is likely to cry out, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when you’ve taken the garbage out or folded the laundry; but by these simple, commonplace chores we imitate our savior.

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

A bluebird on a cold spring morning
over the post office at MSF

Jesus cried out and said….

John 12:37-50 summarizes the first part of his gospel, which is called the “Book of Signs.” Jesus has given us not proofs of his divine authority in the scientific sense, but signs that are clearly understood by those whom the Father has chosen. These disciples are blessed with the Holy Spirit and have an innate sense of who Jesus is and what he is about. (The adjective innate denotes a trait one is born with, as in natal and nativity; in this case it refers to the rebirth of Baptism.)
In this recap, the evangelist first summarizes a history of the Jewish people based upon a prophecy of Isaiah. They did not believe because God had sealed their ears and closed their eyes against the word of salvation. It was somehow terribly and tragically necessary that Jesus not be welcomed among his own. It was a story already too familiar. Virtually all the prophets had been scorned by the people whom God loved. Finally, their rejection leads to his crucifixion and salvation for the whole world.
In the latter part of this passage we hear Jesus speak. You might imagine this as a voice in a darkened theater, with perhaps a narrow spotlight shining only upon his face. When he has finished, his face will disappear, the house lights will go up and we will pause for intermission. When the play resumes with chapter 13 we will discover “the hour has come;” and we will participate in his Last Supper, passion, death and resurrection.
And what does he say as this Book of Signs ends? It is that radical, wonderful challenge we have heard so often and yet must hear daily. “”Believe in me!” There is no other name by which we may be saved.
People have dedicated their lives to this simple truth. Monks and nuns retire to their monasteries, hermitages and anchorages to practice turning and turning and turning again to this one truth, much as Mary Magdalene did when she found Jesus in the garden. We do it with our Morning Offering and our evening Examination of Conscience. Every thought, word and deed must be aware of his Lordship. Whether we play, work or sleep; speak or remain silent; live or die: we are the Lord’s. The day we think we’ve accomplished this is the day we fall flat on our faces.
It’s the ought/should/have-to that hangs over every moment of existence – and we’ve learned to despise shoulds and oughts and have-tos. But it’s also the invitation to holiness and contentment far exceeding anything we can ask for or imagine. It’s the Law of God for which the pious Jew wrote 176 verses of the 119th psalm. Every day we thank God that he is not content to let us rot in our sins. Every day he shows us mercy and we must say “Thank you!” with new astonishment and enthusiasm.
This concluding remark is also Jesus’ summary of his life, although there are many such summaries in the Gospel of John:
I did not speak on my own,
but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak. 
And I know that his commandment is eternal life. 
So what I say, I say as the Father told me.”
Finally, Jesus commands my obedience only because he is obedient. 

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Pileated Woodpecker at MSF

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. 
No one can take them out of my hand. 
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. 
The Father and I are one.”

Americans are genetically suspicious of authority. It goes back to our Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta. We’re sure of the English Catholic Lord Acton’s dictum, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He made this remark regarding papal infallibility, and avoided censure only by withdrawing from religious controversies.
But Jesus too claims an absolute authority far more radical than that of the Pope: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Can an American Catholic accept such a teaching from a man who lived and died in our world, within our own history? In many ways the crisis of John’s gospel is just as real today as when it was written.
I find my answer in contemplating Jesus’ death. He insists on his authority and he demonstrates it not by shoving me around but by obediently offering his life for mine. He is “meek and humble of heart.” He goes to Jerusalem like a lamb led to slaughter. No complaint was in his mouth.
My God is an obedient God. I would not obey him if he were not. 

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Morning in the woods
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”

The celebration of Easter, if it means nothing else to us, should remind us again and again of God’s free gift of grace. The word grace means free, as in freely given. Theologically, spiritually and psychologically we have such a hard time grasping this foundational doctrine. We fear it for it seems to mean that our own decisions mean nothing; and some will suggest “Once saved, always saved!” as if our salvation is guaranteed despite our sometimes heinous crimes. “If Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin and Osama bin Laden are all saved, why should I even worry about it?”
Those conclusions miss the point because they fail to appreciate the gift. They are still asking, “What’s in it for me?”
First we must contemplate Jesus’ statements, “I lay down my life;” “I lay it down on my own;” and “I have power to lay it down.” The initiative is entirely Jesus’. He went to Jerusalem fully aware of what would happen there. Pontius Pilate represents the new Pharaoh in this story; there is nothing he can do to stop or delay or alter the plans God has made. The “Jews” represent the reaction of all humankind against the purity, innocence and goodness of Jesus. His killing appears to be an irrepressible, visceral reaction to God’s presence among us; and yet the gospels underline Jesus’ intentionality.
As John tells the story, Jesus asked the arresting crowd, “Whom do you seek?” When they replied, “Jesus of Nazareth” and he said, “I am he!” they fell to the ground. They could not move until he permitted them to advance upon him.
What should be our reaction to grace? Not arrogance but gratitude; not intemperance, but obedience; not indifference but eagerness to
…comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:18-19