Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,

Christians often use this very popular verse (John 3:16) as both an invitation and a bludgeon. It was probably intended that way, but it helps to read it in context.

The Gospel of Saint John is a gospel of crisis. Jesus demands of his disciples and opponents acceptance on his own terms. He is what he says he is and blessed are those who take him at his word.

The great American scripture scholar, Father Ray Brown, believed the gospel was produced by an oppressed Christian church, possibly in Nicea. It was a large, stable group and sufficiently wealthy to produce such a masterpiece, but the Jewish synagogue was larger and stronger. They made life miserable for Christians by ostracism and economic discrimination. They might have refused to sell to Christians or buy from Christians. Families were irreparably divided by their allegiances.
It was no longer possible to belong to both the Church and the Synagogue. In the face of such challenges, many Jews would not come over to the Christian religion despite their personal convictions, and many Christians might have returned to their families and synagogue.
The Gospel of Saint John reflects that struggle. The Church takes its stand with Jesus; he appears in the text as uncompromising and demanding. He offers his healings and teachings as signs, not as proofs of his power. The signs indicate Almighty God's authorization to those who are willing to see it. Because there is no middle ground in such a polarized community the opponents of the Christian Church are not indifferent; they have chosen to be hostile and to bring condemnation upon themselves. Even those who do not personally engage in the violence stand convicted.
That was then; this is now. There are many ways to read our present situation but it is certainly not identical to that in Saint John's Nicea. Christians are not an oppressed minority; we enjoy enormous respectability, so much so that we are frequently mocked in the media. Nor do we stand together as a power bloc. There are Christians and Catholics in liberal and conservative camps, and in every major and minor political party. The secular news media often try to describe our internal, divisive struggles, and usually presume to favor one side or the other.
Unlike the Christians in Nicea, we have no need to condemn anyone who disagrees with our religious, moral or philosophical convictions. We have no need to fear controversies among us. Even as we strive to be faithful to the Gospel we realize we are deeply enmeshed in the world and our insight is sorely limited. We can afford to listen respectfully to atheists and pro-abortionists. We can honor the hopes, aspirations and beliefs of all religious persuasions.
The Judgment Day appears in the Gospel of Saint John not as Saint Matthew’s Great Roundup of the sheep and goats, but as the Day Jesus sits upon Pilate’s Seat of Judgment and is condemned. Pilate demands, "Behold the man!" and the crowd judges him! 

Anyone can condemn; it takes no courage, intelligence or integrity to do that. Judging and condemning are not signs of Christ or the Christian. Rather, "as you judge other, so shall you be judged." 

Seeing the suffering of Christ in our fellow human beings, and most especially in those who are filled with hate and bitterness, we Behold the Man and feel compassion. 

Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

“‘You must be born from above.’
The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes,
but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes;
so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus answered and said to him,
‘How can this happen?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this?
Amen, amen, I say to you,
we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen,
but you people do not accept our testimony.

It’s rather unusual for our lectionary to repeat a passage we have heard just the day before. Today’s repetition of John 3:7b-8 is the only instance I know of. Jesus insists, and the Church reminds us, “You must be born from above.

The winds blow from above. That’s clear enough. They might be easterly or westerly but they’re clearly from the sky. That wind generates life. The ancients knew that well enough because their life was more agrarian than ours. We understand it as we observe the ocean winds that carry moisture to the land, minerals from sea waves, dust, seed, birds and bugs. Without the wind there would be no life on Earth. Even urbanites can appreciate the vitality of an April breeze or the stimulation of a January blast.

Knowing its creative power, ancient Hebrews described the wind as the breath of God; in Hebrew, ruah; in Greek, pneuma. The breath of God brought the seasons from north, south, east and west, bringing rain and drought, sunshine and storm.

When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of spiritual matters with precision and clarity, using the metaphor of wind, the old man was confused. It sounded suspiciously like poetry and he understood only rules, laws, ordinances, statutes and decrees. There are Catholics today who understand only rules, rubrics and catechism definitions; and doctors who understand only scientific facts; and engineers who see nothing but systems. Hearing of rebirth by the Holy Spirit they ask, “How can this happen?”

Jesus and his disciples insist, “We speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen….” Being born of the Spirit is certainly mysterious but not incomprehensible. It’s not even rare. Anyone who has experienced a changed attitude born of prayer and surrender, or a healing of relationships, can appreciate the meaning of rebirth. At one moment life seemed dreary; a few minutes later it was rich and beautiful. We felt condemned and then vindicated; lost and then found; despised and then cherished by the One who made us. 

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless one is born of water and Spirit
he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
What is born of flesh is flesh
and what is born of spirit is spirit.

Scripture theologians like to remind us there are no clear images or doctrines of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. Not even the word spirit always serves to delineate this mystery. Paraclete, advocate and grace also represent what Catholics like to call the “Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.” There is, however, an undeniable Presence who is gracious, glad and generous.

This delightfully frustrating ambiguity about the Pneuma of God keeps the disciples of Jesus in constant ferment and no few arguments. Periodically we accuse each other of not being born of water and Spirit, especially when we align on opposite sides of a polarized issue.

When I speak of the Holy Spirit I usually think of “team spirit.” Can you have spirit without a team? There is no I in team; there is only a group of dedicated individuals who have aligned their personal preferences to the objectives of the group. Each one wants what is best for everyone. The best teams find ways to let each one contribute as best he can with whatever talents or energy he has.
When that group is driven by the Holy Spirit each member finds their true identity, for the Holy Spirit never exploits, abuses or wastes anyone. 

No one demonstrates the life of the Spirit better than the Blessed Mother. It would be easy to suppose God needed a woman to give birth to His Son and He arbitrarily picked out an available virgin from Galilee. That’s not what happened. She was prepared from long before her birth by the Holy Spirit which guided many generations of Jews in the practice of their religion. She was blessed with the favor of “Immaculation” when she was conceived and grew from grace to grace throughout her life. At every moment of her life she proved herself worthy of her divine calling. 
In the fullness of time God asked Mary to be the Mother of God and she joyfully, generously, eagerly accepted. God is far too courteous to move into or upon someone without her consent. 

Whenever we want to know how the Spirit might be working within our lives we can turn to the life of Mary for enlightenment and encouragement. In fact all of the saints give us instruction and reassurance by their example first, and through their many writings. 

We are privileged to belong to Mary's team, and to share the Spirit of the Saints, for all of us have been reborn of water and the Spirit. 

Sunday of Divine Mercy

Lectionary: 43

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Today’s gospel does not record the fright of the disciples when the Lord suddenly appeared to them but it suggests they did not know him until “he showed them his hands and his side.”

What they saw, of course, were his wounds and they recalled the words of Isaiah, “He was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity.”

Christian art rarely describes these wounds as grotesque or horrible. They are beautiful, like diamonds and emeralds, and more precious. Some pictures, like the San Damiano crucifix, show them pouring blood into chalices.

When do my wounds and yours become beautiful?

Is it possible that injuries, wounds, disappointments, failure and betrayal are the deepest, most wonderful blessings God has given to me? Will I someday learn gratitude for my sufferings?

Yesterday I recalled the questions and answers of the Baltimore Catechism. I don’t remember what answer it gave to those questions. Perhaps it did not address them. If it did, I was not ready to learn.

I confess I have occasionally boasted of my crosses, and acknowledged their blessed fruit -- later. But my next prayer is generally, “I have suffered enough already, Lord, but thanks for the offer.”

In today’s second reading Saint Peter urges his people to recognize the ostracism, public shaming and persecutions they suffer as more precious than fire-tried gold, “In this you rejoice….”

We often regard our trials and sickness as undeserved punishment and unearned penalties. In their undeserved-ness and unearned-ness they resemble grace. They are grace. 

Saturday in the Octave of Easter

onary: 266

Peter and John, however, said to them in reply,
“Whether it is right in the sight of God
for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges.
It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

Our religion, if not our faith, has undergone profound changes since the end of World War II and the Second Vatican Council. One of those changes has been a growing willingness to rely upon our own experience, as opposed to theoretical knowledge.

My earliest religious training relied heavily upon the Baltimore Catechism, which seemed to have all of the questions and all of the answers. Its authority was overwhelming. The bright eyes who could memorize its formulas were prepared for every eventuality. (I was never that good.)

Then came The Changes and a new set of questions: What do you think? How do you feel about that? and What do you want?

Simple questions no longer render simple answers. In the play Waiting for Godot, when Didi speaks of the Savior, Gogo asks, “Saved from what?” Didi’s answer is lame, "Hell" The word means nothing to either of them. The authorized answer no long addresses the question.

Peter and John and their Jewish opponents faced a similar crisis. Jesus’ resurrection undermined the authorities; their certainties were uncertain; their standards satisfied no one. The disciples had to fall back on their experience, on what they had seen and heard.

My niece plays soccer.
Our faith today faces not a similar but the very same challenge. The Christian today must speak of her own experience, “What she has seen and heard.” She must tell the gospel according to herself, with her “passion narrative” of disappointment, betrayal and suffering. She must be ready to speak of her own resurrection, when the Lord called her by name back to life, as Jesus called Lazarus. Reciting old rules and formulas will not persuade even her children and grandchildren.

She will be tempted, as the disciples were tempted, to edit certain unsavory chapters of her past. My children, she’ll think, cannot bear the truth about me. They should not hear what really happened. Saint Peter must have been tempted to whitewash the story of his waiting in the high priest’s courtyard, and what happened by the charcoal fire. The other disciples, perhaps, preferred to forget how they scattered when Jesus was arrested.

Because they told the truth the gospel flourishes to this day. The Gospel of Jesus Christ will reach the 22nd century because we speak the truth about ourselves today, and about our Good God.  

"It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

Friday in the Octave of Easter

Lectionary: 265

There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

As Didi and Gogo wait for Godot, Didi proposes they discuss “our savior” and why the gospels have differing accounts of his crucifixion. This conversation, he says, might pass the time. Concerning the two thieves, “one is supposed to have been saved and the other… (he searches for the contrary of saved) … damned.”
Gogo asks, “Saved from what?”

Didi: “Hell.”

Gogo is not interested. He finds the topic intensely boring; it’s even worse than the idleness of their fruitless, endless wait.

Occasionally in the play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, Didi will attempt to launch a serious conversation about meaning. He finds it extremely difficult to speak because he has no religious training and little knowledge of western philosophy. He knows neither the words nor their meaning. Where does one begin to discuss God without knowledge of words and ideas?
His only companion is not the least interested. He can only complain about the stones in his shoes and his physical aches and pains – and the waiting. Periodically Gogo wants to leave but Didi reminds him they have nowhere to go. They have only a vague hope of some direction, labor or assistance from “Godot.” They must wait for his arrival.

When Saint Peter announced to the people of Jerusalem that Jesus is “our savior” they at least knew they needed salvation. If they differed about what that might be they knew it had to come from God. They could neither escape nor overcome the four horsemen of conquest, war, famine, and death.

After two devastating world wars in which all four horsemen repeatedly slew millions of soldiers and civilians alike, many thoughtful Europeans despaired of God’s intervention. They also wearied of the Church’s harangue that they should only get in the boat, pay, pray and shut up. The wise men of the Church seemed as clueless as everyone else.

Sixty years later we have made some progress, in that some within the Church acknowledge the problem. We have not yet answered Gogo’s question, “Saved from what?”

Last week I listened to NPR’s Science Friday and a discussion about God’s existence. A scientist – who might be Didi -- insists that science cannot determine whether God exists. The Science Friday website witnessed some angry rebuttal from Gogo-like listeners. They seemed upset that the question should be raised on their radio program. The topic was as welcome as a pork chop at a bar mitzvah, and it seemed to offend the same religious sensibility. “How dare they…?”

Those who celebrate Easter and the Lord’s resurrection have a sense of what salvation means. It comes to us from the Holy Spirit and within the liturgies of Baptism and the Sacraments. It comes to us in prayer and song. We have known the need for deliverance in our self-centeredness; occasionally we have been relieved of resentments, greed, lust and other vices. No freedom is ever final but we know its reality. Because it is not final we rely on the Lord day by day, and are grateful for that.

Anchored in prayer and the Church we believe “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

That means something to us, despite our loss for words.

Thursday in the Octave of Easter

Thursday in the Octave of Easter

Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish; 
he took it and ate it in front of them.

Saint Luke goes to great lengths in this passage to assure us that Jesus Christ rose in the flesh from the dead. He was not simply an enthusiasm that suddenly overwhelmed the cowering disciples and drove them into the streets of Jerusalem to announce his resurrection, as some modern commentators would prefer. 

Even as they watched him eat, Saint Luke says, they were incredulous. 

As I celebrated the Easter Vigil with its candles, smoke, water, bread, wine and so forth, I was reminded that ours is not a spiritual religion. We need flesh with all its frailty, complexity and cussedness to express our faith. We cannot ignore the body's need for food, water and air; for warmth, sleep and protection, for education and health care -- and so forth. 

Some people like to say they don't believe in organized religion. Is there any other kind? If there is it cannot celebrate the Risen Lord whose body was organized not only with hands, feet and head, but also with apostles, disciples, martyrs, bishops, priests, deacons, catechists, prophets and so forth and so on. 

His is a body that enjoys itself! Risen and liberated, it goes where it wants to go, to prisons and hospitals, to homes and villages, to free and enslaved nations. It is spirited, inspired and irrepressible. 

“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.”

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The question is asked often enough that it should cause priests and parents to ponder, “Why do I have to go to Church?”

We celebrated Holy Week last week; this week we observe Easter week, “a week of Sundays.” The Ordo, an official publication which guides our celebrations day by day, says:

The days of the Easter Octave form the “early hours” of this “Great Sunday” with accounts of the Lord who rose early in the morning, and the early preaching of the disciples who were witnesses to his resurrection.  The first eight days of the Easter Season make up the octave of Easter and are celebrated as Solemnities of the Lord.  At  Mass, Morning Prayer and Vespers, throughout the octave, a double alleluia is added to the dismissal and its response….  Easter Preface #1 is used throughout the Octave of Easter, (as is the Gloria.)

This is a very holy time of the year for us. But “holy time” is somewhat foreign to many of our contemporaries. They think of time as past, present and future; and argue for its universal flatness. There are no special moments in that schema. My sister, for instance, works for a company that uses a calendar that simply counts the days from one to 365. For them today is Day 113 of 2014.  Time goes from nowhere to nowhere.  In ancient Greek this time is known as chronos. Its opposite is kairos.

Kairos is meaningful time. It may be translated as “opportune time.” When Jesus announced the Kingdom of God he said,” The kairos is fulfilled.”
Easter Week is an opportune time for us. It is the richest, most grace-filled, exhilarating and satisfying week of the year. Every day we hear another wonderful story of Jesus' resurrection. As of Easter Sunday we also begin a fifty-day sequence of readings from the Acts of the Apostles. We learn from their story what it means to know Jesus and to be filled with his Holy Spirit. 

Why do we attend Mass on Sunday? Because the time is right; the opportunity is there. Since the Day Jesus broke bread with his disciples in Emmaus, we have never missed a Sunday Mass. How could anyone turn down such an opportunity, especially when we know the time is short? 

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter

Lectionary: 262

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is made to you and to your children
and to all those far off,
whomever the Lord our God will call.”

Our first reading today takes up where it left off yesterday, with Saint Peter’s first preaching to the crowds on that Pentecost Sunday. The people, who had been drawn to the place by the sound of the Holy Spirit rushing through the Upper Room, heard his new interpretation of recent events. Suddenly, what had been rumor and gossip about ghostly sightings became personal. The ludicrous became logical and the risible, reliable.

The Lord who had always loved and favored Jerusalem, who had always excoriated them through the prophets for their infidelity, had sent his only begotten son. Typically, they had ignored, rejected, despised and finally destroyed that Just One; but God raised him up and revealed him as the Son of God, the Messiah! through the preaching of Peter and the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

 “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart…”

Faith in Jesus begins with the awareness of sin and repentance. It is not simple persuasion, the exchange of one opinion for another.

Faith proceeds with joy and gratitude as the sinner realizes she has always been loved and always been favored. She sees the light at last. She surrenders all hostility, suspicion and resentment; she accepts the forgiving, healing rush of the Holy Spirit into her heart.

Unlike the turn from one opinion to another, the exchange of ideas for other ideas, faith requires this daily awareness of my sinful tendencies and habitual self-centeredness. But, rather than shame and horror for my wretched life, faith teaches me daily gratitude for God's mercy; and habitual joy in God's presence.

Faith is like breathing. I may not be immediately aware of it all the time but I cannot live without it. There are certainly moments when strong emotions seem to displace my faith. But I have not stopped breathing during those episodes, neither have I stopped believing in God. When the moment passes and I regain my characteristic calm, I see the Lord still abiding in my heart.

The trauma of Good Friday has passed. The Lord has been raised. Emmanuel, our God, is with us.

Monday in the Octave of Easter

Let this be known to you, and listen to my words.
“You who are children of Israel, hear these words.

Any high school graduate should remember Mark Antony’s shout, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!” from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter calls for the crowd’s attention with not one but three shouts: let this be known to you; listen to my words; and hear these words. Whatever he has to say must be important.

This is the beginning of the Church’s evangelization. The shell is broken; the chick emerges from her egg. The disciples, anointed by the Holy Spirit, are suddenly released from all fear and hesitation; they want to tell everyone about Jesus. Meanwhile, a crowd has gathered; they heard roaring sounds of something going on in Jerusalem. They are eager to hear any explanation.

Saint Peter’s call for attention echoes the Shema Yisrael, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone!” The Shema includes the rest of the passage: “Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength. Take to heart these words which I command you today.”

Just as the Shema calls for a total orientation of one’s life toward the Lord, Saint Peter’s story of Jesus’ resurrection demands a reorientation toward the Risen Messiah.

Despite its unexpectedness, it will prove to be a familiar story. Just as the Lord has continually reminded the people of his love and of their sins, Peter’s Gospel is about Jerusalem’s failure to recognize her visitation. 

The revelation of their sins is good news because Peter offers the immediate avenue of salvation -- belief in Jesus Christ.

Saint Paul and Martin Luther were certainly right that the way of salvation is "faith alone." But faith means the acknowledgement of sin and the confident expectation of grace. That kind of faith is not an opinion about a set of doctrines. No one is saved because he agrees with God. (There is an ancient legend at Mount Saint Francis of the professor who would quote scripture with the preface, "As the Holy Spirit says, and rightly, .....") 

Faith is the narrow gate of acknowledging one's sins in the majestic presence of God and receiving daily, hourly and with each breath the reassurance of mercy.  

The Resurrection of the Lord

The Mass of 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.
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

If you intend to speak of God, you should be a prophet, You should understand that God has sent you to speak in his name; he wants to speak to your family, friends and neighbors through your joy, your peace of mind and your conviction.

When you speak of God in the third person, you should understand that God is present; he hears what you say. He has not removed himself from your conversation. You are speaking for God like Moses and Aaron, a prophet of the Lord.

In today’s first reading we hear Saint Peter announcing to Cornelius and his guests the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Cornelius and his people are gentiles who live in the new, international city of Caesaria. They may have heard rumors about Jesus; some excitement among the native Jews; but during his lifetime they would have had little interest in Jesus of Nazareth. He was just another cause célèbre among the local inhabitants, with their strange god and their strange ways.

Saint Peter has come to Cornelius not on his own initiative. He has seen a very disturbing vision and heard a commanding voice that told him he must accept a gentile’s invitation to speak of Jesus. Now Peter is a simple fisherman who has dealt with gentiles. He has sold fish to them and, perhaps, bought stuff from them. 

But he has never eaten with them. His Jewish religion banned such intercourse. He may have joked with them about their different beliefs, as working men will kid one another; but he has never got down and spoke seriously, heart-to-heart, about matters of faith with these aliens.

Now, however, Peter understands that he must give testimony about Jesus to Cornelius and his guests; and, to his surprise they are ready to hear it. Saint Luke records his astonishment when Peter says “You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean. And that is why I came without objection when sent for. May I ask, then, why you summoned me?”

Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this hour, three o’clock in the afternoon, I was at prayer in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling robes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your almsgiving remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter. He is a guest in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’" 

So I sent for you immediately, and you were kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to listen to all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

Saint Peter can hardly believe what he hears. Jesus had prepared him for this moment when he said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” But Peter had not expected this.

And so he opened his mouth, as Saint Luke tells us: Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.  Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

He recounted for them the events from Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, his healings and good works, his death in Jerusalem and his resurrection.”

When the gentiles of Caesarea heard about the resurrection “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word of God… 

Then Peter responded, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?” He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ."

In this reading and the stories of Jesus’ resurrection the Bible teaches us how we should speak of God. He is not an idea that makes sense to us. He is not a theory to explain the evidence. God needs no apology and little introduction.

Rather, we should speak willingly and eagerly of Jesus’ resurrection to everyone who wants to hear it. 

Notice how Cornelius says, "we are all here in the presence of God to listen." When we speak of God, we speak as witnesses and prophets, not philosophers. The Lord is standing right behind us; he is pushing through our every word and gesture to reach the hearts of those who listen to us.

During our baptisms last night, we anointed every new Christian as a prophet. They must speak as God speaks, humbly, quietly, confidently and joyfully. 

We will speak of God to those who want to hear the word. We will share matters of the heart not in dispassionate, objective secular language, as if the mysteries of our faith must be explained to reasonable people. Rather we will sing and dance and shout the Good News as witnesses, as prophets who speak not of God but in God.

The Lord is risen!   He is risen, indeed!

Friday of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday)

Lectionary: 40

I was ready to respond to those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me.

I said: Here I am! Here I am! To a nation that did not invoke my name.

I have stretched out my hands all day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own designs...

     Isaiah 65

Saint Francis found in a broken down chapel near Assisi a familiar image of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have come to know it as the San Damiano Cross. It depicts Saint John's description of the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord. Some scholars believe the disfigured image at the bottom of the cross represents the Last Supper. 

His death and resurrection are both described in the standing image of Jesus. His hands and feet are nailed and bleeding, and yet his posture is relaxed. His arms are outstretched in a comfortable manner of welcome, and his eyes gaze at the viewer without any trace of pain. He is the Lord who freely lays his life down and freely takes it up again. No one can take his life from him. This is the very story we encounter in the Passion of Saint John. 

Last Saturday I discovered, as if for the first time, the above passage from Isaiah 65. I remembered clearly God's frantic call, "Here I am! Here I am!" but I had not noticed the next words, "I have stretched out my hands all day to a rebellious people." Surely the icon writer who painted the San Damiano Cross had this passage in mind. 

Recently I have seen on billboards and bumper stickers the meme, "I love you this much." The accompanying image of Christ Crucified is usually brutal. 

That was not Isaiah's original intention, nor that of the writer of the San Damiano icon. Saint Francis reflected deeply upon Jesus' suffering and death but not with a medieval fascination in horror. That aberration would come later, with the Black Death. After that catastrophe, the European imagination indulged in the grotesque such as we find in the art of Hieronymous Bosch or Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ

Catholics see beauty in the crucifixion of Jesus. We should not be distracted by the gory details. Rather, we see his outstretched arms and we hear his loving call, "Here I am! Here I am!" Hearing his voice we turn away from our rebellious ways and, with Mary Magdalene at the tomb, turn again to him. 

Holy Thursday -- Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

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.”

Yesterday I reflected on that cardinal doctrine of the gospels, “the fullness of time.” There are several events in Jesus’ life that are introduced with that phrase: his conception, birth, the ministry of John the Baptist, the Last Supper, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

All these things were preordained to occur, as was Judas’ betrayal, which is embedded like a thorn in the flesh of the Gospel. The evangelists and other New Testament writers insist on that.

This evening we reenter that preordained night when Jesus broke bread with his disciples and said "This is my body that is for you." The moment and the memory will never be lost because the Holy Spirit raises up in every generation people who are eager to know the Truth that only God can speak. They join us in prayer at the altar and the One Mass which Jesus celebrated continues into the next millennium.

On this evening we also witness the priest's washing the feet of the congregation. Ours is a carnal religion. We are not enamored of ideas; we understand our doctrines only as mysteries; but we readily embrace the carnality, the very fleshiness of the Body of Christ. We must baptize in the water that flowed from his side; we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. We cannot do virtual demonstrations. 

And so the priest imitates the Savior who washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord could not be satisfied with telling his disciples to love one another. He could not hope they might understand his passion and death as demonstrations of his intense love. He had to show them by a powerful gesture, one both ennobling and humbling. He got down on his knees and he washed their feet, as if he were a common slave. 

They had seen the gesture before, not only as the work of a slave but as a demonstration of intense love. A woman known to be a sinner had washed Jesus' feet. She could find no other way to express her love. Words would not suffice; money could not say it; sex would not be accepted; she bathed his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. At the time Jesus had remarked to Simon the Pharisee
“Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. 
And now, during the Last Supper Jesus shows his disciples what they will witness on the morrow. He explains the gesture to them precisely, I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. And then he concludes: If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

During the past year, we have seen a new revelation "in the fullness of time." Our Pope Francis prefers to take public transportation. He chooses to live in the simplicity of the Vatican guest house. He demonstrates what the Church has intended to say for the past fifty years, that we will serve the poor. We must also recognize the astonishing humility of Pope Benedict XVI who confessed he could not handle the job anymore. The pomp and privilege of the Church's highest office meant nothing to him. They were, in the words of Saint Paul, so much rubbish, that he might gain Christ

Both of these men show us what it means to be Catholic. We must rededicate our lives to the service of the least among us, whether they are the unborn or feeble, the poor or despised, the sick or the imprisoned. Words of piety mean nothing to our contemporaries. It seems they have little effect on God. 

Wednesday of Holy Week

Lectionary: 259

Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.

The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover.

Pope (and soon to be) Saint John Paul II made much of “the fullness of time” in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater. (The Mother of the Redeemer, 1987):

This "fullness" indicates the moment fixed from all eternity when the Father sent his Son "that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). It denotes the blessed moment when the Word that "was with God...became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn. 1:1, 14), and made himself our brother. It marks the moment when the Holy Spirit, who had already infused the fullness of grace into Mary of Nazareth, formed in her virginal womb the human nature of Christ. This "fullness" marks the moment when, with the entrance of the eternal into time, time itself is redeemed, and being filled with the mystery of Christ becomes definitively "salvation time." Finally, this "fullness" designates the hidden beginning of the Church's journey.

Today’s gospel also marks the fullness of time with Jesus’ words, “My appointed time has come.” The event is not Mary’s conception of Jesus but his institution of the Mass: “I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.
Pope (who should be canonized but he’s not dead yet) Benedict XVI, in his three-volume Jesus of Nazareth, offers his scholars' solution to an ancient problem about the Last Supper, “Was it a Passover Meal?” The Synoptic gospels suggest that it was but don’t say so explicitly. Saint John says that Jesus died before Passover, as the paschal lambs were being slaughtered in preparation for the feast.

Pope Benedict believes Jesus celebrated his last supper ahead of the feast, as if it were the Pasch. Clearly, his arrest and trial could be deferred no longer. The moment had come for the new Christian religion to appear; it would begin with a new Pasch (the Mass) and a new Exodus (His death and resurrection). It would begin with his ordination of the new priesthood which would "do this in memory of me." (Many dioceses in the US celebrated the Chrism Mass last night, in which the priests renew their promises. see below)
When we celebrate the Mass we enter another dimension of time. Guided by the liturgical rules of the Church, this moment has an eternal quality about it. It is neither past nor future; it is always now. As we hear his word, eat his flesh and drink his blood we take part in the first Mass and the last. We are present to every Mass in every language of every time and place. There is only one Mass.

It is the Sacrifice of Calvary made present and immediate to us. Here I am! 

Renewal of Priestly Promises at the Chrism Mass (often celebrated on Tuesday of Holy Week)

Archbishop: Beloved Son, on the anniversary of that day when Christ our Lord conferred his priesthood on his Apostles and on us, are you resolved to renew, in the presence of your Bishop and God's holy people, the promises you once made?

Priests: I am.

Archbishop: Are you resolved to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to him, denying yourselves and confirming those promises about sacred duties towards Christs's Church which, prompted by love of him, you willing and joyfully pledged on the day of your priestly ordination?

Priests: I am.

Archbishop: Are you resolved to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites and to discharge faithfully the sacred office, following Christ the Head and Shepherd, not seeking any gain, but moved only by zeal for souls? 

Priests: I am. 

Archbishop: As for you, dearest sons and daughters, pray for your Priests, that the Lord may pour out his gifts abundantly upon them, and keep them faithful as ministers of Christ, the High Priest, so that they may lead you to him, who the source of salvation. 

People: Christ, hear us, Christ, graciously hear us.