Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

...he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation,
and not only for the nation,
but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.
So from that day on they planned to kill him.

Today’s gospel leads us directly to the celebration of Palm Sunday. It describes the tension in Jerusalem as people wondered, “Will he come to the feast?” Jesus, awaiting The Hour, has gone underground; he no longer walks “about in public among the Jews.” Meanwhile Caiaphas and his counsel, the Sanhedrin, are discussing what to do about Jesus. According to Saint Matthew they preferred not to arrest him during the Passover. With all the pilgrims in Jerusalem there was danger of disruption and rioting during the holiest of seasons. But, of course, they could not control God’s timing.

On this day before Palm Sunday, the Church has given for our reflection a passage from Ezekiel 37, a prophecy about the reunion of God’s divided people.
Never again shall they be two nations,
and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.

That reunification will not be a simple political settlement; rather it will signal the fidelity of the people, their observance of God’s laws and decrees, forgiveness and freedom from their sins, peaceful and secure settlement of the promised land, fertile farms and livestock, prosperity, large families with children and grandchildren, and holiness.
Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the LORD,
who make Israel holy,
when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever.

This Old Testament prophecy of unity inspires the same hope within the New Testament, and probably for the same reasons. The early church was no more united than it is today. That is why we hear in Jesus’ prayer of John 17: that they may be one just as we are. If he saw in advance our divisions – and for a man of his native intelligence that would be no great insight – the church that sponsored the Gospel of Saint John knew already sharp and painful divisions.

Recently I suggested in this blog that “organized religion” might not be about unified leadership and coherent doctrines. Perhaps it is primarily observing the times and seasons. In that respect, Christianity is rather unified. Almost all Christian churches observe Easter; and most, on the same Sunday. Many Protestant churches observe Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday and Holy Week. For that we should be grateful. The Holy Spirit still governs our prayers, guiding us peacefully and hopefully to oneness of heart.

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Christ the Judge
in the
National Shrine
of the Immaculate
...can you say that the one
whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world
blasphemes because I said, 'I am the Son of God?'

Holy Week nears and our daily readings describe increasing tension as Jesus' enemies close in on him. But the Gospel of John insists that Jesus is never the victim of his enemies. The entire death and resurrection of Jesus is wasted upon us if we do not understand these words:

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.”
Anyone who blames "the Jews" for the death of Jesus misunderstands the Gospel completely. Though he might call himself a Christian, he has placed himself outside of Christ's saving work. 

In today's Gospel Jesus states clearly, "I am the Son of God." By doing so he draws up his own death certificate. By raising Lazarus from the dead, he will sign it. 

In this Gospel he also makes his claim upon his disciples. Do you believe this, or not? Saint John concludes this chapter with:
He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained. Many came to him and said, "John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true."
And many there began to believe in him. 
Lent is a "season" of repentance, a window of opportunity; it leads us to "the hour" which has been anticipated since the beginning of time. When that hour comes, we will make our choice. After that, for the undecided, there will be only weeping and wailing

Thursday of the third week of Lent

Ceiling art in French Lick Hotel
The ferryman Charon transports
the dead across the
River Styx
"Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death."

The Christian, in imitation of Christ, knows that death and life are not opposites. Like summer, fall, winter and spring which make one year; and day and night which together make one day; death and life are life.

I once knew a woman who was very sick. Several doctors believed she had cancer but she refused to have a biopsy. I asked her why not. She said, very simply, “It might hurt.” I could hardly believe what I was hearing but her family confirmed it. Because she was afraid of the pain of a biopsy the poor woman died a slow and painful death that might not have been necessary.
Jesus marched resolutely for Jerusalem, knowing what would happen when he got there. He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, as anyone would, an agony of fear. But when his dread passed, as all feelings pass, he greeted his tormentors with equanimity. He did not want pain, suffering and death but neither was he afraid of them. He accepted them as one accepts night when the sun goes down.
Americans think that death and life are opposites. I found an extreme example of that doctrine in a Minnesota church. They believed no one of their members would die before the Second Coming of Christ. I asked a former member of that church, “What do they do when someone dies?” She replied, “They don’t talk about it.” That seems to be how Americans deal with death. It’s the great taboo.

As Lent draws to a close we enter Holy Week. We have recognized our remorse, guilt and shame. We are appalled that Jesus must die horribly to atone for us -- but we welcome that as well. Not to do so would be to flee from him when he most needs our presence.
As we admire his courage we pray we will have the same courage to go wherever he leads us, especially "at the hour of our death. Amen"

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

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. 

In today's Gospel the Jews -- Saint John's word for those who oppose Jesus, not to be confused with all Jewish people of today -- bridle at his implying they are slaves. No one wants to hear such a word. 
But slavery stubbornly persists even in the world today, even in these United States. I wonder if slavery, like Original Sin, must remain with us until Judgement Day. 
Slavery as an institution that degraded man to a thing has never died out. In some periods of history it has flourished: many civilizations have climbed to power and glory on the backs of slaves. In other times slaves have dwindled in number and economic importance. But never has slavery disappeared.
MILTON MELTZER, Slavery: A World History
I'm speaking here of real slavery; and not the metaphor of people who are enslaved to alcohol, recreational drugs and so forth. Men and women are imported from Mexico and other nations to the United States by organizations that sell them to "employers." The "illegal immigrants," speaking no English, are virtually at the mercy of those who hold them. They are told they can work their way out of their indentureship, but that day comes only when they're no longer useful to the bosses. Their "debts" mount with every meal, every cigarette, and every beer they are given. Without documents, alternate housing, or civil protections they live in fear of the police who might help them. If they are released the INS ships them back to their native land, penniless, at no cost to their captors. 
But that is the milder form of slavery as it occurs here. The worse forms involve forced prostitution, beatings, drug-enduced mental states, fear and death. Women are more commonly held in this way, though young men are also captives. As I understand, many slaves are not native to the country; but more are children driven from their homes by neglect and abandonment. 
Living in the street is a misnomer; no one lives on street. They only die there. 
Homeless, they are exploited by the criminal societies that operate throughout the United States, in the major cities, small towns and rural communities. Law enforcement has few resources to address the problem and slavery remains largely hidden, especially because exact definitions of human bondage are hard to come by. The helpless captives are often complicit in their chains. If they are delivered from their captors they have no where to go but back into it. 

A society that was once founded upon biblical principles of family, community, law and covenant has rededicated itself to the individual's pursuit of happiness. Law is simply a tool to be used when convenient and ignored wherever possible. Few are willing to support our several layers of government by the generous payment of taxes; if they expect anything of government they want nothing more than support of their middle- and upper-class ways of life. Those who lack resources also lack rights and freedom. Entire neighborhoods fall under the ban. 

In the VA hospital I watch society fraying at its edges as individuals and families fall off the edge and "through the cracks." Alcohol, drugs, mental illness, marital and familial infidelity, ignorance and poverty take their toll. Can anyone be surprised that slavery persists among us? 

Jesus nailed it when he said, "Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin." 
"Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, "Letter To Henry L. Pierce and Others" (April 6, 1858), p. 376. 
No slavery can be abolished without a double emancipation, and the master will benefit by freedom more than the freed-man. THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY, Aphorisms and Reflections 

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

You belong to this world,
but I do not belong to this world.
That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.
For if you do not believe that I AM,
you will die in your sins."
So they said to him, "Who are you?"

Some years ago a group of mathematicians imagined a two-dimensional world. As I understand they had a lot of fun re-configuring gadgets and tools of our three-dimensional world to fit their imaginary world. What would a house look like. How would roads be built? What conveyances would they use to travel? What games would they play? And so on.
Most interesting, perhaps, what would the people of that world make of three-dimensional persons. Madeleine L'Engle, in her book A Wrinkle in Time, toyed with the idea. 
Saint John's Gospel is like that. Jesus has come to our world of three dimensions from another dimension and they don't know what to make of him. He explains himself very clearly and with irrefutable logic and he might as well be speaking a foreign language. 
To be precise, Jesus comes from the Kingdom of Truth, a place Pontius Pilate had heard of but had never seen. 
Jesus sees through the tangled web of illusions, delusions, desires, preferences, expectations, romances and fears which clouds our eyes. Not only did he see through the lies, he also saw the lies for what they are. He understood their misunderstandings but he was never subject to them. 
And so he could say, "I do not belong to this world." 
And, fearfully, they would say in reply, "Who are you?" 

That's a wonderful question. It's one of the right questions we should ask of Jesus. To learn the answer we will have to travel with him daily, for the rest of our lives. And by so doing, we will come to know the Truth. 

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

Storm clouds of March 3, 2012
The virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel,
which means, "God is with us." 

Not even the sadness of Lent can darken the joy of the Annunciation. We have to take a day off and consider that nine months from today we will celebrate Christmas. We have to consider the woman who so willingly gave her body, soul, mind and strength to the Lord God and, by her eager willingness, received her savior and ours into God's created universe. 
Scripture scholars are quick to point out that Isaiah's original word for "virgin" in the Hebrew indicated a young woman. Isaiah was not speaking of a virgin in its technical sense, meaning a woman innocent of all sexual experience. He may have meant only that, before a year was up, Ahaz would see an heir to his throne. God maintains his ability to surprise.
But the same scholars will tell us Saint Matthew used the Greek translation of Isaiah and deliberately used  the word virgin. Like his colleague Luke, he faithfully recorded the oral tradition of that first century Christian Church when he described Mary as a pregnant virgin. As astonishing and wonderful as that may sound, this is our belief. 
The doctrine of Virgin Birth underlines the unique relationship of Jesus to our God. There is no one like him; never has been; never will be. Not even in the entire Universe, if there be sentient beings on exoplanets. (I, for one, maintain my disbelief in extra-terrestrial intelligent life until proven otherwise -- which promises to be a very long time!) 

Our responsorial psalm also celebrates the wonderful occasion as we echo Mary's heartfelt response: 
Here I am Lord, I come to do your will. 
God will never use anyone in the crude sense of that word, except when He demonstrates his authority over the wicked. They asked for it. But the willing and the eager God will invite to participate in his Saving Deeds. And so Mary is invited to be the Mother of God and she dances with joy. Our contemporaries might hire women's bodies to spawn their children, thus denying their children the right to know their parents; but our God lays out his plan to Mary before asking her consent. Rightfully then do we thank her and her God for her fiat: Let it be done to me according to your word.

Mary's consent is ours as well. She is and speaks for the entire Church. As she brought her God into our world, so do we bring our God to our neighbors, friends and family. As she was filled with holiness, so does our holiness flood from us into the cosmos around us. We have heard God say, "You shall be my people, and I shall see your God." On this solemn feast of the Annunciation, we begin to see just how completely God intends to fulfill those words. 

Fifth Sunday of Lent

The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand
to lead them forth from the land of Egypt;
for they broke my covenant,
and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD. 

As I have reflected on the readings of Lent this year I have been impressed by the number of references to the time. I have reminded my faithful readers of this season, this window of opportunity. The wise man Qoheleth gave us the wonderful song of Ecclesiastes 3:  For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven..."  and the wise pay attention to the seasons. We wear warm clothes in the winter; we drink more water during the summers; we prepare for the Coming of Christ during Advent and we repent during Lent. 
The foolish are those who ignore the seasons. Their health can be destroyed by thin clothing in winter and by dehydration in summer. Likewise, failure to notice the seasons of prayer waste precious opportunities. 
We may celebrate God's unbounded mercy, but putting off penance until the last moment is presumptuous and foolhardy. Who can say he will actually be ready to repent when his final hour comes? His obstinacy may be as persistent in his final agony as it was during his hours of comfort. As someone has said, "There is no cure for stupid." 

Today's first reading immediately reminds us, "The days are coming..." At one time this fifth Sunday of Lent was called Passion Sunday. We read one of the passion narratives of the Gospel; we shrouded the saints' statues in purple. We put away the chimes and used wooden knockers to signal sacred moments of the Mass. We silenced the organ and the choir sang a capella as we entered the final days of Lent. Many parishes still exercise most of those options. Only the reading of the passion is changed because the Church offers a fuller presentation of all four passion narratives with our three year cycle. 

What are the days that are coming? We will receive a new covenant from God. This is, of course, the New Covenant of the New Testament. (The words covenant and testament mean the same thing in this usage.) The Christian covenant is not simply observance of the Law, as precious as that is for our Jewish neighbors and friends. The Christian covenant invites us to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus Christ. We have entered into an incomprehensibly deep relationship with Jesus and his Father through our sacraments. 

To return to this theme of time: relationships also have their sacred moments. Nearly everyone remembers his or her birthday. The wise husband does not forget his wife's birthday and pays close attention to their wedding anniversary. He has no excuse for forgetting it; and remembering it under really adverse circumstances -- like his hospitalization or a financial crisis -- will demonstrate his fidelity. Likewise our covenant with Jesus Christ has its opportune moments; they must not be wasted. To do so is to risk insulting his cross. 
How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know the one who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 
We enter this Passiontide with holy fear, that is deep reverence for what we are about to see. Do we understand everything about it? Of course not! Who can understand the language of love that Jesus and his Father use as he offers himself for us? It is beyond comprehension. Only the Spirit of God can interpret such signs, words and gestures. But we watch and witness in mute silence, believing that their love surrounds, pervades and penetrates the entire universe. 

When that hour comes: 
I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

O LORD, my God, in you I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers and rescue me,
Lest I become like the lion's prey,
to be torn to pieces, with no one to rescue me. 

As I write this post the air is thick with humidity; a thunderstorm is somewhere nearby. I'm told it passed here an hour ago and is now looming over the counties east of Louisville. But the air, the stillness and the darkness remain ominous. There may be more trouble ahead. 

Our readings of today's Mass are also ominous. The Prophet Jeremiah, whose life was "interrupted" by a premature death, complained of the dark glances, the public ostracism and the muttered threats that left him feeling vulnerable and frightened. As God's prophet he could say only what the Lord directed him to say; he could only warn his fellow citizens of doom. Because he was a professional prophet the people would not kill him outright, but they despised his message and his presence. 

Today's Gospel also records the threats against Jesus. Temple authorities sent their guards to bring him in. And they would have done so, but they were cowed by his singular majesty. His "time had not yet come." But it was coming and Jesus knew that as well as anyone. 

Secular time is linear. It moves from the past to the future through the present moment. It promises good times ahead, and no more trouble. In that glorious future there will be no need for sacrifice. Having studied our past and examined the present we forecast a rosy future. The Communists expected a future of proletarian rule. True die-hard communists -- if there were any left in 1990 -- never saw the collapse of their movement coming until it fell upon them. Nazis also expected to dominate the world until their defeat in 1945. 

Religious time is cyclic. We don't expect history to advance from bad to good to better; we see violence in every age. Wisdom sees not only the light at the end of the tunnel; it also sees the tunnel at the end of the light. And so we follow Jesus to Jerusalem and to Golgotha, praying all the while, "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil." 

The storm broke furiously over Mount Saint Francis a little while ago, and has passed. The morning will be glorious. 

Friday of the fourth week of Lent

Pied-billed grebe at MSF
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."

From the moment of his appearance, Jesus’ trajectory moves from Galilee toward confusion, crisis and crucifixion. Even those who seem to be friendly and receptive at first will be confounded by his challenge. They will finally reject him, while his disciples -- those whom he has chosen by name -- are stunned into helpless silence. They don’t know what to make of Jesus but they have nowhere else to turn. 

Saint John accentuates the mystery of Jesus with the questions of where he came from and where he is going. If John’s congregation knew the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and the story of his birth in Bethlehem, he did not cite those texts because they don’t really answer the question. Where does Jesus come from?

Twenty centuries later, we’d still like to know the answer to that and other questions about Jesus. Before we make a decision about him, before we commit our lives to him: we have many questions.But that's our fear taking control. We want to know what we’re getting into and how much it will cost. 

As often happens in life, the answer is not forthcoming; and yet we must choose. If we wait too long the moment, the Season of Lent, the window of opportunity -- will pass and the door will be closed.

Jesus’ origins are mysterious. If we must have words, we might say “He comes from God” or “He comes from Truth.” But no one knows where God or Truth abides until she knows Jesus. Those words of explanation might deflect worried friends who think the Christian has lost her mind, but they don't bring her any closer to answering her questions or satisfying the Lord's demand. They are baby steps when it's time to jump across the chasm of fear. 

We are now rapidly approaching Passiontide, the fifth and sixth weeks of Lent. The readings of our Masses will grow more intense as Jesus approaches Jerusalem and Calvary. Many will drop away from Jesus. Their nerves will fail. We must go with him. 
So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.” John 11:16

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Yellow moss marks a footpath to the lake.
"If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not true.
But there is another who testifies on my behalf,
and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true.

People who choose to live by the law trust the processes of the law. There are standards which everyone knows; and procedures for hearing every side of a quarrel; and persons with authority to decide
So long as we are human there will be differences  of  opinion, misunderstandings, charges  of misconduct and so forth. And so we have law, court proceedings, lawyers and judges. 

The Jews have always revered the Law as one of God's most wonderful gifts. To live within the law, under its protecting shelter, is to be blessed. And nothing seems more "right and just" than to honor the  Lawgiver. 

The Gospel of John often uses language of the Law and the courts to describe Jesus conflict with the religious leaders of his day. He never said anything as foolish as "I'll bet you ten thousand dollars" or "Read my lips." 

Rather, he gave his testimony to the truth and stepped down, to allow others to testify about his truthfulness. In today's gospel from John 5, we hear about those others testators: 
  • First was John the Baptist. He spoke out clearly as this Gospel records:  
    • A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony,to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him; and

    • John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’"; and

    • The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God,* who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him,* but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove* from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him,v but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’
  • Secondly, there are  
    • The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.
      • It should be noted that  these works, by some standards, may under-whelming. Tricks like changing water to wine; prophetic gestures like driving money changers out of the  temple; knowing the seedy details of a Samaritan woman's life; even feeding five thousand people with a few loaves and fishes were probably no more impressive to the ancient world than the special effects we see every day on television. You might recall that the signs Moses gave were duplicated by the Egyptian magicians. It takes more than "stranger than science" to inspire faith. 
    • But Jesus works, like the sacraments, do inspire those who have the eyes to see.
  • Thirdly, there is God Himself:
    • ...the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf.
      • That testimony appears explicitly in John 10: And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.

  • Finally, there are the scriptures:  You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf.
But the real problem is quite simple: ... you do not want to come to me to have life.

The Jesus we meet in the Gospel of John has enormous authority, an authority so evident it  needs no further witnesses or documentation. And yet Jesus is willing to argue with his opponents and to present his witnesses. His authority is entirely reasonable if only they will listen to reason. 

As Christians and Catholics who have seen the signs he gave us -- especially the signs of Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Matrimony, Orders, Anointing of the Sick and Penance -- our testimony is also thoroughly reasonable. The proof is our holy and good life. 

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

For the Father loves the Son
and shows him everything that he himself does,
and he will show him greater works than these,
so that you may be amazed.

Amazement is a continual state for the Christian. Our sacraments and liturgies; our daily prayers; our scripture study (lectio divina); our dedication to our families, friends, churches, neighbors and fellow citizens; our stewardship of God’s creation; our upright dealings with the world around us; our fascinating human bodies – all of these and more generate awe and wonder in the children of God. This continual state of astonishment is the power of which Saint John speaks:
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God. (John 1:12-13)

The Gospel of Saint John is, among other things, a deep study of our relationship with Jesus, and his relationship with the One whom he calls “Father.” It begins with a “Book of Signs,” a series of stories and teachings. These signs – from the miracle at Cana to his raising of Lazarus – prepare us to witness the most wonderful sign of all: his Conversation with God. By that I mean his Crucifixion.

To begin with, Jesus is one born “not by a man’s decision but of God.” Saints Matthew and Luke have told us of his virgin birth. Saint John will explore its meaning more deeply. Jesus' relationship with God is utterly unique; there has never been and will never be another person so blessed as Jesus. He alone is the Son of God.

The fifth chapter of this gospel addresses Jesus’ sonship in God. In many ways it sounds familiar. The father is the master craftsman; the son learns by imitation and perfect obedience:
…the Son cannot do anything on his own,
but only what he sees the Father doing;
for what he does, the Son will do also.

Even restoring life to the dead, which only God can do, belongs to this man born of Mary. However, the Son will receive greater authority from his Father:
Nor does the Father judge anyone,
but he has given all judgment to the Son,
so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.
Whoever does not honor the Son
does not honor the Father who sent him.

This authority to judge is not necessarily to determine who is salvageable and who is not. Not everything that God does is about me! Rather, it is given so that all creatures might honor the Son of God, and those whom he has chosen, and the Creation which bears testimony to him. As Saint Paul said,
For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Romans 8: 19-21)

Finally, Jesus contains within himself the vitality of God the Father:
For just as the Father has life in himself,
so also he gave to the Son the possession of life in himself.
And he gave him power to exercise judgment,
because he is the Son of Man.

That vitality is, as we heard before, the power to become children of God. Jesus’ disciples will see more clearly both authority and judgment -- and will be amazed -- when we arrive at the eleventh chapter and the raising of Lazarus:
…because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs
will hear his voice and will come out,
those who have done good deeds
to the resurrection of life,
but those who have done wicked deeds
to the resurrection of condemnation.

After that incident in Bethany there will be no turning back. Jesus will walk where we cannot now follow. He will disappear into the sacrifice of Calvary. There, in utter astonishment, in that brilliance which is brighter than a supernova’s collapse, we shall witness his total obedience to his Father and his perfect love of us.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Then he brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit.

Water has that effect on me. I like to sit by a river, lake or pond. Many years ago I sat on an ocean shore and saw the vast horizon of the sea. It seemed to stretch to eternity and my lonely imagination went with it.
Today’s first reading from Ezekiel invites us to reflect on the sacrament of baptism. The gospel describes a scene in Jesus’ life,  centuries later, when he came to that very stream which flowed from the temple hill. Already rich with religious history and legend, the bath of Bethesda was a shrine where the sick found assistance, comfort and healing.

I would like to ask someone who knows if there is more water beneath the surface of the land than there is atop it. Southern Indiana lies upon a foundation of soluble limestone. Water flows beneath our feet through miles of hidden caves. Most of these passages, I suppose, are completely full of water and very few have been explored. Some of them may be tall enough for a spelunker to stand; others, no wider than a pencil. There are blind fish swimming there; they feed on whatever nutrition flows from the topsoil into the earth. As I sit on a park bench, I wonder if there are fish, bats, or cave crickets with their long feelers creeping a quarter mile beneath my feet.  
The air in southern Indiana, especially in the Ohio River Valley is also dense with water. Many of us suffer Ohio Valley Crud, a perpetual sinus stuffiness. But the humidity is easier on the skin than dry desert air; it nestles with a soft, affectionate embrace.
It’s not hard to see water in the clouds overhead, and there is always at least one body of surface water close by. It may not be safe to drink but the wildlife doesn’t mind. All this water reminds me that I am mostly water. In fact I am pretty much a bag of water with bones to hold me upright.

Jesus was baptized in water. I have to suppose he was as fascinated by water as any child. When it was too cold to wade or swim, the boy found rocks to skip across the surface.
They tell me there is as much water on earth today as there was then. Jesus drank the very water you and I drink today. It passed through his body into the earth, into the clouds, onto the sea and into the clouds again in a continual cycle until we drink it again. Water, heated by the sun and nurtured by the earth, is life for us.
It knows nothing of boundaries; nothing of mine and yours; nothing of sacred and profane. It’s all the same vitality. Saint Francis celebrated water in his Canticle of the Creatures:
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Not even Saint Francis could imagine how useful  water would be to 21st century industry. He saw her humility in her willingness to be shaped by whatever vessel contains her. She is precious, of infinitely greater worth than crude oil or refined gasoline. We often forget that in our rush to drive our bony water bags from place to place.  Finally, she is pure. In her humility she does absorb all kinds of pollutants, but she is always ready to be purified for our consumption. The sun and winds assist in that all-important project.
It is not hard to see God’s presence in water. Her blessing is surpassed only by the God who has given her to us.

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

A pileated woodpecker
plies his trade by
Lake MSF. 

We interrupt this Lent to bring you a special feast day, a Solemnity -- in honor of Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary.

It was not through the law
that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants
that he would inherit the world,
but through the righteousness that comes from faith.
For this reason, it depends on faith,
so that it may be a gift....

Since at least the tenth century Catholics have had a special affection for Saint Joseph. We honor him in anticipation of March 25 which is also a Solemnity, the Annunciation of the Lord. On that majestic feast we will contemplate Mary's fiat. 

Clearly God wanted his Most Beloved Son to have a father and a mother who hear and keep the word of God. They should also honor one another as husband and wife. These are the natural rights of every child. If not every child is given these gifts, that does not mean the exceptions should be made the rule. Who would win by that? Everyone would lose! Rather, exceptions demonstrate the challenge we face in trying to rectify the injustice. We must find ways to provide every child with a safe, prayerful home where adults and children live in harmony. 

Recently I met a Veteran who grew up in a series of foster homes. He was "shunted about" from one house to another and, in his old age, suffers a deep sense of abandonment. He is one of the sweetest men I have met, and yet he suffers a deep suspicion of people around him. He is convinced no one can be trusted to really care about him. It is a story he has told himself so often that every time he suffers a moment of neglect, it reconfirms his belief. 

Jesus was born and raised under harrowing conditions: poverty, danger from King Herod, and exile in Egypt. And yet he had a deep conviction of God's abiding love. Was that simply a mystical conviction based solely on his identity as the Son of God? Was he given this extraordinary perception by his status as Messiah? 

I think not. Before he knew his right hand from his left, before he could pronounce the word mama or abba, he knew that life is good and people are good. In his infancy and childhood this couple were the incarnate face of God for him. Even his later experiences of torture and death could not shake that conviction.  He learned them at his mother's breast and on his father's lap. 

On this octave day before the Annunciation, nine months and a week before the Solemnity of the Incarnation, we remember the righteousness that comes from faith. Besides the story of Joseph in the Gospel of Matthew there is only one adjective used to describe Saint Joseph. He was a righteous man. 

Nothing more needs to be said of him. He was found worthy to be the Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
"Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

I wonder if it is pure coincidence that Saint John's Gospel speaks of Jesus' being lifted up three times (John 3:14; 8:28; & John 12:32) and that the Blessed Sacrament is lifted up three times during the Mass -- immediately after the Consecration, at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, and between the Fraction and Communion. Our liturgy is deeply rooted in the Bible. Did an ancient liturgist introduce those three gestures to the Mass, or did the Holy Spirit cause it to happen without anyone's noticing? 
A fourth lifting up may be found when Jesus is actually crucified in the Gospel of John and when the Eucharistic Minister (priest, deacon or extraordinary minister) shows the Most Blessed Sacrament to the individual communicant and announces, "The Body of Christ." 
Lifting up is one of many keys to the Gospel of Saint John. Jesus has come down from heaven and will return there. Meanwhile his disciples and the crowds wonder where he came from, where he lives and where he is going. He is clearly from some strange place of which we know little. It might be called Truth or Reality; it is not a land of illusion or falsehood. 

Today is called Laetare Sunday; the word means rejoice, and the mood is imperative. Rejoice! Our salvation is nearer than when we first heard the Gospel. In the oldest document of the New Testament Saint Paul commands us, "Rejoice always!" (I Thessalonians 5:16); and in his Letter to the Philippians he seems to sing the command, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I say again, Rejoice!" 
Although it is Lent and we are preparing to grieve the tortured death of Jesus during Holy Week, the subtext of our grief is joy and gratitude. Clearly Jesus does not hesitate as he marches toward Jerusalem, Gethsemane and Golgotha. He will do this for us and he is grateful for the opportunity. 
But how hard it is for us to allow him to do it!

He does it joyfully because he does it in obedience to His Father. Jesus is not confined by our notions of freedom. We think freedom is "doing what I want to do." Clearly Jesus wants to save us; he loves us with intense affection. But more importantly, he wants to obey his God whom he loves as a father and calls Abba. 
And so he will instruct the befuddled Nicodemus: 
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Why would anyone think God condemns the world when he sends His Beloved Son? How can they even think such a thing when they see him raised upon the cross and praying for his tormentors?  

When I try to understand the message of the cross I think of listening to someone talk on the telephone. I am in the same room as the one speaking, and I cannot see or hear the person at the other end of the line. I can hear only this side of the conversation. 
But I can follow the conversation pretty well since I know what it's about. When I hear a clever remark on my end, I know what the reply might be. Seeing my companion laugh, I know what the other said. 
Watching Jesus on the cross and hearing his prayers I encounter the One to whom he offers himself. I can see the absolute surrender and total confidence of my Friend and I am sure his Father is worthy of that confident surrender. I know my Friend is no fool. If he believes God is so good, that settles it for me. 
When he is raised up on Easter, my confidence and his are confirmed. Despite the horror of his crucifixion there was  never any doubt about its outcome, for no one has ever died as gracefully as Jesus. He died so well that even the Roman centurion cried out, "Surely this was the Son of God." 

As we celebrate the Mass, we see Jesus lifted up before our eyes again. As Saint Paul said, 
It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! 
How can we not rejoice as our salvation appears before our eyes on this Laetare Sunday?