Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;
do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;
do not be wise in your own estimation.

As a hospital chaplain I can bring a particular slant to this story. I will suppose, unlike most male commentators who have pondered this story throughout the centuries, that Elizabeth had a good support system of friends and family. The women of Jerusalem knew what to do for her and were ready to do it. Sweeping, dusting, cleaning, cooking, laundry: all these matters and more could be tended.

What Elizabeth could not have was the presence a Christian might bring. Mary was a sacred presence, filled with the Holy Spirit and alive with God’s action. Elizabeth especially needed her because, like the young virgin, she was pregnant by divine intervention. 

Society often tells people what emotions they should have and which emotions they should encourage. A young married woman, for example, should be happy she is pregnant. Everybody says so! An elderly woman, who has been regarded as barren, now suddenly pregnant, might be overjoyed. And her friends with her. Or not. She might be frightened, or confused, or blissfully, willfully ignorant of what is happening. How would her friends and neighbors deal with any of those situations?

I imagine Mary sitting with and listening to Elizabeth for long periods of time. She would have seen that the women of Jerusalem provided everything except a listening ear. Busy as they were with their families in the bustling city, unaccustomed to the situation of an old woman’s pregnancy, opinionated about the child's name, they left a vacuum for the Galilean girl to fill.

The two could share their astonishing secret – they were pregnant according to God’s plan. Given its extraordinary nature they must have continually resorted to prayer. They must have wondered, “Can this really be happening?” and assured each other it was so. They must have recounted the Angels visits to Zechariah and Mary repeatedly.

Mary rejoiced when Elizabeth rejoiced, and Elizabeth wept when Mary wept. They had the same regard for one another. Neither was “haughty” toward the other; and neither was wise in her own estimation. Both were humble and lowly, and grateful for the other's companionship. 

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 295

I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.
On that day you will not question me about anything.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”

I heard the great scripture scholar, Father Raymond Brown, joke that, when he enters heaven, he will ask Saint John, “Why 153 fish?” I suppose we all have questions stored away for that great occasion when we enter eternity; many of them will be far weightier than Father Brown’s. Why do the innocent suffer? Why are evildoers not punished? Why weren’t my prayers answered? Where were you when I needed you?

Creating questions is part of our human nature. It is insatiable and demanding; it is godlike and holy. We want to know; our minds are created to ask questions and to seek answers. Even when the questions seem to lead nowhere they demand satisfaction.

Some philosophers compare our curiosity to the sexual drive; they are essentially the same. When the Virgin Mary asks the Angel Gabriel, “How can this be, since I do not know man?” her curiosity is linked to her sexuality. 

Our curiosity is another facet of our erotic nature. We want to know;  there is no end of our seeking. Created in God’s image we cannot be satisfied until we know good, evil and eternal life.

“What do you want?” Jesus asks of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar. “What are you looking for?” he asks the disciples of John the Baptist. Clearly, the Savior honors our questions. He will not leave us dissatisfied. “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”
I think of the old song Give me Jesus. (#681, Breaking Bread 2014)

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Give me Jesus.

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”

Describing himself as both the true gate and the good shepherd, Jesus says, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Because we hold the cross of Jesus always before us, we know that full, abundant life is not always pleasant. We also must weep and mourn. Kahlil Gibran, in his book of poetry, The Prophet, wrote of joy and sorrow:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

I read this book as a high school student at Mount Saint Francis almost fifty years ago. Gibran’s teaching on joy and sorrow has especially shaped my understanding of life.

Naturally we prefer joy but those who shun sorrow and grief have to avoid all human contact with its pleasures and privileges. Life in its fullness knows every human emotion. Searching for ways to express abundant life, we turn to poetry and song, dance, music and the visual arts. We sing the blues to make us happy; we turn to comedy to make us think. Perhaps that’s why people love horror films; they make them feel more secure.

Christians use all these natural ways of expression. To have life more abundantly we also contemplate our sins and our concupiscence. The more I realize the idiocy, meanness and futility of my sins the more I appreciate God’s mercy. I might suppose God loves me when no one seems to be angry at me and I can't recall anything I've done that was TERRIBLY wrong; but when I ponder how my thoughts, words and deeds render me unworthy of mercy, I see the height and depth and breadth of God’s love.

As Saint Paul said, “...God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

In the Crucifixion we find the deepest sorrow we can ever know. We have killed our God, and forfeited by that all hope and every right to deliverance. We have no claim on God’s mercy; we should only suffer his justice. 

We plunge through that narrow gate of grief and remorse into a bottomless pool of sorrow.  The saints have shown us how to dig a well of remorse, that it might be filled with the knowledge of love. 

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.
But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,
he will guide you to all truth.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.

Like the Lord Jesus, the Spirit of Truth does not speak on his own but in obedience to God the Father. In the Trinity of God there is a marvelous obedience. The Father empties himself totally, expressing and giving himself in unhesitant love to Jesus and the Spirit, who receive the Gift with perfect freedom and gratitude. They in turn agree with the Father in everything. Though there are three “persons” in one God, there is only one will; and all freely obey that one.

This beautiful God – who can be defined by neither three nor one – places himself totally in our hands as the Crucified One who guides us to all truth. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

On Sunday, June 8 we will celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost. It is the third high holy day of the year and in some ways, the most mysterious. In that feast we see all the holiness, purity and goodness of God placed in our unworthy hands. Fortunately, the Virgin Mother Mary is among us. Her presence alone makes us worthy.

As we grow in the Spirit we learn to pay attention to the impulses that come to us from God. I might never know that a kindly gesture or friendly nod struck a stranger as an amazing gift. Perhaps she was lifted out of despondency in that moment and I never even knew it. Nor need I know it since it was the work of God and not mine.

Or the Spirit which is Wisdom might place in my hands an article or book that I should read at this very time. As they say, “When the disciple is ready, the teacher will appear.” In that way God declares to me “the things that are coming.”

In the Spirit we learn to distrust our own willfulness. My vision is far too narrow, too blinkered and blind. It sees only polarized light in shades of grey. Willingness consecrates each new day to the Spirit. Every morning willingness rises to a breakfast of opportunities.

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

The crowd in Philippi joined in the attack on Paul and Silas,
and the magistrates had them stripped
and ordered them to be beaten with rods.
After inflicting many blows on them,
they threw them into prison
and instructed the jailer to guard them securely.
When he received these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell
and secured their feet to a stake.

About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying
and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened…

The story of the apostles’ singing in their prison cell after a day of humiliations and beatings might be totally implausible if we did not know people do this sort of thing often.

During World War II Christians, Catholics and Jews managed to worship God in the prison camps. Corrie Ten Boom, in The Hiding Place, spoke of the freedom she and other women prisoners enjoyed in their flea infested barracks. The vermin drove the guards out, leaving the prisoners to study scripture, pray and encourage one another. Saint Maximillian Kolbe administered the Sacrament of Penance to his fellow prisoners as they were starved to death. He also led them in singing, prayers and litanies. Several of the Ugandan Martyrs, when they realized their buddies had been marched out of town toward the place of execution, hurried to catch up. Stories like these demonstrate the work of the Holy Spirit.

No one can say how they might react if they were ostracized, harassed or arrested for being Christian. Most of us have embarrassing memories of losing our tempers, abusive language and insane behavior under less challenging circumstances. We don’t suppose we might pass that test very easily.

But we also pray with the saints and martyrs that God will give us a measure of their spirit. We make sacrifices for others, we put up with a certain amount of disappointment and frustration. We might be surprised by the gentleness that comes over us when the Holy Spirit moves us.

Saint Paul and his crew were used to hardship. They traveled on foot from town to town with few provisions. He was sometimes hungry, sometimes cold and miserable, and sometimes desperately ill. He suffered shipwrecks and other misfortunes. The more he suffered the more he experienced God’s protection and direction.

We might not face persecution for being Christian, but we can and should pray for those who do. We should beg God to give us his Spirit so that our entire Church – both that which is secure and that which is oppressed – may be alive with the Fire of God. When we sing we sing with and for those who are imprisoned; when we receive the Eucharist we receive it for those whose churches are closed, whose priests have been sent out of the country. We might be surprised when our jailers and fellow prisoners join us in song.

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, Priest

Lectionary: 291

I have told you this so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you.”

Where the synoptic gospels cite Old Testament passages about the coming messiah, the Gospel of John refers back to Jesus’ own prophecies. He needs no greater authority than himself and we should not either. He warns us there will be persecutions. When they begin we should remember his warnings and understand with all the more assurance, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

Surely those who are tortured or hear the approach of their executioners know abandonment at its worse. Etty Hillesum, as she waited for extradition in a Nazi collection camp, knew the British and Americans were not coming to save the interned Jews. She heard her neighbors and friends reassure one another with the promise of deliverance "when the British and Americans arrive."  She was called inward to rely on a more mysterious promise.

Jesus knew futility as he waited on the cross; but, in the Gospel of John we do not hear his last, despairing cry, “Why have you abandoned me?” In the fourth gospel he retains the office of high priest, offering himself to God and surrendering his life when he chooses to do so – that is, when the hour had come to give his Beloved Disciple and his Mother to one another. 

As we ponder and pray through the Gospel of John during the Easter Season we should contemplate the absolute authority of Jesus. If we suffer hardship we cannot be surprised because he told us beforehand this would happen.

When someone tells me, “You’re going to turn left on such and such a road, and then you’re going to drive ten country miles….” I know I’m going to feel like I must have missed my turn. A country mile of narrow lanes, sharp turns, and unpaved dirt feels like twenty Interstate miles. I will often wonder "How much farther is it?", and "Do I have enough fuel to get there?" Remembering my friend’s assurance I persist on that long route to my destination.

Jesus has walked this way ahead of us; he walks it again with us. “Remember what I told you… do not be afraid.”

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Lectionary: 55

I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.

A recent, very successful series of religious books was called Left Behind. The authors merged an outlandish interpretation of apocalyptic themes in the New Testament with modern angst. Presumably these Christians were serious when they proposed that God would abandon the vast majority of world's population to their own barbaric devices, without hope for salvation or the guidance of the Holy Spirit . 

The Death of God phenomenon, first described by the philosopher Nietzsche, has left billions of people feeling abandoned and homeless on their home planet. The story of God's disappearance began with the development of the scientific method and the belief that everything in this universe could be explained by science. At first inexplicable and uncontrollable things beyond the purview of science were supposed to be God's province; things like the weather and seismic activity and tsunamis. But eventually, they suppose, there is nothing that cannot be predicted "if we have a computer that's big enough and powerful enough." Even human behavior is predictable. 
In reference to God, determinists maintain, "I have no need for that hypothesis." 

Many of us, including the most devout Christians, don't suppose God takes part in every single event. He is "a god of the gaps." When I turn the ignition key I don't usually say a Hail Mary that the engine will start. If it fails to start I call a wrecker and haul it to a mechanic; I don't expect a priest's or bishops' blessing to fire up the engine; though I might be tempted to try one of the Tom Sawyer's devices when my computer fails, like swinging a dead cat by the tail. 

This secular, scientific imagination has left many thinking God doesn't care about our everyday world. Millions of people live their lives day in and day out, week after week, year after year without any reference to God. If they fail they blame it on themselves, someone else or bad karma. It's not God' fault. 

When our warriors witness or commit horrible atrocities, the inevitable consequence of war, they often experience "moral injury." Suddenly their assumptions about "right and wrong" collapse. It seems that good is not rewarded by God nor any other entity; nor is evil punished. If actions have consequences they cannot be predicted by principles of justice or mercy. The spiritually wounded warrior asks, "Why should I care? Why should I be faithful to my wife, care for my parents, raise my children, hold a job or plan beyond tomorrow? What difference can my efforts make if there is no justice?" 

In today's gospel Jesus assures his disciples, 
"I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live."
A few hours after making that promise, Jesus was arrested, vilified, condemned, tortured and crucified. He might have been left on the cross as food for flies and buzzards except for the Jewish feast of Passover. His disciples witnessed the death of God. There remained only his words, "You will see me because I live and you will live." 

Rarely have Christians been so challenged as we are today. We still have an enormous "infrastructure" of Christians churches and shrines. Many of them are museums and ruins in Europe, fascinating to Americans and Asians, meaningless to the natives who built them. 

Christians cannot live in museums and ruins. We find our hope and will to live and courage in the the words of Jesus. A week after his resurrection he said to Thomas, "You believe because you have seen, blessed are those who have not seen and believed."

He was speaking of us. We believe. We have looked at the options. We see people who have no faith; they trust only their good luck and survive by their wits, with a tenuous trust in law-abiding people. They avoid scrapes with the law because it's easier that way; they avoid conflict with disagreeable people by avoiding contact with them. They hope to survive long enough to die a natural death. When terrorists strike they hide in their homes and call themselves strong.

Living by faith in the Son of Mary, Christians can afford to be generous, cheerful, hopeful and courageous. Hearing his name, seeing his cross, tasting his body and blood, washed in the healing water that sprang from his side, we bring hope to the homeless. 

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 290

Paul reached also Derbe and Lystra
where there was a disciple named Timothy,
the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer,
but his father was a Greek.
The brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him,
and Paul wanted him to come along with him.

On Saturday May 24, 1975 Bishop Albert Ottenweller ordained my classmate Donald Adamski and me to the Roman Catholic presbyterate. That was 39 years ago; sometimes it seems like last year; more often it seems like a very long time ago.
There was no Internet in those days nor were there personal computers. Cars came with seat belts but few people wore them. Americans had only recently discovered fuel shortages and how much the United States relied on foreign oil. Gasoline in those days cost less than a dollar a gallon. Less than a month before my ordination Saigon had fallen to the North Vietnamese Army. The war was over; Nixon was out of the White House; the world was moving on. 

At the time I used a state-of-the-art IBM Selectric typewriter with self-correcting tape. (I paid for that privilege by editing and typing the weekly parish bulletin.) In Carey one could call a neighbor with a five-digit number, but only from a stationary phone. Calling the chancery was long distance. Calling home before 11pm was out of the question. Most communication happened as it had for centuries, through the Postal Service.
There were a hundred voices in the choir for our ordination on that Saturday afternoon, and a respectable crowd in church. They would return the next day for the centenary celebration of Our Lady of Consolation. 

In 1875 the wood-frame church in Carey was finished and the recently-purchased statue of Our Lady was brought in procession seven miles from Frenchtown to Carey. The marchers saw thunderstorms ahead and behind them, to the right and left; not one drop fell on the statue. However, no sooner had she entered the church than the clouds opened up on the people, drenching them. A hundred years later their descendants, recognizable from the familiar names on the roster, would recall that wonder. In the meanwhile many people had called upon Our Lady in that holy place and been richly blessed with cures, consolation and mercy. 
On that Sunday in 1975 my parents’ Pontiac van, used to tote our family of eleven, was volunteered to carry the statue back to Frenchtown for a reenactment of the event. My Dad thought that was an enormous privilege. Never had such a personage graced that pre-owned gas guzzler. Fortunately the sky was clear and the sun was hot as they walked back the same seven miles along paved highways.  
In today’s reading we hear about Saint Paul’s selection of the young Timothy. He would be his protégé and successor, and the first bishop of Ephesus. At some point Saint Paul “laid hands” on Timothy in the ceremony of ordination. That gesture remains our way of investing deacons, priests and bishops with the Holy Spirit, as Bishop Ottenweller ordained Donald and me.
In today's Gospel Jesus reminds us the world will often hate us and always misunderstand us. We are not a religion like other religions; there is no comparison to Judaism, Islam or the Buddha. Only the Holy Spirit knows why we are still here and the Blessings we bring to our world through Baptism, Eucharist, Marriage and Ordination. 

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

In the first book of the Bible we learn that the Lord fears the possibility of men becoming “like one of us.” Not only do they know good and evil as a result of eating from the tree, they might have endless life.

Then the LORD God said: See! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil! Now, what if he also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life, and eats of it and lives forever?
The LORD God therefore banished him from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken. He expelled the man, stationing the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the Garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life.

In today’s gospel the Lord reverses that policy. He invites us to become like God in our love for one another. The way is open to us through a tree which was not found in Eden. We need have no fear of a cherubim or fiery, revolving sword when we approach it. The cross can be found anywhere we look, in city and in countryside, in solitude and in crowds. It will find those who are not even looking!

The way of love is invariably marked by a cross. This is where romantics stumble. Lovers looking for love don’t expect it to be a difficult road. Right Person will make me happy; and pleasing Right Person will be a simple matter of being myself. He or she will find me adorable. The relationship will be heaven-sent, as natural as a key to its lock and a lock to its key.

The entertainment industry likes to make that boring boy-meets-girl plot more interesting with daunting challenges and insoluble problems which are resolved in a happy ending. Rarely does the story end in failure. I saw Pygmalion on stage in Ireland several years ago, and the movie My Fair Lady a few years later. In the original, there was no reconciliation. Henry Higgins was unbearable and Eliza Doolittle had no further need of him. But the musical movie had to end with Audrey Hepburn’s silent re-entrance. They could not leave well enough alone. 

Because our faith, unlike Hollywood, teaches us to expect the cross it prepares us better for the challenges. Life is not supposed to be easy; love is frankly impossible to those who cannot bear disappointment, frustration and suffering. But when we take up, embrace and carry the crosses the Lord has meted out to us, we find joy, satisfaction and our God-like capacity for love.

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.”
The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.

After they had fallen silent, James responded, “My brothers, listen to me.

Twice in those 59 words we hear of silence and listening. This passage from the Acts of the Apostles concerns the first “council” of the Church; the most recent of its kind was the Second Vatican Council. Historians call this the First Council of Jerusalem.

The community was stressed and divided at the time by an unexpected challenge. Gentiles were flooding into the Church, overwhelming the Jewish charter members. Unsure how to handle the situation the leading lights of the Church – Peter, James, Barnabas, Paul and others – met in Jerusalem to talk it out. They were sure of only two things; they had to obey the Spirit of God and they had to agree with one another. The former, it seemed, might be easier, but they could be sure of it only if the latter were in place. Disunity, division, strife and sectarianism are never God’s plan.

They got it right because they used two very effective tools, silence and listening. As the participants rediscovered the sincerity, courage and integrity of each disciple they developed ways to initiate gentiles into the Jewish tradition and incorporate them into the Church. Everyone went home happy with how the Lord had resolved their problem.
In our time of polarized politics and sectarian religion, people are quick to demonize anyone who disagrees and anyone who doesn't agree enough. In the 1990's, when Cardinal Bernadine coupled the Church's opposition to abortion with opposition to the death penalty, he was condemned by many anti-abortion groups. He didn't disagree with them, he didn't agree enough. Some people receive death threats for lesser offences.
Silence and listening: these are the tools of effective churches. Guided by the Holy Spirit, they cast mountains into the sea.

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 287

If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Saint John is alone in giving us the image of the vine and the branches. This powerful image describes the intimate and very personal connection of each Christian to Jesus. 

When I was a boy we had a grape vine in our backyard. My great grandmother gave us the enormous root ball of this vine. Dad dug it up and transplanted it to our lot, then built a trellis over it. The trellis was perhaps five feet long and three feet high; the vine overwhelmed it during that first summer. It was just a tangle of branches and leaves and, by the second year, a lot of broken branches. 

It wasn't hard to see which branches were dead. They crumbled in your hand. My mother and I would sometimes tear them out of the tangle to allow more room for growth. 

We remain in God by obedience to his word. That is how we remain fruitful and useful for God's purposes. That is how we retain life in ourselves, as the sap of the Holy Spirit flows through our minds and hearts. 

When we consider the challenge of obedience, perhaps we focus too much on what is required than on who requires it. When my superior asks me to do something, I probably ask myself, "Do I want to do this?" I let myself and my preferences come between the request and the deed. 

It is so much simpler and more satisfying to consider who asks me to do this. I obey in loyalty and love, happy to be chosen by someone worthy of my admiration and respect. 

The story of Jesus in Gethsemane describes this crisis. Jesus must surrender to the temple guards who have come to arrest him. He will be roughly treated, then sentenced to death, tortured and crucified. Like that of any human being, his flesh quails at the thought of what must happen. In prayer he pleads,  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done."

His prayers are answered as he prays repeatedly, perhaps for hours, until his body, mind and heart have found their rest in the Presence of the Father. 

Our fruitfulness as Christians does not spring from our actions, nor from the energy we put into them. It is born of the willingness that takes delight in knowing God and in doing his will. 

E 'n la sua volontade è nostra pace.
In his will is our peace. 

Tuesday of Fifth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 286

They strengthened the spirits of the disciples
and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying,
“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships
to enter the Kingdom of God.”
They appointed presbyters for them in each Church and,
with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord
in whom they had put their faith.

When the Apostles Paul and Barnabas visited the new Christian communities in the several towns of Asia Minor, and then appointed presbyters to lead them, they took their time. They waited upon the Lord with prayer and fasting, and asked God to bestow upon these infant churches the Spirit of Jesus. They knew they would “undergo many hardships.”

That part of the world continues to suffer. They witnessed the disintegration of the Byzantine Empire, the invasion of Muslims, and the Crusades.  The First World War swept through this area, and destroyed the Ottoman Empire. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk initiated the first genocide of the 20th century with his killing of Christian Armenians. Today Turkey suffers the proximity of Syria and the refugees who, fleeing the war, bring it with them. Every age challenges Christians and the Church in Asia Minor has seen many ages.

Paul and Barnabas strengthened the spirits of the disciples, in part, by appointing presbyters. Before there was a Christian Bible there were priests and bishops commissioned to maintain the spirit of Jesus in the Church. They would do this by example and exhortation, with works of charity and ceremony.  

They were not supermen with extraordinary abilities of insight and wisdom. Their ministry was only partly evangelical, announcing the gospel where it has not been heard. It was also planning, organizing and scheduling so that the community could worship God by the Spirit within. Someone must choose the songs, someone should ask for volunteers, someone must count the collection and distribute it according to the needs of the Church. Someone should enunciate the unceasing Prayer of the Church, recalling to everyone how “He took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples.” If God's people will always need inspired priests, priests will always need an inspired people of God.
So long as the people remain in that communion they can be assured of Jesus’ words, 
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 285

Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him,
“Master, then what happened that you will reveal yourself to us
and not to the world?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus often responds to a question and leaves us wondering if he answered it. Raised in the religion of the Baltimore Catechism and assuming with the sciences that all knowledge can be broken down into facts, we want to find those facts which, like a key, fit the question. 

Surely the Teacher will give us those facts, which we can store in our pockets and purses with car keys, loose change and rosaries, and use when the occasion arises. The Gospel of John is rarely so simple, despite its many passages which read with the simplicity of a novel. 

"...what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?" 

Jesus answer speaks of contemplation, of keeping the word. If you ask how to get to the VA Hospital in Louisville almost any Louisvillian can tell you that. It will help if you listen closely to the answer and imagine making the trip. A careful answer will give you details, what to watch for, which lane to travel in, and how long it should take. That mental exercise of imagining the trip in advance is roughly similar to contemplation. However, after you have made the trip a few times you will do it without any thought at all. 

Keeping the Word always requires much deliberate attention. We are told several times that Mary pondered these things in her heart. A few words of explanation were not enough for her. She had to think about them. She had to, in a sense, eat and drink them and make them a part of her very body -- precisely because they did take shape in her body.  

As Saint Augustine says, "She conceived the Word of God in her mind before she conceived it in her womb." 

"Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him."

Though the Gospel of Saint John says nothing of Jesus' conception in the womb of Mary, that sentence describes precisely her contemplation and the "Indwelling of the Holy Trinity" in her. 

In another gospel, Jesus speaks of the many people who hear the Word of God, and fail to keep it. Some are like rocks and beaten paths; they are too hard to absorb any word. Some are too shallow; they cannot think deeply. And some are too anxious with the weeds of this world. 

To receive the revelation one must stop, look, listen, ponder, contemplate, eat and drink God's word day and night, in season and out. 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Lectionary: 52

Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?

Today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes one of the first snags the Church hit on its way to peace on earth, good will to men. Gentile widows were not receiving the same deferential treatment accorded to the Jewish widows. 

In the last century Americans began to recognize that preferential option "for our own kind." It is very subtle and when we -- the dominant group -- are accused of it we invariably -- almost instinctively -- get defensive and resistant to change. We had this notion -- this conceit -- our administration was both just and generous. "And our system worked just fine until these newcomers, whom we welcomed with such benevolence, joined us.  They should be grateful for what we give them, but they complain instead!" 

The controversy gets more interesting when some individuals seem to create new identities out of thin air, gather themselves with their "right of assembly," complain of being overlooked or mistreated, and demand equal rights. "Where on earth did they come from?" the dominant group wonders. 

And then, of course, members of the dominant group take up the chorus and say they too are oppressed minorities. I am an oppressed pipe smoker, oppressed Catholic, and oppressed white-man-in-general. That response leads nowhere. 

Jesus assures us we can work it out. "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places." When we finally reunite in heaven, if anyone needs to stay hidden in his or her own sectarian, minority ghetto for half of eternity, they're welcome to do so. Most of us will come out sooner to enjoy the wonder of God in the astonishing variety of human persons.

Eternity is a long time and with God's grace we will learn to get along, and even to love and admire and defer to one another. 

In the meanwhile, here in this messy world, grace teaches us to expect diversity, welcome differences, listen to complaints with humility and compassion, and honor the wonder of God's revelation in every human being. 

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 284

“If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to Jesus,
“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.

Once he enters the Cenacle with his disciples the hostile conflicts of John’s Gospel end. Jesus still challenges his disciples and his tone may sound disappointed and frustrated as he teaches them, but his affection for them is palpable. He wants them – and us – to know who he is.

Isn’t that what everyone wants, to be known, recognized and appreciated by loved ones? Our loneliest moments are those when we realize, “They don’t know what I am feeling.” The feeling may be of gladness or sadness, fear or desire. It doesn’t matter what the feeling is; it wants attention and no one sees, knows or acknowledges it.  Sometimes it’s enough to say, “I feel this way.” More often, I wish someone other than myself understood.

This is Jesus’ desire as he approaches Calvary. This is God’s desire in Jesus among us. God wants us to know him, and he especially wants us to see, know, understand and appreciate how intensely he loves us. He will reveal his Son to us in the beauty and the intensity of Calvary so that we see it with blinding sight.

It is a staggering reality. In John’s gospel, when the temple guards see it they fall to the ground. Even Jesus must collapse in Gethsemane under its weight.

By the Eucharist Jesus invites us to see his love for us. It is more than we can comprehend or fathom, but perhaps we apprehend its overwhelming mystery. It’s as if we have been led blindfolded to the rim of the Grand Canyon where the blind is removed and we are finally allowed to see – and we fall back in reflexive amazement. The body cannot bear the shock of God’s intensity. Our knees collapse as we genuflect in his presence. We are speechless and grateful.

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 283

I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way.”

“Stay with us!” Clopas and the other disciple said to the stranger on that first Easter Day, “for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
Wherever you go, I will go.” Ruth said to her mother-in-law Naomi.
There is no greater joy, no greater satisfaction, no greater security than to be with one’s beloved.
“Wherever she was, there was Eden.” Adam said of Eve in Mark Twain’s Eve’s Diary­.
The disciples of Jesus want to be with him; and he wants to be with them. But he must also be with God and therein lays the contradiction. The Prodigal Son abandoned the luxuries and leisure of heaven to dally among the denizens of earth. He wasted all his beauty, honor and glory upon them, and they in return gave him a cross to die on.

In the sign of the cross – that place where opposites meet – heaven and earth, divine and human, grace and sin find reconciliation. There in the cross we meet the Lord. 

"You know the way." Jesus says. Of course we do. It's through the narrow gate of the cross. It's on the road marked by the cross. It's the cross we carry with him. We cannot go with him, nor he with us, without the cross. 

He leads a sorry procession into heaven, with each pilgrim carrying a cross. The Father cannot but welcome home the Prodigal Son  -- and all his friends. 

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 282

“Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

Human beings are often overwhelmed by an intense desire to touch one another. A mother cannot resist her desire to hold and kiss the toddler she had lost in the shopping center. A father must throw his arms around the son he had given up for lost. Lovers hold and caress and kiss one another (hopefully en route toward marriage!)

On the night before he died Jesus had to wash the feet of his disciples. He was overwhelmed with his love for them. The urge was so intense, demanding and painful there was no other way but to shed his outer garments, get down on his knees and pour water over their feet.
Emotion filled the room as he did so. The disciples were astonished and, except for Peter the Spokesman, silent. Not knowing what to make of it some must have wept at this tender demonstration. As he touched their feet, perhaps kissing them as the sinful woman had kissed his feet, they fought against the urge to pull away from him. How difficult it must have been to surrender to his passion, even as they wondered what on earth it might mean.
That evening he would surrender to the temple police. As Saint John tells the story, he would almost force himself upon them, “I told you that I AM. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.

On the morrow he would be crucified, after carrying his cross to Calvary. There he would establish the new congregation (Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother.) and deliver his Spirit to them.
Eventually, when their heads stopped reeling and the Holy Spirit spoke to them, his disciples would understand why Jesus washed their feet. And what he meant by "Eat my flesh. Drink my blood." And why he had to die. There were no other ways to show them how intensely he loved them.
More, they would understand what they had to do. “If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.”