Easter Sunday

Lectionary: 42

This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

So which is more important, Christmas or Easter? The question might generate lively discussion at your family gathering. 

If the secular symbols of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were dismissed out of hand, and the debate were confined to religious importance for Christians, the two feasts might be more balanced. If the debaters had to be regular church-goers the balance might tip toward Easter. If practicing Catholics checked the calendar, as the Easter party would insist, they would find the Easter cycle is 90 days long; whereas Christmas is, at best, about forty. 
Some would argue that God could not redeem what he has not created already, thus favoring Christmas. But what would be the point of creation without redemption? 
Many Franciscans prefer Christmas because, we argue, God intended to enter human life as the Incarnate Son from the very beginning. God could not have remained remote from his gorgeous world until after Adam's sin. Surely he intended to be born of the Virgin Mary since time immemorial.  
But Easter is God's crowning achievement. We could not have known the Infinite Love of God without Jesus' display of perfect love on Calvary. Though his love is manifest in the wonder of the universe -- and continues to grow more manifest as we explore our world -- we could not imagine how deep that love would go until we saw it penetrating the darkest shadows of human existence. Sin became that "happy fault" which revealed the mysterious, unfathomable abyss of human depravity; and Easter revealed the infinite mercy of God. 
The debate about Christmas and Easter may be like the sound of one hand clapping. But it's a koan that actually takes us somewhere. 

The passage above, from the Acts of the Apostles, reveals another enigma about Easter. Some thoughtful people have challenged the Church, "If God wanted us to believe in Jesus why did he appear only "to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance?" Shouldn't he have appeared to his tormentors; to Pilate and Herod and the high priests and the screaming mobs who taunted him on Good Friday? Shouldn't he appear in every age to scorners and doubters, as he did to Saint Thomas? 

The answer, as unsatisfying as it might be for debaters, is faith. Seeing is not believing. Believing penetrates far more deeply the abyss of human sin. The skeptic who sees the Risen Lord is not so blessed as the one, like the Beloved Disciple who sees the empty tomb and believes. 
Belief, unlike seeing, works slowly, like a penetrating oil. If I am working with a rusted bolt locked into a corroded nut, slathering it with oil resolves the problem only with more time and effort. Eventually the lock will break, as the oil seeps into every microscopic crack my efforts open. 
For us, that means a lifetime of effort. But, fortunately, the work gets easier as we experience success. Frozen immobility gives way to creeping progress which finally becomes total freedom. 

Catholics pore over the Acts of the Apostles throughout the Easter Season. There we see the penetrating power of faith to liberate terrified men and women. Those who fled the Garden of Gethsemane will follow Jesus into the torture chambers and riotous Coliseums of the Roman Empire. 

As we see Europe and North America descending into a "post-Christian, post-family" era, and given more and more to coarse entertainment and incivility, the Christian remains within the Church and shout, "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia." 

Holy Saturday

I spoke with a fellow who said he had killed a man. He asked if God would forgive him. I gave him the standard answer: "God forgives even such a terrible crime if you asked." 
"But," I wondered, "have you asked the murdered man to forgive you?" 
He was surprised by the question. "Can a dead man forgive me?" 
"Jesus died and he forgave us!" 
"I never thought of that." he said.

We sometimes forget that Jesus died. In our excitement about his resurrection, we forget that he is dead.
When we think of other heroic people who have died we often invoke their spirit. We say, "If we keep doing their good work, they will not have died in vain." 
Thinking of Jesus, we remember how he urged us to "Do this in memory of me." But we sometimes suppose that, since he was raised up again, perhaps we don't have to do anything. Then, as far as we're concerned, he has died in vain. 
In our rush to announce his resurrection Christians sometimes forget the reality of death. Even my own death seems unimportant -- until I look it in the face. Then I'm not so sure.
Everything becomes cloudy. I thought I was important but death tells me I will be forgotten as surely as billions of others have been forgotten. Even the best marked graves disappear eventually.  
During the stillness of Holy Saturday, after the ordeal of Good Friday, we contemplate the death of Hope. Can I live without it? Has God punished the Earth forever for what we did to Jesus, and what we do to one another? 
Many people live without hope. Their spiritual lives have come to a dead end. They can think of no reason to live except, perhaps, to eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die
What does the faithful one do when God has died? 
We might ask forgiveness of one another -- especially from those who have died. 

Good Friday

Lectionary: 40
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; 
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

I have often reflected on Jesus’ obedience to his Father. It seems to be the key to the Gospel of Saint John and an extraordinarily challenging doctrine for our time. When peoples and nations celebrate unfettered freedom and unlimited power, even as they trample underfoot the marginalized and forgotten, we should reflect upon the God who “learned obedience from what he suffered” and “was made perfect” by it.
But from my patriarchal ivory tower I hear the complaint that boys are taught dominance while girls are taught obedience. I do not intend to maintain that social sin. As I read Genesis 3, I see that oppression and the stratification of human society are punishment for sin: “yet your urge shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.” In the beginning Eve and Adam shared their labor and enjoyed their companionship as children of God. It was never God’s intention that one person should “rule over” another. 
Core to my own Franciscan spirituality is the need for authority. Human beings, with or without sin, are social human beings who need one another to survive. No one can make it alone. Not only must we help one another, we must develop specialized skills; no one person has all the skills. Not least of those skills is the ability to lead. It's not given to everyone. Some might argue that it should be, but it's not. Consequently, another of our survival skills is the ability to follow; that is, to obey. In the real world, everyone is subject to law, including the Son of God.
Francis and his dear friend Clare were extraordinarily willful people. If either decided to do something they would pursue that goal until hell froze over. On one occasion, informed of Clare’s severe fasting, Francis and the Bishop of Assisi commanded her to eat at least one biscuit every other day. Obediently, if unwillingly, she agreed -- but she would eat no more than that! 
On his deathbed Saint Francis wanted to die exactly as Jesus had died. Shouldn’t a man be granted his final wish? Brother Elias wisely commanded him to keep his habit on. There were women present. 
Both these saints, Francis and Clare, had very strong wills and had learned a healthy distrust for them. They didn’t devalue themselves but they placed a higher value upon the spirit and the will of God. They were eager to submit to obedience, even if it meant listening to the newest, least instructed member of the community. (Clare insisted the newest members of the convent should have a voice in decisions of the community. Francis, retiring from leadership, asked that a novice might be given to him as his immediate superior. He was refused.) 
Jesus, of course, set the example as he obeyed the commands of the priests Annas and Caiphas, Herod Antipas, and the procurator Pontius Pilate. As dreadful as they were, they represented the will of God to Jesus. 
The celebration of Good Friday does not mean my opinions are stupid and my preferences, evil. But it does remind me not to let my ego get in the way of my salvation. In the silence of these hours between the Good Friday Service and the Easter Vigil, I will be well advised to let my thoughts, fears and desires be silent. With my thinking, I cannot understand what has happened to Jesus. My worse fears have been realized; my Lord is dead; and yet I live. My desires? What do I want? I cannot think anymore. 

Holy Thursday 2013

Lectionary: 39

I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

During those critical years when my brain was still taking shape and my thoughts were both impressionable and disjointed, I shared the bias of my peers that tradition was a dirty word. It might have its charm for Russian peasants in Fiddler on the Roof, but it was a nuisance for an aspiring boomer as the revolutionary sixties segued into the co-opted seventies.
Imagine my shock, then, when I realized that my only real world connection to Jesus Christ is our cherished tradition. After two semesters of post-graduate theology, I understood that the Church wrote the Bible. We kept Jesus’ teachings and stories and authorized our scribes to edit and record them. We kept, copied and distributed the letters of Saint Paul and other writers. We discussed, argued and settled upon a list of canonical documents and dropped the rest into the dustbin of history. The Bible is not the opposite of tradition, as some have described it, but its most sacred artifact. The Bible is to Tradition as the Blessed Sacrament is to the tabernacle. And the Catholic Church is where we encounter both.
To know Jesus, I realized at the tender age of twenty-three, I must belong to the Church. OMG, I was becoming conservative!
On Holy Thursday we celebrate Jesus’ institution of the Church, especially with its sacraments of Eucharist and Priesthood. But – once again – there is that shocking reality. Though I might have heard of Jesus outside the Eucharist, and I might admire what I have heard of him, I cannot know him without the Blessed Sacrament. Within the congregation of the Church and the reception of this Sacrament we meet God face to face.
Do this in memory of me.” is not a suggestion. Jesus did not make this proposal to see if anyone might second and offer it for discussion, debate and an up-or-down vote. He didn't hope we might do this. Eucharist is the one sure way to meet the Lord.
The new pontiff has taken a new name, Francis. That has to mean something. God sent the Little Poor Man of Assisi (the Poverello) when people thought they had pretty well figured out God and religion. They knew Jesus, or so they thought. Saint Francis gently dismantled that error; he showed them a God who cared for the poor, the sick and the despised; who came to serve, not to be served.
As in Francis’ day, millions of people today think they know Jesus. They call themselves Christians despite their worship of wealth, weapons and warfare. Many don’t attend any church. They don’t need to because they suppose “God loves everybody with unconditional love.”
The Catholic Church with its new pope must challenge their assumptions and warn them of their moral compromises. For Catholics the next fifty years may be even more exciting than the last, which is all the more reason to Do this in memory of me.

Wednesday of Holy Week

Lectionary: 259

When it was evening,
he reclined at table with the Twelve.
And while they were eating, he said,
“Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

As I listen to patients in the Veterans Affairs Hospital I sometimes struggle with them to make sense of their stories. Occasionally they are confused by medicine or dementia; their sentences, words and phrases tumble out of their mouths but fail to tell a story. But sometimes the confusion is spiritual; the truth is so hard to bear that we fear what may appear when it all comes together.
When I consider the story of Jesus I am amazed at what the four Evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – accomplished. Many people in those first two centuries attempted to write gospels, only four succeeded.
The challenge was to tell the story of Jesus and include his life, mission, death and resurrection. Among its many elements not least was Judas’ betrayal. The documents would not be true without it, and yet how does it happen that the blessing of the earth is affected through such a crime?
Judas’ betrayal remains to this day like a knife embedded in the body of the Mass. Reading the Second Eucharistic Prayer, the priest says, “On the night he was betrayed….”
We insist on remembering Judas because we are plagued by our own fears and temptations. There is always that impulse to cut and run. The Evangelists forgave Peter and Thomas and the Twelve but they did not forget how “They all deserted him and fled.” (Mark 14:50) We remember because we dare not suppress this story. It would certainly come back to haunt us if we tried. Rather, we need light to shine in that very same dark place in our heart.
More importantly, we remember Judas because the brilliant light of God’s mercy shines all the more brightly in the hellish darkness of betrayal:
God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Tuesday of Holy Week

Lectionary: 258

Moss enjoys the sunlight,
so long as its not direct.

Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant.

During these first days of Holy Week we remember and reflect on the events that led to Jesus’ passion.
The confusion and distress of his disciples upon hearing of a betrayer should find an echo in our hearts. Betrayal, by its nature, is unexpected. It comes from within a group of trusted friends or family. They are bound together by common beliefs, mutual respect and a shared history of many adventures. Their lives are braided so deeply they can hardly imagine living apart. What happens to one happens to everyone; what is said of one is said of all.
Is it possible that one of us might betray the group? It’s almost incomprehensible. We know one another! How could we not know who it is?
The Church has long experience of betrayal, but our leaders have often managed to cover it up. They feared scandalizing the faithful. Unfortunately, as we now know, the cover-up only made matters worse. Not only did the criminal behavior thrive in the silence; but some leaders, supposedly well-intentioned, finally stepped over the line between good and evil. Some have been convicted as criminal accomplices.
Despite the Lord’s admonitions to forgiveness, we find little sympathy for Judas Iscariot in the New Testament. That he acted according to God’s plan is no excuse; in Saint Matthew’s Gospel Jesus declares it would be better had he never been born. (26:24)
One thing is certain; the New Testament writers were not given to starry-eyed notions of what should be done. Someone might say, “We should forgive his betrayer,” but it never happened.
And yet life must go on and we are not permitted to live the rest of our days with the bitter taste of betrayal and unforgiveness. The Gospels agree that Judas’ behavior was a necessary part of God’s plan. Jesus’ sacrifice could not occur had he simply walked into the praetorium and demanded to be crucified. Rather, he had to drink the cup of suffering to it dregs and not least of his suffering was the kiss of the traitor.
In the darkness of that evil we see the glory of God.
And it was night. When he had left, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.

Monday of Holy Week

Lectionary: 257

Even the trees are
scarred by his agony. 
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.

We often sing "Precious Lord, take my hand." As we enter Holy Week we take the hand of Jesus and walk with him. Meanwhile, his other hand has been grasped by the LORD, leading him and us to Calvary. This is a hard journey.

Holy Week is variously celebrated throughout the world. It is a massive celebration with processions and vigils. It is colorful, exciting and encouraging. 

Only two weeks ago we saw how the world was fascinated by the election of a pope. It seemed that everyone was caught up in the drama, which continued when the news media lit up with allegations of suspicious conversations between Cardinal Bergoglio and the "dirty warriors" of Argentina. 

Whether they understand the Passion of Jesus or not, they cannot ignore what he has done. The events of Jerusalem during that fateful Passover still reverberate around the world. The universe is watching for a light for the nations. They want to see "the victory of justice." 

Can it be that Jesus is "a covenant of the people" and "a light for the nations?" 

In their private lives too, many prisoners of resentment, lust and greed, of anxiety and fear hope that a Messiah will lead them out of confinement. "Can a single human being be so important?" they demand of us. 

They might overhear our reading in the churches, "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Those who madly refuse to hear the cry of the poor, putting their demands off for one more generation, who say, "Not on my watch!" -- hope Jesus is not that important. His death, they say, was only one man's misery in a world of suffering. He should have no real authority in our world. 

But in their hearts they worry that "the hour has come" 
when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
Later this week we will see Jesus led before the mob and placed on the Seat of Judgement. Each of us will pronounce our fate by the decision we make in that hour. 

On this Monday we anoint his feet with our tears and beg him to leave Bethany and lead us to Jerusalem. 

Palm Sunday

Lectionary: 37 and 38

When Palm Sunday falls in March...

Aloft in the blue sky morning a solitary crow
circled idly overhead on that March
day like a bewildered palmer*.
The soft, spring weather lent
the Sabbath dawn expectancy. A gusty wind
beneath his soaring wings twisted

the arcs of his errant path. Beneath the bird’s twisted
meandering a raucous, belligerent cockcrow
sounded through the streets that wind
the city, itself a dreadful, long disputed march*
of earth and sky, saints and sinners. The walls’ benevolent
mass greeted chanting palmers

who finished their pilgrimage and palmed
the ancient stones. Their twisted
braids blessed the holy ground. The raven, hanging indolent,
ignored below but eyed by circling crows
from Beersheba to Dan, heard a sudden marching
sound of drums and screeling winds

announce a coming day whose blasting winds
would shatter stony walls, yet leave the bruis├ęd palm
unharmed, fresh and green. An eager mob marched
from the city through the open gates, their twisted 
faces grinning. Despite the humble ass and foal they crowed
at Herod’s pikes and Roman spears, and lent

their coats and tunics to the dirty streets, for even laws relent
when a populace hears a divine renewing wind
driving under gates like a crowbar.
Maddened authorities emptied money bags in open palms.
Suddenly reborn as criminals they twisted
schemes, and called for protest marches

to halt the invader’s coming. But the ruthless march
persisted as hosannas sounded, crowds clamored and the silent  
mare and foal advanced. Dust devils danced and twisted
on dung-grimed streets, and tongues of stone sang as the wind
stirred the feathered ferns and spiny palms,
and overhead appeared a murder of crows. 

On this Palm Sunday the twisted crown
And black crows hail our solemn Lent,
as at our backs a mighty wind propels us into march.

(* A palmer is a pilgrim. March also means a disputed territory between opposing governments.) 

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Lectionary: 256

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.

Today's gospel leads us directly into Holy Week. Jesus has, for all practical purposes, signed his own death warrant by calling Lazarus out of the tomb. He has backed his enemies into a corner; they have no choice but to arrest him and condemn him before the Procurator. 

Although the feast of Passover is approaching -- a religious holiday as laden with feel-good sentiment as our Christmas -- the Sanhedrin decides to move fast. They would like to conclude the whole business before the Passover, which that year happens to fall on the Sabbath. That means he should be dead,  removed from the cross and buried as soon as possible. 

Pope Benedict XVI, in his wonderful two-volume work on Jesus, using Saint John's chronology, concludes that Jesus'  Last Supper was not a Passover meal. He may celebrated this meal on Tuesday of that week. But Jesus intentionally used traditional gestures and words of the Passover, so that his new religion would be rooted in the Jewish custom. Without the Old Testament stories, songs and ritual no one would understand what is about to happen. 

As the Master of Ceremonies of his own execution, he controlled the timing and the significance of the gruesome procedure. You might recall that, when they came to arrest Jesus in the Garden, he asked, "Whom do you seek?" When they said, "Jesus of Nazareth!" and he replied, "I am he." they all fell to the ground. They cannot lay a hand on him until the hour has come. 

His last supper and his death and the ensuing events would always be recalled together. Just as he planned, Jesus died at the very hour when the lambs were being slaughtered in the court of the Jerusalem temple. No one could suppose the coincidence was anything less than intentional. 

Entering Holy Week, we as Church must gather "from all sides" so that the Lord can make us "one nation upon the land.... Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms." Christians throughout the world celebrate Easter on the same day, as one Holy People. Come, let us worship. 

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Lectionary: 255

The last three apple trees
of MSF orchard

All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine. “Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.” But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
to lasting, unforgettable confusion.

Predictably, the long knives come out when the Catholic Church celebrates a new pope. They believe with the cynical Stark in Robert Warren's All the King's Men, who assigned Jack to find some dirt on the new judge: 
Jack: But suppose there isn't anything to find. Stark: There is always something. Jack: Maybe not on the Judge.  Stark: Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the diddie [ed. diaper] to the stench of the shroud.  There is always something.
Perhaps they would blame anyone who survived Argentina's Dirty War for not dying as a martyr. They said evil things about the popes Pius XII, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Anyone who survives our tumultuous times, even in the United States, is tainted with evil. Haven't I paid taxes to support the largest war machine in history, the School of the Americas, and the torture of innocent men in Guantanamo? 
To live in our world is to be guilty. We call it "Original Sin," a doctrine which many pious naifs deny. 
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
to lasting, unforgettable confusion.
On Sunday Catholics will stand through the Passion Narrative of Saint Luke and shout, "Crucify Him!" and "Release Barabas to us." Thus do we claim our own guilt for the death of Jesus.

The story is told of the prisoner who stood before a fellow prisoner in a Nazi prison camp. When the clerk asked his name the fellow said, "But you've got to understand. I've done nothing wrong!" 

Jesus, as he stood before Annas, Caiphas, Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate, made no such claim. 
He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers [and "sisters,"] saying: “I will proclaim your name to my brothers [and sisters], in the midst of the assembly I will praise you”; and again: “I will put my trust in him”; and again: “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Hebrews 2:11-13
As we enter Holy Week we stand with our Holy Father Pope Francis -- and with our God.

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Lectionary: 254
A carpet of tiny flowers
greets early spring at MSF

Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day;
he saw it and was glad.”
So the Jews said to him,
“You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
before Abraham came to be, I AM.”

During our responsorial psalm today we declare, “The Lord remembers his covenant forever.” Jesus speaks of this forever when he declares that “Abraham rejoiced to see my day,” for He is the Everlasting Covenant. Jesus is the Eternal Word of God made flesh. And he is the “I AM” who is God.
The Nestorian heresy, which persists in the Coptic and Ethiopian rites of upper Egypt, teach that there are two persons in Jesus. There is Jesus, the son of Mary, a good, willing and obedient man; and there is the Son of God. Both appear as one man but, in fact, the son of Mary is “possessed” by the Son of God, and they are not actually the same person. Mary’s son suffered and died on the cross; the Son of God did not. The Nestorians were unwilling to imagine the scandalous nonsense (I Corinthians 1:23) of God’s incarnate mortal flesh.
The doctrine was repudiated by the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon. We insist that Jesus is both the Son of Mary and the Son of God. This is important because there is no other way we could be saved. First, the god who would stand apart from our human nature, saving us by handing a slave over to crucifixion, would not be penetrate the deepest part of our being where sin resides. Secondly, we might pity the poor man who died so cruelly but pity keeps its distance from the sufferer. It cannot actually enter the experience or be transformed by it.
If we are saved it is by the God who embraces our human nature with its vulnerability, shame and guilt. If we are saved it is by our willingness to embrace the same human nature which God has loved. 
Sin refuses to stoop so low. It clings to power for as long as possible. Assailed on every side by the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, sin must amass innumerable powers: financial, military, police, health, love, luxury, popularity, food, entertainment and so forth. But life will break through. No one can amass so much power as to stop corruption and death.
Only Jesus can show us the way out, for he is the Way that leads through death to life. The Everlasting Word, who knew Abraham and Moses and David, knows you and me. He takes our hands as we walk in his footprints.

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Lectionary: 253

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.
Jesus’ teaching about freedom is radically different from anything we might expect. We think of freedom as something protected from external threats by military forces and local police, and protected from internal threats by adherence to law. Jesus sees only one threat, sin. One who is free enjoys the privileges of children in their parents’ house. Only sin can make household slaves of them.
Someone might ask, “What is sin?” That’s one of the big questions of our time. After Catholics quit speaking absurdly of “mortal sins” as eating meat on Friday and missing Mass on Sunday we found ourselves without a clear understanding of sin and grace. When even more decided that birth control and masturbation can't possibly be mortally fatal, they lost interest in the whole doctrine. Despite the rising tides of abortion, drug abuse and the ritual of murder/suicide it seemed that "mortal sin" had escaped earth's gravity and flown off into outer space.
The Gospel of Saint John describes the grace-filled disciple as one who does not see but believes. In that gospel the Beloved Disciple, known traditionally as John, saw only the empty tomb. That was all he needed to know that Jesus had been raised. Thomas, on the other hand, would not believe until he had seen the Risen Lord -- for which he was rebuked by the Risen Lord.
Sin, then, is not simply flouting rules and laws. It is not believing in the Risen Son of God; it is not believing the Word of God; and it is ignoring the Holy Spirit that directs the heart of the disciple. The obedient servant in her matron's house instinctively watches and waits for direction in whatever form it might come, and acts accordingly. Whether she is told to do something, or interprets a silent clue, she grabs the opportunity to be helpful. Her creativity, energy, skills and willingness stand eager to serve at a moment's notice.
But sin looks for opportunities to escape obedience. It compartmentalizes time into work, play, sleep, eating and so forth; and decides which are “my time” and which are “God’s time.” Eventually, it all becomes “my time” as God seems to recede into a cold, distant heaven. That enervated, useless servant is like salt without savor, good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
"Spirituality," I say to the Veterans in our substance abuse program, "is the development and maintenance of a reason to live." It is a continual awareness of both opportunities and threats. The Christian nurtures her "reason to live;" it is the Spirit of God moving in her, joyful, generous, grateful and willing to live as an obedient child in the House of God.

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The LORD spoke to Nathan and said:
“Go, tell my servant David,
‘When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.

When I was nineteen I looked at old men and wondered, "Will there be a world to live in when I get that old?" When I think of the future of the world today, I wonder what forms of government will survive. Will our experiment in democracy continue? Democracy is, after all, a theory that can be tested but never proven; and forever is a very long time. 
Recently I heard another story about SETI -- the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Given the little I know of history, I have to wonder how long such an expensive and hopelessly futile project can last. As its proponents know, the odds of actually detecting intelligible signals from somewhere out there are astronomical. If they detected every radio wave from every exoplanet within a thousand light-years of Earth, which would take a thousand years to collect, the odds are not much reduced.
Earthlings have never sustained a commitment to such an expensive project with so little hope of success. We have built highways and bridges, cities and nations, tribes and peoples, and all have disappeared in far less time than a mere millennium. We're just not that interested in anything we can accomplish in this world.
As King David faced his own mortality and wondered how long his kingdom would survive, God promised him through the Prophet Nathan, an “heir, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm.”
A thousand years later that promise seemed to have failed. Perhaps its expiration date had passed. Though David’s descendants ruled Judah and Jerusalem for over five hundred years – which is a long time by political standards! – the kingdom was finally washed away by the sweeping wars of the ancient near east. The great armies and powerful economies of Egypt, Persia, Syria, Babylon and Rome rolled through Palestine on their way to conquest somewhere else. They hardly slowed to clean the gore off their boots.
But the Word of the Lord abides forever and the Chosen People of God, nationless and largely dispersed throughout the known world, still remembered the promise to David. As nations rose and fell, cities appeared and vanished, and peoples boldly claimed their precious values before succumbing to cultural amnesia, Jerusalem remembered. The Spirit of God would not suffer them to forget.
And so God spoke to Joseph one night in a dream,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
And Joseph, of course,
... did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Lectionary: 251

You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone.
And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid,
because I am not alone,
but it is I and the Father who sent me.

In today’s gospel we hear Jesus insist, “I do not judge anyone.” Yesterday, in a passage from the same eighth chapter, we saw a crowd of accusers gather round him and confront him with a woman “caught in the very act of adultery.”
In today’s first reading, from the Book of the Prophet Daniel, we hear of another woman accused of adultery and her prayer of desperation: 

“O eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things before they come to be: you know that they have testified falsely against me. Here I am about to die, though I have done none of the things with which these wicked men have charged me.”
Feminist have pointed out that rape is not a sexual act but an act of aggression. It’s driven by the urge for dominance and power, rather than lust; and has no resemblance to sexual desire, much less love. 
The killing of Jesus is also about dominance and power. It is our refusal to accept the authority of God, especially as he reveals himself in the most perfect way possible, as a human being. What could be less intimidating than a swaddled baby? Who could be less powerful than a crucified man? We could not recognize our God were he to appear in any other guise, and yet we will not have a God who appears so humble, gentle and good. 
With his deliverance of the accused woman Jesus signs his own death warrant – again. He has done so repeatedly as he challenges, questions and ignores the religious authorities of Jerusalem. Every time his accusers confront him he readily accepts the hatred they dump on women, the poor, the helpless and those commonly known as sinners. His willingness to defend the defenseless and his unwillingness to protect himself drive them into a murderous frenzy. 
With his last breath he will continue to “heap coals upon their heads” as he prays, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing.” 

If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat, if thirsty, give something to drink; for live coals you will heap on their heads, and the LORD will vindicate you. (Proverbs 25:21-22)

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Lectionary: 36

Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the desert I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.

Today's gospel shines with the beauty of God in Jesus. It is a brilliant picture of his mercy, especially because his courageous word and deed are set against the sinister intentions of his enemies. Although historians tell us women were no longer stoned for adultery at the time of Jesus, we can well imagine the mob erupting in a killing frenzy had Jesus not intervened. We know, a few months later, they did kill Saint Stephen in just that fashion.

Jesus has saved this woman with a gesture and a word, which were so powerful the violent crowd could only retreat in confusion. There are very few men or women who can command such authority. Mark Twain, in his novel Huckleberry Finn, described such a mob's retreat before a judge who dared them to hang him. Cardinal Pacelli once faced down an anti-clerical mob in Rome. Several years later he took the name Pope Pius XII.

But Jesus did not even stand before the mob. He squatted down to the ground and began to play in the dirt. When he finally stood up he invited them to have at it, "Let he who has not sinned throw the first stone!
" No one dared to make such a claim before a jury of his peers.

But Jesus' action is also profoundly confusing. Should we not condemn the woman? Hasn't she committed a heinous crime against the family, the civil order and God's law? She had almost certainly sinned against her father, husband or brother who claimed authority over her. In those day and in that part of the world, all women belonged to men who were responsible for their behavior. The case of a woman caught in the very act of adultery could not be dismissed out of hand. And yet Jesus sent her away,
"Neither do I condemn you.Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
Did he suppose that she would not sin again? Oddly, he did not invite her to "repent and turn away from sin." Nor did he say, "come follow me" although many other women were following him.

In this story, Jesus seems to upend the whole moral order. He seems to have forgotten his duty to give us a new order, if he is dissolving the old. But, in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, we remember he said, 
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place."
If we are to understand his action, and answer for ourselves, "What would Jesus do?" we have to enter through the narrow gate that he offers us. We have to go through him.

In the same Gospel of Saint John, he has told us in chapter 3, 17: 
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Christians too, have been sent into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through our virtue. Our first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah tells us,
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
see, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the desert I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.
As we enter this "Passiontide" and prepare for Holy Week, we must enter a "cloud of unknowing." We must be confused and uncertain about everything as we approach Calvary and the mysteries of the Triduum. We do not know how to judge people. We do not know what our policies or attitudes should be. We must wait and watch for something altogether new and unexpected to appear. We must enter that cloud that enveloped Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor, that cloud through which the Hebrews passed on their way to freedom. (I Cor 1:10)