Thursday in Octave of Easter

Lectionary: 264

Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
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.”

Americans, I am told, are a visually oriented people. We know what we know by sight, whether it’s people or pictures, logos or landmarks. I might suppose that everyone is like that until I read today’s gospel and wonder that the disciples did not recognize the Risen Lord when he appeared to them.

Apparently, they had to touch him. But then again, sometimes when families and loved ones are reunited their seeing one another is not enough. They have to touch one another with many hugs and kisses, even with close inspection of faces and hands. “Is it really you?” they cry as if a part of themselves doesn’t want to believe; as if they have been so sad and hurt by the absence they’re reluctant to believe.

If the absence has been many years perhaps they don’t immediately recognize one another. They have to readjust their memories to the signs of aging that have appeared in the meanwhile. “Is that you with the grey hair, the wrinkles and age spots, the stoop in the back?”

I remember one friar whose heart attack/stroke had so aged him I had to ask someone, “Who is that?” And when I was told I broke down in tears.

Perhaps Jesus’ disciples underwent all these emotions and more as the Lord greeted them after that amazing, terrible weekend. When he appeared they could only see a ghost. But he laughed at them and insisted, “Look at my hands and feet. Touch me and see…”

His hands and feet were undeniably disfigured by the fresh wounds of crucifixion; it could be no one else but Jesus! And yet they were “incredulous for sheer joy.” So he took some baked fish and ate it before them to prove he was alive and well. In the spirit of the moment we can imagine his laughing as he ate. Doesn’t halleluiah sound like laughter?
The Christian religion is an incarnational religion; it includes the flesh. We could not be satisfied if only the "Spirit of Jesus" were raised up. We checked the tomb and found it empty. We watched him eat; we clung to him by his tomb; we put our fingers into the nail marks and the lance wound. 

We would not be satisfied if only our souls went to heaven. How are we supposed to know one another in heaven without all the familiar eyes, noses, chins, ears and hands; without the familiar gestures, tics, and grins? Even our smells should go with us, it seems to me. 

On that day of recognition there will be much rejoicing. 

Wednesday of Easter Week

Lectionary: 263

He leaped up, stood, and walked around,
and went into the temple with them,
walking and jumping and praising God.

When Ebenezer Scrooge woke on Christmas morning after four successive nightmares, discovering that he was alive and still had time to reform his miserable life, he went shopping.

When our beggar in Acts 3 was healed in the Name of Jesus, “He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.”

The beggar’s entering the Temple completes Jesus’ work. Scrooge’s purchase of a turkey for the Cratchet family may indeed lead him back to God, but that remains to be seen. Dickens was a marvelous novelist but not an evangelist; he wrote A Christmas Carol to promote gift giving, not worship.

In this story we also see the Holy Spirit at work. First, it rushed upon Peter and John as they commanded the beggar to “Look at us.” Did Peter know what he was going to do next? Had he come out that afternoon to try his hand at faith healing?

Apparently not; the impulses to command the beggar first to look at us and then to stand up came upon him unexpectedly. Perhaps he saw the man, remembered Jesus under similar circumstances and acted.
Suddenly the Spirit rushed upon the beggar and he stood up – much to his own surprise – and began first to walk and then to leap about.
The mission of the Holy Spirit, among other things, is to heal. God’s healing doesn’t simply restore one to a previous condition; it takes one further into life. This beggar along with his friends and family was stronger, more agile and happier than he had ever known. How could he keep from singing, leaping and dancing?

The Pascal Mystery of Easter -- from the Last Supper to Pentecost -- announces the presence and work of the Father, the Son and the Spirit in our world and in our lives. We see God's presence clearly in our own lives as we maintain a cheerful, generous presence in a world that tends to dreariness. They may not know it but they need us. 

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter

Woman, why are you weeping?

Twice we hear this question in today’s gospel. We should remember that Jesus also wept on another occasion, at another tomb, where his friend Lazarus was buried.

Given the circumstances – a cemetery on the second day after a burial -- it’s an odd question. If Mary Magdalene was overcome with grief, a part of her might have wondered nonetheless, “What a stupid question!” She is in no mood for comforting words or confounding questions from strangers. In fact, she has no time for brightly shining angels!

Extra-biblical authors and artists have made much of Mary Magdalene but her name appears only in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John; and only in Easter stories. She has been associated with other women in the gospels, especially the woman caught in adultery, the woman delivered of seven demons and the woman who wept at Jesus’ feet; but those connections seem entirely arbitrary. She may have been one of those women but probably not.

We know her only as one of several women who witnessed Jesus’ burial and his reappearance afterward.

Mary Magdalene, to this educated white man’s sensibilities, represents an affective relationship with God.

I met a Jewish fellow here at the VA who said he admired the way Christians display such open affection for God, especially for Jesus but also for God the Father. He did not encounter that in his family, though he admitted he had not grown up in a practicing Jewish household.

Not everyone loves the God they worship; not everyone thinks we should. Worship is a lot like the tribute of ancient times or the taxes we pay today. “You pay it, or else!” The rulers of ancient times might have sent along with their tribute, “the deepest and most sincere admiration and affection for the great and dear emperor” – but the sentiments were pro forma like the boxes and blanks we fill in on our tax forms.

Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus is unashamedly, unabashedly, overwhelmingly emotional. And his love for her, though expressed in only one word, is also touching and tender. There can be no doubt about their passionate affection in their discovery of each other this morning. Their happiness is palpable.

Some people suppose affection for a personal God is misplaced. They do not suppose God loves them as persons. I say, "If you're god is so huge he has no time for you, your god is too small." 

Our God is infinitely larger than that; our God is so powerful he makes himself small for each one of us." We can go to bed with our God, and get up with him, and go to work and come home. Our God is with us, and enjoying us, even when we're doing nothing more important than enjoying ourselves.

Easter Monday

Lectionary: 261

Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.
This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him. But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it.

On Easter Monday in 1916 a terrible beauty was born in Dublin, Ireland. A small band of Irish patriots stormed and held several major government buildings, including the General Post Office. Because the British army was largely engaged in the futility of the First World War, the response was delayed and the dream of Irish independence arose. Although independence did not come for several more years Ireland remembers this event as Americans remember July 4, 1776. A terrible beauty -- Ireland, a Sovereign Nation -- was born that the greatest army in the world could not suppress. 

Christians throughout the world remember the paschal weekend in Jerusalem when a terrible beauty was born. It was impossible for Jesus to be held by death or the grave. Nor could the Roman Empire suppress the Gospel that would spread from India to England within a very short time. 

And it is impossible that we, his chosen and beloved people, should be forever bound by sin. We too celebrate the terrible beauty of freedom as we hear of the women leaving the tomb “fearful yet overjoyed."
Our freedom, like our enslavement, is subtle. It requires attention and care; we must ponder these things in our hearts to understand what they mean and how our lives have changed by them.
When the Second World War ended every American knew about it within hours, but what difference did it actually make to them that day? The sun still rose and set; the meals had to be served and consumed; the laundry washed and put away. What difference did the Allied victory make to most people?

The Church celebrates every day of Easter Week as if it were Sunday. We will hear most of the Gospel stories of Jesus’ appearances and will recite or sing the Gloria every day, along with the double alleluias. We will recall visions that were hidden from the great and powerful of this world, who remain in darkness to this day. 
Perhaps the only discernible difference will be a certain willingness to smile more often, to laugh more freely, to thank for even smaller favors, to ask with less petulance, and to share what we have more generously.

The Resurrection of the Lord

Lectionary: 42

Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

The wise baker kneads flour and water together with a "stock" of older dough, then sets it aside for a few hours. The microscopic yeast which was hidden in the stock flourishes in the new lump, causing it to "rise" with pockets of air. More cycles of kneading and rising creates a satisfactory lump of dough which is baked into fresh, lovely bread. 

The ancient Hebrew women knew little of spores but they knew how to bake bread. For the Passover, in order to create unleavened bread they threw away the old stock during their spring cleaning, and started afresh. The kneaded loaf didn't rise, but was baked into solid chunks of airless bread. This bread was the same as they had eaten during the rush to escape Egypt many centuries before, a memory retained with their teeth, tongues, cheeks and saliva. This crunchy, chewy bread still retained the shock of urgency and dread.  

Our Catholic tradition retains that memory of Egypt with the unleavened bread of our communion. (It may not be required but it's a preferred tradition.) 

Rabbi Abraham Heschel says of faith and tradition: 

(Neither) the individual man nor a single generation by its own power can erect the bridge that leads to God. Faith is the achievement of ages, an effort accumulated over centuries. Many of its ideas are as the light of a star that left its source centuries ago. Many songs, unfathomable today, are the resonance of voices of bygone times. There is a collective memory of God in the human spirit, and it is this memory of which we partake in our faith….

Memory is a source of faith. To have faith is to remember. Jewish faith is a recollection of that which happened to Israel in the past. The events in which the spirit of God became a reality stand before our eyes painted in colors that can never fade. Much of what the Bible demands can be comprised in one word, Remember. (Man is not alone. Heschel)

The texture of our thin, flat Communion remembers our Jewish roots. We have been grafted onto the Hebrew race and into the promises made to Abraham. Our faith is "the achievement of ages, an effort accumulated over centuries." Those who deny or ignore our Jewish heritage renounce their faith in Jesus. They are led back into the slavery of Egypt with its reproach. With Easter and the Eucharist our purity has been restored -- that ready, eager helplessness of the Hebrews in Egypt who would be delivered from the Pharaoh's land. 

The unleavened wafer also recalls Saint Paul's exhortation to throw out the old yeast of malice and wickedness. Sins like racism, sexism, bullying, vengeance or cowardice have no place in our our families or church. We cannot complain of insecurity or worry about the future. As the child Tamar told her brother, "This is not done in Israel." 

After forty days preparation in which we have spring-cleaned our hearts not even the spore of sin remains. Let us then taste our Victory with the unleavened bread of his Body and the new wine of his Blood. 

Holy Saturday 2016

And on the seventh day God finished the work
that he had done, 
and he rested on the seventh day
from all the work that he had done. 
So God blessed the seventh day 
and hallowed it, 
because on it God rested
from all the work that he had done in creation.

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

Lectionary: 40

Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

Our collect today alludes to the "Paschal Mystery" which Jesus has established by the shedding of his blood. This mystery which we celebrate daily throughout the year in our Masses, Sacraments and Hours draws us "through the heavens" with Jesus to stand before "the throne of grace." 

It is easy, on this most solemn occasion, to be distracted by the maudlin details of Jesus' suffering and death. The Franciscan tradition especially has recalled the shattering pain and humiliation Jesus suffered on that terrible day. Some writers will go over the top, asking "Would you or I endure such pain?" with the obvious, self-incriminating, negative answer. 

But let's not take our eyes off what the Lord has done for us. None of the gospels show much interest in the gory details of Jesus' suffering; those details they provide have deep, revelatory meaning -- visible only to the eyes of faith. The crown represents not the pain in his scalp but the royal dignity of God's Son. The mocking catcalls of the crowd echo the glad salutes of a king. His cross is a throne; the criminals on his left and right are his courtiers. When Pilate seats Jesus on the Throne of Judgement he is taking his rightful place as the Judge of the Nations. 

The Gospel of Saint John clearly describes Jesus as the high priest, presiding over the ceremony of his crucifixion. His seamless garment is the alb of the priest. 

In his crucifixion, despite its horror, the disciple recognizes Jesus as the priest who passes through the heavens into the very Presence of his Father. He pleads with his life for our salvation. The same Gospel assures us that Jesus' prayer is heard because the Father has sent his "only beloved Son" to do just that. 

Sadness is not quite the feeling of this day because we have seen Jesus do precisely what he wants to do, and precisely what he was sent to do. We might be appalled as we watch a fellow human being die in a most grisly fashion, but getting through that sickening sense of horror we see the brilliant glory of his love. 

It is a gift freely given despite the fact that, from our side, it is unearned and undeserved. We had no claim on God's mercy. Except for his spirit moving in us, we would not have asked or expected mercy. It has flared before us like a burning bush and a pillar of fire, unimagined and unhoped for -- almost "too good to be true" but it is true. 

Our response is silent worship. The Liturgy of Good Friday is a quiet event, without an entrance or recessional hymn. The presiding celebrant doesn't even greet the people with his customary, "The Lord be with you." 

On this day we behold the wood of the cross on which is hung our salvation; oh come, let us adore the Priest who has entered the sanctuary with his own body and blood as the sin offering. 

Holy Thursday 2016

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.


Pope Benedict XVI, in his trilogy about Jesus Christ, offers his opinion that the Last Supper was probably not a Passover Meal. Familiar with the best scholarship of our time, he prefers the chronology of Saint John. The Fourth Evangelist placed the crucifixion on “Preparation Day,” the day before the Passover when the paschal lambs were slaughtered.  

In his telling, Jesus knew there was a conspiracy against him and he knew his enemies would make their move before the Passover, especially because the festival fell on the Sabbath that year. Enormous crowds would soon descend upon Jerusalem. The authorities feared that a “Messiah” might grab the opportunity to call for insurrection; and then all hell would break lose. Although his enemies conspired in secret there were no secrets in Jerusalem. The city was charged with rumors, intrigues, cabals, expectations and fears. Jesus, “knowing the hour had come” used the familiar prayers and songs of the Passover during his last meal, much as a dying man might celebrate Christmas with his family several days early.

With the Passover in mind, however, he made several huge changes in the ritual. First, he washed their feet. Perhaps Jesus was struggling for words as he tried to instruct his disciples. Overcome with emotion and desperately wanting to show his clueless friends how tenderly he loved them, he grabbed a bowl of water and a towel and began to wash their feet. The disciples were astonished speechless. Only their spokesman dared to say anything, the ever-impulsive Peter. What was he doing? What did it mean?

It was something physical, intimate and compelling. He had to touch them; he could not keep his hands off them, like a mother with an injured toddler or a husband with his sobbing bride. We can only imagine tears streaming from his eyes as he caressed their calloused heels and scabrous toenails.

Only afterward, days and weeks afterward, did they put it all together. The physical contact of washing their feet and his physical death on the cross and his physical resurrection: it was about love. There is no other word but even that word hardly says it.

Is it possible that he died on the cross because he loves us? Did his resurrection complete the gesture that began with his washing our feet? What did he say at that time?

This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me….
This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

Jesus – or any lover – must do something physical when he shows his love. Words, as eloquent as they might be, are not enough. The affection must be felt in one’s hands, feet, face and mouth. It must overwhelm and command and be undeniable. It cannot be routine and should not be misunderstood. Such is the way of any human lover. But God’s love must be all the more powerful, beautiful, gentle and subtle. It cannot overwhelm because that would destroy. It cannot compel because that would enslave. God’s love is shown through subtle signs laden with meaning and explosive and beautiful.

Such is the Mass for those who attend.

Wednesday of Holy Week

For your sake I bear insult,
and shame covers my face.
I have become an outcast to my brothers,
a stranger to my mother’s sons,
because zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.
R. Lord, in your great love, answer me.

There is a crucifix front and center in every Catholic Church; it is often the first and most outstanding visual event upon entering the sacred space. The height of the ceiling may be inspiring and its imagery amazing; the windows may be colorful and their pictures exciting but the eye is directed forward toward the crucifix.
In Saint Clare’s abbey chapel it was the only image and she urged her sisters, “Gaze on him.”
We gaze on him with love and wonder even as, on that dreadful day, his tormentors mocked his nakedness and hurled insults, mud, sticks and stones at him. He bore insults as shame covered his face; he was a disgrace to his family, a stranger to his relatives, and an outcast to his fellow citizens. 
Few Christians have known his suffering; not many are called to martyrdom; but everyone knows the agony of his abandonment. It comes as one becomes a person, separated and isolated from others.
No matter how much I care for others and they care for me, I realize that no one knows what goes on in my heart; no one can fathom my isolated experience. Nor can I bridge the other's apartness from me. Every person is unique and radically unknowable.
What did it mean to Jesus to be so alone in that terrible moment, with nothing but his unbearable pain for companionship? The sky did not split open as he suffered; there was no thundered shout, “You are my beloved son!” There was nothing but the catcalls of his tormentors and even they were fading into silence.
When we gaze on him we allow the dreadful beauty of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to invade our consciousness and rearrange our existence. God opens within us space for others to occupy our hearts even as we realize no one and nothing can ever fill our emptiness.  We are doomed, cursed and invited to an eternal receptivity before the unfathomable mystery of other persons.
Inspired by Jesus' open arms on his cross, we invite others to come live in our hearts, taking what appears to be limited space. We feel threatened that, “There may not be enough for me.” But we cannot resist their need for love, reassurance and companionship – even when we have so little to give. In fact we have nothing to give but, to our amazement, that nothing is more than satisfying when they gaze on him within the sanctuary of our hearts.

Tuesday of Holy Week

Lectionary: 245
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.

If I were to name the Great Evil which confronts every human being, which causes us to question the very existence of God and the possibility of goodness, I would call this mystery betrayal.
Natural catastrophes happen and they are often traumatic. Some people never get over the shock of watching a tornado rip through the ceiling, taking walls and roof with it. Others are appalled by the sudden death of a child by accident or disease. These things, we think, should not happen in God’s good world.

But betrayal is worse; its casual intentionality destroys us. We wonder, “How could you do this to me?” and “Why did you do this to me?” If we cannot trust our fellow human beings in this perilous world, who can we trust?
That “the disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant” is telling. There were apparently no factions or cliques among them. They felt very comfortable among themselves and in Jesus’ company. If James and John had jockeyed for higher rank among them Jesus had gently, firmly escorted them back to their place. The rest of the group had apparently forgiven them for it. If Peter had been singled out as the spokesman for the group, they did not resent his position. They could not imagine that one of them – one who had served without distinction so far – might upend everything and betray the Master to his enemies.

Betrayal comes in many forms. It might be as brazen as Judas’ conspiracy with the Sanhedrin. But it might be more subtle: the promises made which were never meant to be kept; the heart-breaking infidelities within marriage; the parent who looks after his own interests first before that of his children; the shortcuts a contractor takes as he builds a building or bridge.
Because we need one another and rely on one another, we have to believe that relationships are dependable, promises are kept, and words mean what they say. Betrayal shatters the confidence we need to do something as simple as entering a building, crossing a bridge or filling a prescription. Worse, it threatens my sense of self-worth. Betrayed, I wonder if I ever “existed, mattered, or made sense” to my friend.

Jesus is the Word of God; his words have gathered this band of disciples to him. Judas’ betrayal denies his very existence; it opens through an impenetrable thicket of human laws, contracts, agreements, pledges and promises a broad path to his crucifixion. The unexpected, unthinkable will suddenly descend upon Jesus even as his disciples watch in horror.
Natural catastrophes happen; they come with the inevitability of death itself. Naturalists are fond of pointing to the new birth that follows in the wake of forest fires, hurricanes and earthquakes. They are not evil. 

But betrayal does not have to happen; there is no law that says it must. Like alcohol, it has no medicinal purpose. If good comes from betrayal it must be "supernatural," by the intentional, redeeming act of a personal God. 

Monday of Holy Week

Lectionary: 257

Though an army encamp against me,
my heart will not fear;
Though war be waged upon me,
even then will I trust.

The great theologian Karl Rahner observed that apocalyptic literature expects a widening gap between the just and unjust, merciful and merciless, good and evil. That polarization is a sign of the end time.

In today’s gospel we hear Judas suddenly erupting in protest. He has been largely silent throughout his following of Jesus. Perhaps only Jesus suspected what was going on this observer’s soul.  The other disciples, seem clueless about their companion; they cannot interpret his silence or see the cynical scowl on his face. As the “hour” approaches, however, what is happening within must burst out of him in ugly remonstrance.

It is met immediately by two rebukes: the evangelist says Judas was a thief who used to steal from the common fund; and Jesus defends the pious woman as he sarcastically states, “You always have the poor with you!” If there was any hope that Judas might resolve his inner conflict and accept Jesus’ lordship, we can see now that the rot is too deep.

Jesus does not compromise with Judas. He does not try to ease the tension in the room, to conciliate between the different factions. Rather, he takes his stand with the woman.

Some people suppose that apocalyptic literature is all about the End of the World when the sun will burn out and the moon and stars will fall to earth.

But we see in human history, far more often, an end of the world as we know it. Few people doubt that we are living in such a time now. We should pray that this convulsion does not erupt in universal warfare when ‘even the elect” will be sorely tempted to abandon their faith.

The synoptic gospels describe an end of the world with Jesus’ crucifixion.

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon…. And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

The forces of evil coalesced as the procurator, the king, the Sanhedrin, the mob and the traitor agreed that Jesus must die. The forces of good also merged when the Resurrected Lord called his scattered disciples together.

During the drama of Holy Week we consider the choice we must make and pray that, when the day comes, we will choose rightly.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Lectionary: 37 and 38

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself...

"Look at the humility of God!" Saint Francis urged his faithful sisters and brothers. 

Eight hundred years later we have yet to fully integrate that plea into our understanding of God. Fascinated with Power we cling to the notion of a dreadful, arbitrary, opinionated judge who will devastate the Earth as he -- most certainly a he -- raises the "righteous." 

Pope Francis prefers the Mercy of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

An all-powerful god who is not merciful is not very powerful; that god is subject to his own whims and moods; he is pathetic in his helplessness, a craven worthy of our contempt. Such were the ancient gods of Greece, Zeus and Hera and their ilk, forever locked in their soap-operatic dramas. They toyed with human beings who, in their turn, either pandered to their favorite gods or despised the lot of them. By the time of Saint Paul, a well-educated Greek-speaking Jew, the intellectual elite disavowed all religions. 

Only a humble God is worthy of our love, a God who will bow down to save the humiliated, marginalised and despised among us. We have heard him say to Moses, 
I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them...
This is the Lord whom we follow into Holy Week. We will see an astonishing display of power, one unlike anything we might have imagined. One whom we believe is invested with "all authority in heaven and on earth" will submit to abuse, torture and death like a lamb led to slaughter. He will not even claim to be unlike other men

During this particular year, here in the United States, we are watching our leaders stoop to the most absurd and humiliating postures in their grab for earthly power. Armed with half-truths, insults, accusations, vague promises and suspicious credentials each one claims to be worthy of supreme leadership. It is embarrassing for everyone who observes it. At best, we hope their willingness to serve the common good is marginally stronger than their lust for power. By November responsible citizens will have to "hold your nose and vote" for the least worst among them. 

During Holy Week and Easter we thank the Father for sending the Son and the Holy Spirit to gather us into the Mercy of God, safe from this world's indignities. 

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lectionary: 543

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

Although we are most seriously dedicated to Lent and the passage through Holy Week to Easter, we can't ignore the calendar that announces Christmas just nine months away. The Feast of the Annunciation wants to fall on Good Friday; and that's out of the question, of course, so we'll put that feast off until the second Monday after Easter. 

But there is still the Solemnity of Saint Joseph; he must enter the story before Mary does so that she can be at least betrothed if not married to somebody when she conceives the Messiah! And so we squeeze in this feast day, happily on the 19th of March, the day before Palm Sunday. 

The story of Joseph, found in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, is rich will allusions. He is modeled after the Patriarch Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham. That intrepid fellow dreamed and interpreted dreams, went down to Egypt, maintained his virginity, and provided for the Chosen People. Unlike his great grandfather, he never had a vision or audition with God. He had only his dreams for guidance, his integrity and his wits. 

The husband of Mary also trusted his dreams, was "married" to the ever virgin Mary, went down to Egypt and back to Nazareth, and provided for the nascent Church of Jesus and Mary. Like his ancestor he was a sharp observer of the political moment; he trusted his dreams and his common sense as he elected not to move back to Bethlehem. 

But we don't celebrate what he did as much as what he was, a faithful believer. He graciously received the gift of the Messiah, not through the law which might have stoned Mary, but through faith in God's word which declared her innocence and the Child's mission. 

Saint Matthew insists that Joseph was "a righteous man." That comes not by deeds but by one's trust in God. 

How often do we meet abrasive people who really do have good intentions and do a lot of good deeds but their "issues" give them away. They don't seem to believe that God has loved them since the very beginning; they're still trying to prove their worth when God has found them worthy a long time ago. They are often defensive because they fear they're not being judged rightly; they need to tell us every good deed they've ever done, and boast of all their trophies. 

Saint Joseph says nothing; his acts of faith speak for themselves. 

Receiving Mary and Jesus, Joseph receives the gift of righteousness. He will live by that principle without "white knuckling" his virtue. There is no strain in his goodness although it takes great courage. He simply does the right thing because it is the right thing. Making sacrifices is much easier for one who expects to make sacrifices, and Joseph knew that as soon as he received Mary into his home. 

With his silence to guide us now, we enter Holy Week. 

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Lectionary: 255

I love you, O LORD, my strength, O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.

When I look at the crucifix in our Mount Saint Francis chapel I remember that Jesus suffered and died this most appalling death by the deliberate decision of his fellow human beings. 

This man did not die of old age or disease or by accident. He is a child of the human race and we know he was doomed to death from the day of his birth. We understand that. We understand that each of us must die although we often go for days or weeks without thinking about it. 

Natural death is bad enough; it seems a huge insult to our dignity as human beings made in God's own image. Murder is something far worse. 

As a child in grade school I got used to the rough-and-tumble of boys on the playground. I shoved and was shoved around. Sometimes it was great fun. 

Sixty years later I have forgotten the sensation. If, for some obscene reason, someone were to intentionally shove me aside, I would be astonished, at least; and probably angered. "How dare you lay a hand on me?" 

But what if that shove were fatal? What if it came with such violence that it tore my being from my body? How would I react as I saw my body falling lifelessly to the floor? 

I hear that reaction in the hospital as patients are "handled" by the health care workers. We continually remind one another, "This is not a "case"; this is "Jack" who has served his country, has married and raised children who love him, who worked hard, took pride in his work, and made a habit of self-sacrifice. Jack deserves courtesy and respect as we care for him. And Jack doesn't like to be handled.

Some of our Veterans were prisoners of war; many of them are combat Veterans and still suffer the painful memories. Being helpless and vulnerable is both alien and entirely too familiar to them! What can we do to make this experience less uncomfortable? 

Turning back to the crucifix, I see the Son of God who has been brutally mishandled by men who take pleasure in hurting and killing others. Like any other creature he is sorely aware of physical abuse. HIs torturers will not be ignored; they will not be denied their Real Presence. He cannot "zone out;" he does not distance himself from his body. 

His only "coping mechanism" is his prayer, "Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing." 

I pray that he includes me in that prayer for the times I have "dealt with" people. 

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

…I am making you the father of a host of nations.
I will render you exceedingly fertile;
I will make nations of you;

In today’s gospel Jesus’ critics complain, “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?” Even a schoolchild should be able to explain to them that to attend the liturgy – be it Jewish worship or Catholic Mass – is to stand side-by-side with every creature who ever has, now does and ever will worship God. We are consecrated companions -- saints among the saints – and more than casually acquainted with one another.

We heard the Lord this morning promise Abraham, “I will render you exceedingly fertile.” I hear an echo of God’s command to Adam and Eve, “Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth.” Sarah and Abraham’s children are everywhere; they fill the earth.
The tapestries in the Los Angeles Cathedral portray a host of recognizable saints from ancient times to the present with their hands folded in prayer. This cloud of witnesses appears rapt in attendance of the Mass, relaxed and happy. There are no strangers among them. Because the models for these images were citizens of multi-racial, polyglot Los Angeles, they look like any American’s neighbors. It is not hard to imagine oneself among those saints and, indeed, the tapestries on either wall of the cathedral nave convey that hospitable assurance. You belong here, and among us!  

If we know God we cannot help but invite others – most especially our children – to share our joy. This happiness is contagious; it is fertile and fecund, fructiferous and fruitful, prolific, proliferant and pregnant. It just gets carried away!

Jesus bluntly tells his opponents, “You do not know him, but I know him.” Their love of God, whatever may be said for it, is not contagious; their knowledge of God is sterile. They “forgot as up they grew” and their “children [too] are apt to forget to remember” as up they grow.

During this season of Lent we hear the word of God to Abraham again:

On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.

We pray that God will renew in us his willing, grateful, confident, gracious, joyful spirit that has no need to hoard goods or withhold generosity, knowing as we do that The Lord remembers his covenant forever.”