Good Friday of the Lord's Passion

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.

Despite the innumerable problems of the priesthood -- and we don't need to study Church history to know some of them -- we need our priests. They directly provide our sacraments of Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick; and they often preside over Baptism and the Rite of Marriage. They represent a direct connection to the historical Jesus; a connection which we consider sacramental and vital. So we sit up and listen when the Scriptures tell us about the priesthood of Jesus.
Where the synoptic gospels celebrate Jesus as the royal son of David, the Gospel of Saint John and the Letter to the Hebrews highlight Jesus' identity and ministry as a priest. Today's readings from Hebrews 4-5 and the Passion Narrative of John sharpen that focus as we contemplate the events of Good Friday.

The Resurrection of Jesus has persuaded us like a blast of dynamite of God's merciful love for us. We have been "blown away" by the incident of Easter morning. But what does it mean? How do we explain this to the stunned mind that wants to make sense of it all?

Hebrews makes the connection. Jesus is first of all a human being; he is a brother to everyone, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Being human, he is able to sympathize with our weakness. The Angels announced him as Messiah and Lord; Mary worshiped him as her God despite his being her own son; the disciples knew him as a man among men; his crucifixion proved he died like any man. The signs he performed demonstrated his authority as Son of God for those who willing to see. Throughout every account of Jesus without exception runs this paradox: he is fully God and fully human. He never appears as anything but human; he always carries the aura of God.

For that reason the Jewish institution of priesthood fits well upon Jesus. Aaron and his Levite descendants were undeniably human but as they ceremonially bathed and then donned a complete set of ceremonial clothing from linen undergarments to chasubles and miters they became holy, godlike. They were fit to enter, through the veil, the Holy of Holies, which was originally a tent in the Sinai desert, then a tent at the shrine of Shiloh, and finally a temple of Jerusalem. Jesus as priest enters through the veil of his flesh into the very presence of God in the Holy of Holies, in the Heavenly Temple, in the Heavenly Jerusalem. He saves us as a priest.
Some Christians may argue that he was the one, only and last priest; and I have no quarrel with that. But the Catholic sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Priesthood represent the mystery in this immediate moment. Jesus does not die in ancient history, in some remote corner of the Roman Empire. He dies with us today; and is raised before our eyes today. As the Letter to the Hebrews says,
"...he enters the sanctuary once and for all because he remains forever; he has a priesthood that does not pass away. Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.
In the Eucharist, we are as close to the Mystery as Mary and John were to Jesus on Calvary. Receiving his Body and Blood from the priest and altar, we know the immediate presence of the Crucified and Risen Lord.

Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.

Please bear with me if I seem possessed by Time. These are strange times in which we live; we do well to contemplate the pervasive reality of time, and its compelling irreversibility. Nothing done can be undone. Or, as the Veterans say, "A gun fired cannot be unfired." 
We so often take time for granted, and waste much of it to our regret; but we discover an elusive mystery when we try to look directly at it.
Jesus knew his time had come; he had been born for this hour. God the Creator had planned and prepared this moment long before the patriarchs and matriarchs Moses, Sarah, Abraham, Noah, Eve and Adam were born. With the arrival of this long awaited hour he could not, must not, fail.
He was the son of his Mother. She too had readily made an irreversible decision in the divine moment of crisis, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. Both were fully prepared for their critical moments and chose wisely. Having conceived a son, she could not unconceive him.

On this Holy Thursday we remember his "Last Supper" and try to ponder all facets of this wonderful event. He washed their feet. He gave them his body to eat and his blood to drink. With the "institution" of the Eucharist he "ordained" his disciples as priests with his command: "Do this in memory of me."
In the Triduum of three sacred liturgies we see that the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection are one event. This is why we begin the ceremonies with the Sign of Cross on Holy Thursday and don't "sign" again until the end of the Easter Mass -- with a triple alleluia! The Good Friday service begins and ends in silence. This is a single, three day event.
The Triduum is the long-awaited hour at the end of Lent, the beginning of a fifty day season until Pentecost. During this Triduum new Catholics will be baptized. They will receive First Communion and be confirmed. Having been through the ceremony they cannot be unbaptized, un-eucharisted, or unconfirmed. Each has been given a new, baptismal name by which God gathers them to himself. They can expect to hear that name called as the brother of Martha and Mary heard his name when the Lord commanded him, "Lazarus, come out." He was a long way gone but his name and that voice brought him a long way back.

Saint John goes on to say that Jesus, knowing his hour had come, loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. He will not do this alone. These disciples must also be caught up in this passage from this world to the Father. He could not unlove them. During the Last Supper he tells them, "Where I am going you cannot follow." But, "I will come back to take you with me." 

On that evening they cannot see that he will die tomorrow; they cannot imagine that he will lead them through death. When he takes the bread, blesses, breaks and gives it to them, saying "This is my body," they cannot yet understand that, by eating and drinking they will "pass from this world to the Father." When he washes their feet they cannot see the sign of what Good Friday means. These mysteries will be revealed by the Holy Spirit in another time and place. For the nonce they can only follow his lead and trust in the Master's mysterious words and gestures.

Entering this sacred moment in the Year of Our Lord 2018, each one of us realizes, "I was born for this moment, this opportunity, this hour of grace." By celebrating the Triduum we return to the hour of salvation; but it's not exactly a "return" for this hour is the hour of salvation. Gathered with the Lord we die with him in Baptism and are raised again by receiving his Body and Blood. From this Upper Room we see the Promised Land.

Wednesday of Holy Week

"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.

Philosophical types have long been fascinated with time. 19th century writers, led by H.G.Wells (The Time Machine​) and Mark Twain (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court) explored the idea of time travel. In the 20th century, Einstein and others physicists joined the fun, calling time a fourth dimension; or, more precisely, one dimension of time as compared to three dimensions of space. The concept generates a lively discussion in some circles. If we can move up and down, left and right, forward and backward in the three dimensions of space, why can't we move backward in time, or even tesseract across wrinkles of timeNowadays, fantasy fiction like Dr. Who and Star Trek dabble in that kiddie pool of philosophical thought.
It seems almost heretical to suggest no one can or ever will time-travel. As I understand, Saint Thomas Aquinas declared that not even God can change the past. (But don't quote me on that. God does, in fact, heal the past.) While some might argue it is "theoretically possible," their theories include impossible preconditions, like the ability to travel faster than light. We are doomed to live forever in the present moment. That restriction is the foundation of human freedom.

The Hebrews were also fascinated with time. Although the Greek Herodotus is credited with inventing the study of history, the Hebrews introduced purpose, direction and hope to the endless monotony of time. Our faith in God tells us we are going someplace and it will be a better place. If other nations looked back to a glorious past and regretted its disappearance, the People of God looked forward to the Day when God's merciful justice would reign upon earth. That "Day of the Lord" first appears in the writing of the 9th century bce prophet Amos, although he said it would be a day of judgement and doom.
Jesus added another, deeper dimension to this story. He is the long awaited Day. He is the end of our longing. He is also the promise of future glory and delight as we resume our travel through time.

The Evangelists were profoundly aware of his mysterious appearance in time. In today's gospel he says, " appointed time draws near." His appointed time was fastened to the Jewish Passover -- a connection both surprising and not surprising. It was surprising in the sense that the Jews had been celebrating the feast for over a thousand years. Why would this feast day be any different? But it was not surprising in the sense: "When else could his appointed time occur except at the Passover?"

Holy Week is for Christians the most sacred time of year. Beginning with Palm Sunday; it processes through Holy Thursday and Good Friday and reaches its climax with the Holy Saturday Vigil. This is a "L'Englelian tesseract" ​which permits us to time-travel back to the most ancient origins of the feast in the Sinai Peninsula; and back to that astounding moment of death and resurrection in Jerusalem; and forward to that glorious future day when all the nations will recognize the Crucified as the Crowned Son of God. (It is unfortunate that we call this feast Easter as the word fails to evoke our roots in the Jewish Pasch.)

These tesseracts  appear only occasionally, as feast days. This is an opportunity not to be missed.

Tuesday of Holy Week

Lectionary: 258

After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him.
So Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly."
Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.

Centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus, Shakespeare would describe betrayal as the most unkindest cut of all. More brutal than the beatings, scourges, spitting and mockery of enemies is the spiritual assault of one's trusted friend. Whereas the others are playing out their parts, acting with all the blindness and stupidity of their assignments, the betrayer knows intimately his victim. He knows which word to use, where the hurt will be deepest, and acts without remorse.
The Evangelists, as they contemplated Salvation History, saw that the death of Jesus was necessary, inevitable and certain. His death was a sacrifice, like that of the firstborn, spotless lambs in the temple, like Isaac offered on Mount Moriah.
But the sacrifice could not be simply the execution of a man, like the American practice of capital punishment. Nor could it be voluntary, like suicide. (A suicide takes his life; he does not give it.) 
We know that Mayan princes enjoyed a year of feasting and feting before they were sacrificed on their pyramid altars. Jesus' death must be more complete than that. First, he must be despised by his own people, denounced, condemned and convicted despite his perfect innocence; and despite his manifest love for his people. Secondly, he must be betrayed by a trusted companion.
Finally, he is not just a prince, an elite member of his tribe; he is the Son of God. This One does not represent some people. Because, he is infinitely more valuable in the sight of God than all people -- than all the universe -- he represents and saves fallen Creation. And not only the people of his time; he saves all time, all history from the fall of Adam, the murder of Cain, the Shoah to the end of time.
This is necessary because sin resides in the innermost recesses of the human heart, in the center of one's being. To be removed sin's roots must be discovered and eradicated by a perfect sacrifice which is remorseless in its relentless assault. No one could endure such violence unless he were the Son of God, unless he were willing to surrender everything to his most loving and trustworthy Father.
When we consider Judas' betrayal we contemplate the depths of sin and realize how deeply, passionately our God loves us; that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

Monday of Holy Week

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
Upon whom I have put my Spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
Not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.

Saint Paul wrote to his difficult Corinthian congregation: "We cause no one to stumble in anything, in order that no fault may be found with our ministry; on the contrary, in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance, in afflictions, hardships....
Another translation reads: "We avoid giving anyone offense so our ministry may not be harmed...."
I hear in these words Paul's imitation of Christ, who would not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. On another occasion he says, "...we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children."
The servant of God, imitating Jesus or any of the saints, cannot assume a domineering position without deep consideration. It is necessary on occasion, as the Holy Spirit dictates. We know that young people cannot appreciate the inevitable consequences of their behavior. Their brains have not matured and they need firm boundaries to guide them.
But their mentors must also be profoundly aware of the consequences of their discipline. Harsh, irrational or arbitrary teachers might not be forgiven for the sake of their good intentions. Their overbearing authority might be copied in the worse way as young adults assume control of their lives.

Clearly, Jesus preferred the standard of meekness. He was as ready as any Jew of his day to quarrel with his peers; quarreling was the national sport. But, among the powerful, he was a lamb led to the slaughter. We saw that meekness developing even as a child, when he was subject to his mother Mary and father Joseph. He makes no complaint as he is arrested and hauled before Annas, Caiphus, Herod and Pontius Pilate; nor when he is tormented by soldiers and taunted by the mob. He might have called up twelve legions of angels in his defense but that was not his Father's will, nor his own.
The simple fact is, no one is persuaded to love by dominance. They might be cowed into submission; they might be awed into silence; but they will rediscover their desires and find their voices and nothing good will have been accomplished in the meanwhile. Jesus has chosen the better part.
Today's first reading is the first of four "Suffering Servant Songs" from the Book of Isaiah. They lead us to Good Friday as surely as any text in the Old Testament. On that day we will see our king wearing a crown, hailed as a King of the Jews, and enthroned on a cross. He will call us with helpless, outstretched arms to embrace him as our beloved Lord. The outstretched arm has often been seen as a threat; we recognize it now as an invitation.
Nothing external will force us to go to him. In fact, his appearance will be repulsive to the busy passer-by, and terrifying to those who cannot see past appearances. The only compelling force will be the response of our hearts -- which is, in fact, the impulse of the Holy Spirit -- if we are prepared to listen to our hearts.

Palm Sunday 2018

When he returned he found them asleep.
He said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep?
Could you not keep watch for one hour?
Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."

Rick to his beloved Ilsa, “I’d bet they’re asleep in New York. I’d bet they’re asleep all over America…” 
Sleeping is more than a bodily necessity; sometimes it's a way of coping; it puts off till tomorrow what we cannot face tonight. Jesus' disciples had enjoyed a full day in preparation for the Passover. The full meal and ample drinks of the supper rested comfortably in their bellies. They looked forward to a night of rest. Perhaps they quoted the King James Version, "Sufficient unto the day is the trouble thereof." as they wrapped themselves in their cloaks and found some kind of comfortable position on the ground. They had faithfully, wearily followed the Master to the Garden. Who could fault their drowsiness?  

But like Rick's America, they were sleeping in the face of impending horror and didn't even know it. 
The drama of Holy Week arrives faithfully each year. We may have prepared for it with several weeks of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We might have pored over the scripture passages proffered by the Church. Perhaps we have noticed the unpredictable weather, a harbinger once known as "March madness," before the expression was co-opted by admen.
Or, perhaps, like most people at the approach of Holy Week, we've been sleepily waiting for summer, hardly noticing the ominous signs. 

He said to them in reply, “In the evening you say, ‘Tomorrow will be fair, for the sky is red’; and, in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times.

Despite our sociological, economic, political, military and ecological sciences we have little ability to predict the future. Hurricanes, fires, mudslides, wars, recessions, depressions, plagues, suicides: they find us sleeping and unprepared. 
I remember a friar whose doctor repeatedly warned him about his high blood pressure. Even I could see the confusion that hovered around him when it was very high. The day finally came. Arriving at the airport by taxi, on his way to another important engagement, he found he could not open the door or move his right leg. As he struggled to cope with the massive stroke he'd often say, "Lord I am willing to accept whatever you give me, but I wish you had given me some warning!" 
No one can predict the future but we can stay awake and watch as it arrives. We can follow the Lord to Gethsemane to watch and pray with him. We can follow him to Calvary, the tomb and Easter. 

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Lectionary: 256

He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.

The Gospel of Saint John divides into two sections, called the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory. Today's gospel closes the first, and represents the transition to the second. We have seen Jesus give marvelous "signs." They were in the form of teachings (Nicodemus), preternatural knowledge ("You have five husbands!"), healing the sick and reviving the dead (Lazarus). 
Each sign demonstrated to those who would believe Jesus' identity and mission. They proved nothing to skeptics, nor did that worry the Evangelists. They were not cursed with our preoccupation with "scientific proof." They knew that Truth is revealed by knowledge of God; it is not a rickety theory built of uncertain facts. 
The disciples of Jesus have demonstrated through a series of tests their willingness to believe in Jesus. Many had followed him at one time or another; most decided they'd heard enough and walked away. We saw a major culling of the flock when Jesus declared, "You must eat my flesh and drink my blood." 
As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
That painful process of separating sheep from goats continued even in this eleventh chapter: 
Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 
A friar recently asked me if the VA hospital has success in helping alcoholics and drug addicts to recover. 
I replied, "Call no man happy before he has died.The addict can always return to his abuse; the faithful spouse can abandon marriage; doting parents can disown their children. 
The faithful pray each day for perseverance in their vocation.  Disciples of the Lord can always turn away from him; he does not deny our freedom.  
As we enter Holy Week we beg the Lord to give us that courageous Spirit that will follow him through the Valley of Death, even to Calvary. 

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

I hear the whisperings of many:
"Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!"
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
"Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him."

For Lenten meditation, I have been reading Booker T. Washington (Up from Slavery), W.E.B Dubois (The Souls of Black Folks), and James Weldon Johnson (The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.) I found these extended essays in a single volume, Three Negro Classics. I call this reading a Lenten project because it considers America's Original Sin, racism. (The idea is not my own; it was popularized in 2016 by Jim Wallis and his book, America's Original Sin, which I've yet to read.)

An original sin is, by definition, the opposite of a people's founding principle; and our founding principle is, "All men are created equal." The United States was the first nation in history to attempt building its identity and legal foundations on an ideal. But the principle flies in the face of reality; all men are obviously not created equal. Some are larger, some are smaller. Some are gifted with more native intelligence; others are slow-witted. Some are manually dexterous; others are clumsy. Beyond those genetic differences are the disparities we create of class, wealth, education and opportunity. For tens of thousands of years the disparities of wealth, status and power were regarded as natural and necessary as rain. 
Building a nation on the principle of equality is daring at best. The Founding Fathers knew it when they wrote the Constitution. Some feared the question of slavery might only be resolved by a civil war. The new republic with its complicated bicameral machinery spent "four score and seven years" trying to avoid it.
The upheaval was both inevitable and futile. The War Between the States settled very little. In many cases the slaves became sharecroppers, as bound to the land by poverty, policy and law as any European peasants. Like the 21st century exercises in Afghanistan and Iran, there was no plan for what would happen after the war. How should the freedmen and freedwomen be reeducated for freedom after three centuries of brutal slavery? How would their former masters be persuaded that their former chattel might be as intelligent and capable as themselves, given opportunities for education and advancement? Washington showed how whites and blacks despised work. Work was what slaves did, not free people. And illiterate former slaves had never enjoyed the benefits of work; freedom meant no work! They knew nothing of money or saving or investing. 
These three negro classics, written one and two generations after Emancipation, recall the enormous task that confronted the nation and its massive failure. The best attempts were half-hearted; in many cases they were intentionally sabotaged. I remember the upheavals of the 1950's and 60's -- a half-century later -- an era of riots, marches and some legislation; and the hope that America might yet fulfill its promise to all its citizens. Progress was made but only some.
We can call racism the "original sin" because of its intractability. It is that "damned spot" that does not go away. It's roots are deeper even than our history of slavery and segregation. It involves relations and attitudes of a dominant culture with minorities of every sort; the list alone is daunting, including everyone from African-Americans to women to people with disabilities.
I don't see an end in sight. What I hear is, "African-Americans should have caught up by now; it's their own fault if they haven't. We owe them nothing more!"  But that sentiment hasn't changed since 1869. 
The "American Experiment" began with an untested ideal that appeared during the Enlightenment and seemed to have its origin in the Jewish/Christian tradition. People devoutly hoped this reasonable principle could be attained within a single lifetime, and with little sacrifice. Rationality, they supposed, would disprove and dispel the old doctrines of Original Sin and Grace. 
Lent invites us to consider the dream of democracy theologically. Lent reminds us that we cannot save ourselves. Gentle reason, promised rewards and hideous threats cannot force us to create a more perfect union. Only God can effect it when we consent to to carry the Cross of Equality. 

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, 'He is our God.' You do not know him, but I know him. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know him and I keep his word. Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad."

Unfortunately, the Christian religion, first embraced by the Roman Empire and then outlasting it, took on some of the spirituality of empire; that is, an uncritical veneration of power. Succeeding empires in their turn -- the Holy Roman, Spanish, French, English, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian and so forth -- would embrace Christianity as their state religions, and for the same reason -- it's unquestioning reverence for power.
Religion teaches that one, only Sovereign God is all-powerful; empire must be all-powerful to sustain its legitimacy; they're obvious allies. When in doubt, might makes right. If you don't agree with the powerful, if you have some personal reservations about your rulers, you will be forgiven for going along to get along

The writers of the American Constitution attempted to distance this nation from state religion. No Christian sect would enjoy preference in this new polity. They assumed the Christian ethos, inherited from Europe, would be maintained by the many Christian denominations despite their endless quarreling. If there were other religions in the United States (Muslims, Jews, Native Americans or Buddhist) Christians assured themselves, "We all worship the same god (i.e. Power) so it doesn't matter.

Not many years later, a nation broken by Civil War needed a common religion to pull it together and the American Civil Religion was born. Documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address became holy writ for this religion. The American flag is its sacrament; federal buildings, monuments and parks are its holy places; and the Star-spangled Banner, America the Beautiful and God Bless America, its hymns. The righteousness of this religion is proven by America's ranking among the nations; it has the most powerful military, economy and cultural influence. Its might makes it unquestionably right. Patriotic Americans can assure themselves they are the freest people on earth; they have the power to prove it.

Brilliant green moss by the creek
on a late winter day
The kenosis of Jesus stands rather awkwardly before the cult of power. This humility, he tells us, reflects his Father's behavior. He is, as Saint Paul says, the perfect image of the invisible God. He does nothing except that which he has seen in the Father. If he is obedient, it's because his Father is obedient. There is priority in the Trinity -- the Father proceeds the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father -- but there is no superiority. There can be no domination when each cheerfully, readily, eagerly obeys the others. 

In uttering the Word the Father surrenders completely to the Word made flesh -- like a dancer surrendering to her ecstasy. In loving obedience the Son responds, pouring out himself as an oblation -- a gift received and given back -- to the Father. Jesus' surrender to the Father on Calvary, even to the last drop of water, blood and breath, consummates the sacrifice.

This kind of divinity is unimaginable to those religions that celebrate power. They deify power to prop their own governments. Their god must jealously guard that strength and cannot surrender it without suffering annihilation.

Abraham rejoiced to see the humility of God. He saw it and was glad.

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Lectionary: 253

Jesus answered them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.

Watching someone's graceful movement or gracious generosity we notice their freedom. Grace, from the Latin word gratis means free or freely. When Americans celebrate our freedom we're speaking of what our Christian religion calls grace.
We have a saying, "Freedom is not free!" meaning it costs a lot. The expression is often used to support military recruiting and spending. It costs the taxpayer plenty, but if he believes that freedom is not free he pays it willingly. This payment includes military salaries and Veterans' benefits. Recruits expect the nation's gratitude for their sacrifice.
Of course, the proverb also has its shadow side. Providing more freedom than many people can handle entails incarceration of millions of people. The United States has imprisoned the most citizens -- and the largest percentage of its citizens -- of any nation on earth. Most of these prisoners hate being in jails and prisons but they have demonstrated their inability to cope with the open, unbounded freedom we offered them. Apparently, they did not consider the consequences of their free, deliberate choices. They must be confined for our safety and theirs. (Some actually prefer the confinement and limited possibilities. It's easier than a lot of the complexity of freedom.)
We also see the cost of freedom on the highway. We know that traffic deaths go down when speed limits are lower, and higher when they are raised. So we ask ourselves how many lives are we willing to pay for the freedom of 70 miles per hour?
There are similar calculations around the second amendment. The more access to guns, the more people die by suicide, accident, murder or self-defense. The nation is now asking itself, "How many lives are we willing to pay for this second amendment right?"
Some might argue it shouldn't be that way. People should handle their freedom responsibly. But there is no Nation of Should, and decisions, attitudes and policies in the real world have consequences.
The saying "Freedom is not free" invites a second consideration: Freedom is a jealous God. It will not abide strange gods or irresponsible behavior. It severely punishes any infidelity.
For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God,inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickednesson the children of those who hate me,down to the third and fourth generation;
The children of alcoholics, drug addicts and convicts, for instance, inevitably suffer the consequences of their parents' behavior. They are often burdened with fetal alcohol syndrome, poverty and traumatic memories of abuse. Fortunately, in God's mercy, they are also given the opportunities of freedom. No one has unlimited freedom and these unfortunate children might have fewer opportunities than those born of responsible persons, but freedom cannot be denied to anyone.
The freedom that Jesus offers is not free; it costs the price of his blood. But, the spiritual masters assure us, "There is no shadow in the cross!" It is pure grace, all good. Christian spouses seek ways to please their partners. Christian parents provide for their children without counting the cost. Faithful parishioners need little persuasion and less cajoling to make sacrifice for the church. Surrendering to freedom, Christians willingly, readily take up their allotted crosses. And so we celebrate Easter again, remembering the cost Jesus willingly paid, reentering the waters of baptism with him as we renew our Easter vows, and inviting others to go down with us to pay the price of freedom.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

So they said to him, "Who are you?"
Jesus said to them, "What I told you from the beginning. I have much to say about you in condemnation.
But the one who sent me is true, and what I heard from him I tell the world."
They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father.

The rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar asked the question, "Who is he?" I attended the show once in the early aughts here in Louisville. It was a peaceful summer evening in Iroquois Park, with the roar of cicadas filling the silences. The music was the same as I'd heard in the 1970's but the production was altogether different. Audience and cast no longer asked, "Who is he?" They were quite sure they knew.
I was caught between dread and profound discomfort. The show seemed the very worst of American conceit. The mystery of this ancient near-eastern Jew had been rendered white, suburban middle-class and entirely predictable.
Fortunately, it was a Saturday evening and I would celebrate our beautiful Mass in the morning. The Mass has not been doctored or sanitized to fit any nation's expectations. The authorized translations of our prayers do not attempt political or cultural correctness. They retain their roots in the traditions that Jesus received from his ancestors and adapted for his disciples. People who might be offended by certain words like his, many or consubstantial are invited to set aside their fears and discover the divine purpose behind these words. Words cannot explain the mystery of God, but their meanings, music and cadence can evoke it without profanation or violence. They invite us into God's presence.
If you would have an answer to the question, "Who are you?" Jesus directs your attention to "the one who sent me."
How often in ordinary affairs do we identify ourselves by someone else? "I am Marty and Edith's son. I am Robert's brother. I am friend of Father Tom. I am a Franciscan." You can hardly say you know someone if you know nothing of his people: his family, friends, colleagues, co-religious, and so forth.
When his opponents miss Jesus' allusion to his Father, it's obvious they do not know the God who sent him, despite their confident pretensions.
During this season of Lent, with Holy Week about to open before us, the Lord invites everyone to come with him to Jerusalem. Those who know him and those who don't fall in line to carry their crosses and walk in his footsteps. There is no place in his retinue for the casual acquaintance or the sometime friend. His mission is too serious for that.
As Saint Thomas said, "Let us also go to die with him."