Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Mother


Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
anticipate one another in showing honor....


Midway between the feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24) we celebrate the Virgin's visit to her older cousin Elizabeth. The Church offers for our reflection Romans 12:9-16, a series of short aphorisms.
The passage reminds me of a popular title of several years ago; it was something like, "Everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten."
Life is complicated and mysterious and I -- for reasons only God knows -- feel compelled to examine its challenges continually. 
But daily life among people -- whether in a family, office or neighborhood -- requires mostly simple practices like attention, affection and honoring one another. These are not terribly difficult.
Sometimes I should apologize and I sure don't want to, but then I notice how easily and often people apologize to me. I'm walking through a hospital corridor and, coming round the corner, I meet a woman who says, 'Excuse me." It's not hard. She didn't owe it to me; I didn't really need it; but it's one of those little courtesies that, like WD-40, make life easier for everyone.
We don't suppose that Mary had to go to Jerusalem to see her cousin but we're sure she was compelled by natural affection and divine curiosity. She cared for the old lady; she had to see the sign of which the Angel had spoken. Arriving there this young woman applied herself as housekeeper, cook, nurse and confidant -- in all the ways that mothers, daughters, sisters and cousins have done for centuries. Nothing could be more natural.
The Way which the Lord has revealed to us is nothing new, and yet it is always refreshing; or, in Saint Augustine's phrase, it is "ever ancient, ever new." To be Christian or Catholic is to do what comes naturally; to do what anyone would do who knows her own human nature.
"Grace builds on nature!" the Church teaches; meaning grace doesn't violate, overturn or overhaul nature. It illuminates our nature like a candle in a pumpkin, or the sunrise on a landscape. We're beautiful to begin with, and ready to do beautiful things; we need only the impulse of the Holy Spirit to move us.

Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

You have been born anew,
not from perishable but from imperishable seed,
through the living and abiding word of God, for:
"All flesh is like grass,
and all its glory like the flower of the field;
the grass withers, and the flower wilts;
but the word of the Lord remains forever."
This is the word that has been proclaimed to you.



With its marvelously deep roots, up to seventeen feet on some American prairies, grass may seem more like a symbol of persistence and durability than futility. The Prophet Isaiah and Saint Peter could see only the living, green blades above the soil, that part exposed to wind, sun, rain and fire. They could not know that grass lives for centuries in the stable, moist darkness beneath the surface. Harvest, drought and fire are no more challenging than a haircut to deep-rooted grass. Indeed, life has taken deep root on our Earth, as has human life. Though neither is indestructible, they persist.
The question of futility appears in today's readings, first in Saint Peter's reminder that, "you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors...." and his allusion to Isaiah, "all flesh is grass." This may seem a harsh judgement of one's ancestors but the recently-baptized Christians, recalling the gods they had known and their fearful, sometimes contemptuous attitudes toward these gods, had to admit they were better off in the Church.
Secondly, we hear of futility in Jesus' grim prediction of his passion and death. As they journeyed toward Jerusalem with their confident rabbi, the disciples certainly had their doubts. 
Finally, it appears in the feuding and fussing among the disciples as to who should sit at Jesus' right and left when he inaugurates his kingdom. With their narrow minded conceits, they are like minor characters in a play that shows little promise of going anywhere.

In our time, given our philosophy of existence as an individual's private experience, futility threatens those who suppose they should live forever. They think their successes are important; their achievements, lasting; and their failures, catastrophic. 
Indeed the life of the "individual," uprooted from history with only tenuous ("virtual") connections to other people, is like rooftop grass which, as the psalmist says, may sprout in the spring rain but bears no seed in summer.
The Catholic has a different experience of life. Our Mass and Sacraments, rooted in a daily practice that spans millennia, teach us a different perspective. The Holy Spirit assures us that nothing worth doing can be accomplished by one person within one lifetime.
The best anyone can hope for is to echo the words of Jesus, "I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do." (John 17:4) and "It is finished!" (John 19:30); or Saint Francis on his deathbed, "I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you yours."

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time



It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you with regard to the things that have now been announced to you by those who preached the Good News to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels longed to look.
Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.


In today's first reading, Saint Peter echoes a similar thought found in the Letter to the Hebrews, one especially relevant for our time. Recalling the fidelity of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, Hebrews concludes, 
All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth. (Hebrews 11: 13)
Looking back from our twenty-first century, we realize that the Christians of "Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia," heirs of Old Testament martyrs and prophets, are now long dead and we are their most fortunate heirs.
In his book, Man is not alonea philosophy of religionAbraham Joshua Heschl, wrote:
Not 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. (page 161)

Saint Peter reminded his congregations that the ancients "were not serving themselves." Our participation in the Church should never be about serving ourselves. I cringe when I hear someone say they left a given parish or church because they "weren't being fed" in that church. Consumers cannot be fed in any church, though some unscrupulous ministers might entertain them with pap. We "go to church" not to be fed but to praise God with the holy people of the ancient past, distant future and mysterious present. 
I know a priest who, leaving the Catholic Church, started his own congregation of particular friends; each member had a grievance with the Roman tradition. It's hard to say who was using whom -- pastor or people -- as they erected a church-like building which copied their ideas of what a church should look like. They revel in their freedom to create a cult of their own making, with Latin liturgy, women priests, and serial polygamy. What's not to like?
But I grieve for their children who might never hear the invitation to return to the Mass and sacraments. That generation will almost certainly see through their self-absorbed elders and their echo-chamber religion, but they will have no connection to the achievement of ages, accumulated over centuries. 

"Therefore, "Saint Peter writes, "gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Consumers will go their way in the spirit of the age; the faithful will live in that sober Spirit which is ever ancient, ever new

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 347


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



Sometimes someone sets out to tell the true story of a recent incident. The story is hugely entertaining but complicated with several circumstances that need to be explained and persons who need to be introduced; and it goes on for some time; but it's very funny and wants to be shared. Unfortunately the hearers don't get the point and the disappointed storyteller must finally conclude, "You had to be there."
I wonder if these New Testament epistles of Saint Peter are like that. To understand them we have to put our minds back into an unknown time and place, among an unnamed group of people -- we know them as Christians -- of several cities in first century Asia Minor.

There is one thing we can say of them with some assurance: they had suffered because of their faith "through various trials" and could expect to face more difficult times. The Gospel had introduced serious upheaval in their life. If they had been socially, financially and religiously connected to family, friends and neighbors before, they watched all that security evaporate when they came to believe in Jesus; and yet they could not turn back. 

They weren't necessarily overwhelmed with joy. They just knew, like the recovering alcoholic who will not visit his toxic, intoxicated family of origin, they had to pursue the Way of Truth.

We could suppose their near-eastern world -- Hellenized by Greek influence and stabilized by Roman rule -- was at least as violent and insecure as our own. Death and disease were more common; and treachery, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be violent.

They must have welcomed this Epistle from Saint Peter with great joy. He knew his people and their perseverance through hardship. He also knew they took delight in blessing "the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ." Although their faith had cost them financial hardship, social ostracism and family distress, they had experienced a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Christianity today is often seen as an old religion, greatly in need of overhaul if it's salvageable at all. We can barely remember the enthusiasm of the first century when ancient Jews and gentiles eagerly welcomed the Word and many readily surrendered their old securities for a religion that made eminent sense to them. Scandalized by the Napoleonic and World Wars in which Christians fought Christians for control of the world, jaded by centuries when the Church quietly tolerated and even supported both Antisemitism and chattel slavery, fascinated even yet by the promise of technological advance many suspect that Christianity has been tried and found wanting
But we're also living in a "post-Christian" era when contestants on Jeopardy -- a pretty bright crowd -- routinely stumble over elementary questions from the Bible. Many people cannot recite the Our Father; many children have never heard the Story of Christmas. Perhaps the world is ready to hear of the God who in his great mercy gave you and me a new birth to a living hope.
We are tested by a different kind of fire. Unlike our first century ancestors, we face the scorn of "nones" and "sbnr's" who can point to the failure and scandal of churches. We seem to fight uphill as loved one's abandon our traditions to experiment with bizarre lifestyles, not to mention those who use the name of Christian to sanctify their liberal or conservative political agendas, We are tested...
...so that the genuineness of your faith,
more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire,
may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Lectionary: 165


This is why you must now know,
and fix in your heart, that the LORD is God
in the heavens above and on earth below,
and that there is no other.
You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today,
that you and your children after you may prosper,
and that you may have long life on the land
which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever."



Saint Patrick's prayer, The Deer's Cry, begins with:
I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the threeness through confession of the oneness of the Creator of creation...
I begin each day reciting that prayer, after finishing the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer. The Deer's Cry (also known as Lorica) and a cup of coffee and I'm ready to go.

Faith in the Trinity is our strength; this distinctive doctrine sets our faith, our imagination, and our actions on an altogether different course. Realizing that the All-Mighty Father has given all authority in heaven and earth to the Son, who has, in his turn, surrendered all his strength, beauty and wisdom to the crucible of death: this sets us apart. We don't see, feel or think like other people.

Our starting point is similar to other religious who think of "God" as an all-powerful creator. They hope he is so powerful he can afford to be benevolent without the loss of sovereign strength or freedom.

But we believe, there in the immediate, eternal moment of God's being -- who has no beginning or end -- our God has given everything over to the Son. There was never a moment when the Father had no Son; indeed he is the Father because he has begot the Son; and the Son is son by virtue of his being begotten. Is that confusing? It might be until we turn our attention back to Bethlehem, the Jordan River, Mount Tabor and Calvary where we encounter the Father and the Son.

But it is confusing and utter nonsense to those who have not yet heard God's word and know nothing of those sacred sites. This wisdom is not something clever people could figure out; it comes only by revelation; and then we say, "Of course! How could I have thought otherwise? A god who could not surrender all his authority is owned by his authority and could not win my love, even if he won my obedience with threats, violence and terror.

How many married couples and families have disintegrated once they realize the dominant party could not control his own power? That he lived in constant dread of losing even an ounce of his strength? Escaping that individual and his threats they see only his pathos. What a poor excuse for a human being!

Our first reading today, from Deuteronomy, celebrates the all-powerful creating God who promises prosperity to his obedient people. The Jews have never forgotten God's invitation to Adam and Eve to meet him face to face; to dicker with him like Abraham; complain like Moses and argue like Job. As descendants of the Jews we confidently complain of neglect and demand reward for our labor. The Eighth Psalm celebrates the wonder of our standing in God's presence:
What is man that you are mindful of him,and a son of man that you care for him?Yet you have made him little less than a god,crowned him with glory and honor.You have given him rule over the works of your hands,put all things at his feet:All sheep and oxen, even the beasts of the field,The birds of the air, the fish of the sea,and whatever swims the paths of the seas.O LORD, our Lord,how awesome is your name through all the earth!
Christians find the fulfillment of that psalm -- and of our human nature -- in Jesus who is not "little less than a god;" he is God.

Our human longing for communion is revealed; and its satisfaction, promised by the doctrine of the Trinity. More than heavenly comfort, 
absolute security or endless pleasure, we long for communion with one another; with our own inner demons; with this beautiful, dangerous planet; and with our mysterious God. We find that communion in the Breath of Jesus, his Holy Spirit.

The Father has given his Son and his Spirit to gather us to himself, in communion with this extraordinary universe. While our scientists probe its few measurable mysteries with their wonderful instruments, we delight in the endless Gift of the Holy Trinity.

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, Priest

Lectionary: 346

Is anyone among you suffering?
He should pray.
Is anyone in good spirits?
He should sing a song of praise. 



The Letter of James is the only wisdom book in the New Testament. There are several in the Old, including Job, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus, and Proverbs. James updated the genre to fit the recent revelations of Jesus.
In this last chapter, the Divine Author tacks on a few more teachings, including advice for the suffering and for those in good spirits. 
There are critics who must complain about the unfairness of anyone who gives advice to those who suffer. "They need compassion, not advice." These critics might especially object to James's advice, "They should pray!" How will that help?
If you don't know the answer, you needn't ask the question. 
But prayer does help, as any Christian will tell you. 
There are many days in the life when we are assailed with pain and there is nothing to do but bear it. We can ask how we should bear it. What attitude is helpful? What thought is comforting? How can I assimilate this moment into my story without wishing my life were over? 
The soldiers, marines, sailors and guards that I meet in the VA often say, "I have no choice." There is a kind of comfort in that, though it sounds fatalistic to me. Suffering is as real as pleasure, they seem to say. There's no begrudging its claim on us. 
I am familiar with another tradition, surely just as old: we offer it up. Saint Paul describes this sacrificial attitude in his Letter to the Colossians: 
"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church...."
This is an amazing insight and I always think of Colossians 1:24 in regard to Christian suffering, but the attitude and practice appear in all of Saint Paul's letters. I could be wrong but I don't think it appears in the Old Testament, except in the Servant Songs of Isaiah. 
If we must suffer, we may as well make something useful of it -- and what can be more practical than a prayer? 
As I have recently been confounded by the insult of aging, with its attendant aches and pains, I remember a very holy, very old religious woman and her story, told to me many years ago:
"The Bishop said to me, 'Sister, I know you are a prayerful woman, and I know you are in continual pain. For what do you offer your pain?"
'Bishop," I said, 'I offer it for priests!" 
"Well no wonder you suffer so much." he said."
(The sainted scamp, Philip Neri, would love the story!)
In the VA I meet people who use their pain as a prayer for their children and grandchildren, as atonement for their sins, and as prayers for their beloved Nation. Many of the elderly feel great distress over what they see in their families, churches and nation, but by their prayers they are assured of God's goodness, and God's worthiness to receive our suffering as a thank offering in union with the Suffering of Christ. 

Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 345

Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another,
that you may not be judged.
Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.
Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered.
You have heard of the perseverance of Job,
and you have seen the purpose of the Lord,
because the Lord is compassionate and merciful.



In his Letter, Saint James sets the standard for civil discourse, and urges his congregation to live by it, thus setting a standard for those outside the Church. If the Inspired by the Holy Spirit cannot demonstrate patience in disagreement, no one can. 
I met a fellow once who told me he got angry at his wife every day. "Wow." I said, "How can you live that way?" I wondered how his wife could live with it.
But he had grown up in an angry household like my own, in the years after the Second World War. Many people supposed that shouting and threatening are ordinary forms of discourse. "If you meet someone who doesn't agree with you, they're not hearing you clearly so shout louder!" 
Perhaps they deal the same way with people who speak a foreign language; not understanding English is like a hearing impairment which can be overcome with more volume. In fact, when I google deafness I come up with synonyms suggesting close-mindedness, obliviousness, and stubbornness. 
Saint James urges us to practice the patience of martyred prophets and the Wise Man Job. But some of those fellows also shouted loudly, for all the good it did them. 
During this difficult era in the United States and much of the world, Christians and Catholics especially should set the standard for dialogue. We must be more willing to hear and understand, than to be heard and understood, Perhaps if we listen well today, we'll be heard tomorrow. 
We hear plenty of loud words from Jesus in the Gospels; like the Jews of his time, he didn't hesitate to engage in lively debate. But, more often than not his wisdom, rather than his volume, settled the issue, at least for his disciples if not for his opponents. 
He was silent on Calvary. He did not revile those who condemned or crucified him. He did not loudly maintain his innocence. He waited on his Father to vindicate his righteousness even if it would not come until after he had died. 
He listened to the scorn, mockery and hatred of his enemies that day; and he was heard on the Third Day. 

Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 344

"Everyone will be salted with fire.
Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid,
with what will you restore its flavor?
Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another."



In rapid succession Saint Mark gives us three proverbs about salt. Like any proverb, each one is useful in certain times and places, just as any given tool is created to serve a particular function. These salty proverbs contain three different notions, each is useful in its own way.
The first -- Everyone will be salted with fire. -- begins with the metaphor of fire from the teaching on Gehenna (Hell) of the previous verses 48-49. Just as an open wound burns ferociously in contact with salt or salt water, so is everyone doomed to suffer periodically. There are no exemptions and the best doctors in the universe cannot prevent its happening. We learned that as children; and we should have learned to expect it, unless a over-indulgent parent told us otherwise. 
When I banged my head on a table or slammed my face to the floor Dad, a Veteran Marine of World War II, would say, "Get up and try again." So much for sympathy. 
Confronted with a plague of opioid addiction we realize many of us have been sold a pig in a poke by Big Pharm. But they promised what we wanted and we bought the promise, a life without pain. 
Recently I began taking acetaminophen extra strength to cope with the pain of sciatica. Two pills and I slept like a log -- until three in the morning when a freight train of agony roared through from my hip through my right leg. After several nights of that I decided to end it all and I quit taking the pills. It was easier to sleep with some discomfort than to bear what  fell on me in the middle of the night. Since then a series of sessions with the chiropractor has eased the crisis to a chronic misery. Salt is good.
...but if salt becomes insipid
Many generations of preachers have told us that merchants in Jerusalem sold porous bags of salty sand from the Dead Sea, used for flavoring. I suppose it's true. When the salt had been washed out the bag might be recycled but the sand was good for nothing. When our relationships become insipid, routine, vacuous; when our "Good Morning!" and "How's-it-going?" lose all interest we need to stop, consider, ponder and remember how dear and necessary these companions are to us. When the preacher can think of nothing more to say than what he said last week, last year and forty years ago, he should consider a retreat, sabbatical or retirement. When we start to look for excitement in all the wrong places, when we no longer laugh at the sitcoms but only sit in open-mouthed stupidity, it's time to reconnect with the One who hung upon the cross for our salvation. 
Finally, "Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another." There has to be some sharpness in our conversations, some pleasant, unpleasant or necessary reminders that, "Hey, I'm still here. You're dealing with a real person here, and not just a child, parent or spouse. I still have feelings and I can still remember disappointments. I'm not the same person you met forty years ago." Periodically we have to remember we live with strangers and refresh these associations with new conversations, decisions, stories and atonement. 
Even our prayer routines need an overhaul periodically, lest they become insipid.
Life is too beautiful to be lost in familiar routines. We need some pain, some rebuke and some refreshment to keep salt within ourselves. 

Thank you, Lord, on this 43rd anniversary of my ordination. 

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time


Yet in no way can a man redeem himself,
or pay his own ransom to God;
Too high is the price to redeem one's life;
he would never have enough
to remain alive always and not see destruction.


One of our friars died recently, one of my classmates. We had a great funeral for him. Several weeks later a box of his stuff appeared in our living room: books, knickknacks, some clothing; including a tweed Irish cap that fits my head perfectly. It's one of those fine wool caps that will last a lifetime, or several. I wonder who will next pick it up.
The above quote is taken from our responsorial psalm, (49), a reflection on the futility of wealth. Saint James, in today's first reading, echoes that sentiment which he has learned from the psalms and experienced through faith in Jesus. 
As old as the institution of money is our skepticism about it. There's no question: it has its purpose. We evaluate goods and services with it, and use it to facilitate exchange. It's better than pillaging strangers for basic necessities. Governments have always had a vested interest in currency, not only to promote civility but to raise taxes for public works. What would be the point of owning a car if there were no roads to drive on? Without roads we'd need no taxes, and no money; and we could go back to walking.  
But some people are enchanted with money. They think it's more valuable than friends or family. Sometimes they value it more than knowledge or virtue. They set out to accumulate money, forgetting that it's only worth what people think it's worth. 
Saint James reminds them, in case they have forgotten: Yet in no way can a man redeem himself, or pay his own ransom to God.
Using the metaphor of money, he reminds us that Jesus, by his sacrificial death on the cross, has paid the price of our redemption. 
During the middle ages, following the collapse of the Roman Empire, as Europeans rebuilt their governments and major infrastructures, banks were founded to encourage and sustain economies. Once again, people were fascinated by money. It could be accumulated, lent out, and collected again with interest! Some clever people could become wealthy without owning vast estates or leading major armies. Many Franciscans, like their founder, were comfortable with money. They had grown up in "middle class" families, neither absurdly wealthy nor desperately poor. The friars encouraged the Church to ease its ban on lending and let capitalism develop. 
But they also reminded the emerging middle class that ownership without responsibility, although legal, is basically criminal. Nothing really belongs to anyone; we're all in this together. Especially during crises, those who don't share and share alike must face the penalty of shame from their neighbors. Their control of wealth did not give them the right to withhold a helping hand when others needed it. 
Throughout the centuries the Church has reminded us that the Lord knows our worth and has paid the price for each of us. No one will be judged by what he has but by what he gave away. 


Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time


...he began to ask them,
"What were you arguing about on the way?" 
But they remained silent.
For they had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest. 


Saint Mark set the pattern and the Evangelists Luke and Matthew follow it: Jesus' three predictions of his passion and death are followed by three teachings about serving others. If you don't know your mission as a servant to others, preferring the last place even when you're placed in leadership, you've not seen or heard or comprehended the life and death of Jesus. 
"But," the child might ask, "if everyone is serving everyone else, won't that leave no one to be served?" 
No, we survive as a species only by caring for one another. No one survives without help from other people. Independence and individualism are false myths; human maturity is neither dependence nor independence but dependability. We live in interdependence.
Those who care only for themselves are a burden to everyone; even if they've managed to isolate themselves on a Robinson Crusoe island of self-reliance . Because they refuse to offer the service they owe to others, their contribution must be somehow made up by the rest. 
"But what of the sick, the aged and the totally disabled?" 
Their grateful spirit more than makes up for their disability. Our caring for others is spiritual, physical, emotional, psychological, financial, educational, religious and personal. (There is no end to this list of adjectives!) Everyone has something to give and an innate capacity for generosity. 
I suppose most of us can name a dozen ways in which we help others every day. But I ask myself, "Can I describe the help I receive from others? Do I notice the little assists that follow my movements from room to room throughout the day? If I get too forgetful someone should ask, "Who cleaned up after you before I got here?" 
"Oops!" I should say. "Thanks for the reminder!" because I need and deserve an occasional rebuke from my companions on the journey. Left in the solitude of my own sins, isolated by those who regard me as incorrigible, -- too old to change, set in his ways -- I face a hellish doom. If no one cares enough to point out my shortcomings, I must be the most miserable of men
And I should be equally ready to hear, "Thank you!" and, "You're very kind." There are few things more rude than not accepting a compliment.
Like the Evangelists, Saint Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, also placed a teaching about service after his song of the Crucified Savior:
So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
On the road to Jerusalem Jesus discovered his disciples arguing among themselves about who was the greatest. When he shone the light of his attention on them, "they remained silent" for they were ashamed, like Adam and Eve in the Garden. Like his question, the Lord's coming will be unexpected. 
Our best hope? That he finds us serving somebody else; or at least saying to someone, "Thank you!"

Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church


But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead,
they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately Blood and water flowed out.


Today's memorial is something new;
On February 11, 2018, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments inscribed a new obligatory Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, into the General Roman Calendar. This memorial is celebrated every year on the Monday after PentecostUSCCB

The theme can be no surprise; Catholics have invoked the Mother of Jesus as our mother for a very long time. The new emphasis in this event is discovered in the words "...of the Church." Christians and Catholics of the 21st century realize there are far more "non-Christians" in our world than Christians. Phrases like "non-Christian" and "non-Catholic" only betray a skewed vision of the people who populate the earth. There are far more of "them" than "us," and we're none too sure of who "we" are.
The bishops of the Second Vatican Council saw this new reality rather clearly. As they looked at their own membership, seeing facial features and complexions from all parts of the world, hearing languages utterly foreign to Europe, they began to understand the scope of the Church's mission. At one time, in Europe, "Catholic" meant everybody except the reformers. Suddenly, the world was bigger than the Church. If her mission was to the whole world, her European arms did not stretch far enough. 
And so we return to our Asian roots. 
Ancient scripture scholars saw the significance of the soldier's thrusting his lance into Jesus' corpse. It was not one final insult to a sacred relic. Rather, in the gush of water and blood, they saw the the Church born from the side of Christ. As Eve was born from Adam's side while he slept, the Church was born of the baptismal water and Eucharistic blood, from Jesus' opened heart, as he slept in death. 
The presence of "the mother of Jesus" on Calvary in Saint John's telling, and Jesus' last word to her -- "Behold your Son!" -- also signifies the Birth of the Church. 
Her presence in the Cenacle in Jerusalem was also no accident. As the Mother of Jesus she must be present when the Body is born again of the Spirit. 
"Why Mary?" someone might ask. Why do Catholics keep promoting Mary as our mother? Why aren't we satisfied with the Church as our mother? Isn't Mary only a symbol of the Church?
I believe the religious imagination, like that of children, is not satisfied with abstractions. "The Church" is an abstract concept, and impossible to define. Does it mean all the baptized, all Catholics, all practicing Catholics, all practicing Catholics who accept all the teachings of the Church with its infallible Pope? Is the Church the institution of pope, cardinals, bishops and priest, and perhaps consecrated sisters and brothers? Might the word include "non-Catholics?" I meet "Catholics" in the hospital and I can tell you, there's no two alike.
Mary, the Mother of the Church, is not an abstraction. Rather, she is the mother of our Savior Jesus Christ; he was born of her flesh. Baptized into his body, we are obviously her children. She speaks to us directly and with a mother's authority in the Scriptures, "Do whatever he tells you!" She speaks for us before God, "I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to you as you have spoken." When she hears, "Behold your son!" she embraces us as her adopted children, just as the Father has adopted us in Jesus Christ.
These are deep concepts but they are not abstractions. We don't think about them; we contemplate them. Which drives us emotionally and spiritually into the arms of Mary, our mother, Mother of the Church.