In the readings over the last two weeks, the Church, has presented us with two paths: the path on which we follow the light and the path on which we are in the dark. Israel, the nation of God’s chosen people, was supposed to light the path for all the world to see. Every covenant God made with Israel was an attempt to get his people to fulfill their duty, but Israel repeatedly failed to upload the covenant and to shine brightly. Almighty God Himself had to come and shine His light for the world, so that we could follow him.
Today, the Gospel speaks of Judas’ betrayal. At the Last Supper, no one—except for Jesus—realized that Judas was “the bad guy.” In fact, most people probably assumed he was a pretty good guy. He followed Jesus around, and was even trusted with the money of the group. When Jesus reveals that one of the apostles will betray him, they don’t know who the betrayer will be. Who knows what might happen if the Temple Guard picks one of them up? They are all forced to ask themselves: will I betray Jesus?
We, too, can ask ourselves this question: will I walk into the light, with Jesus? Or, instead, will I head into the darkness, away from Jesus?
Judas chose to walk away from the light, following the way of the world, into the darkness.
The light is bright, and it is blinding. It may even give us some spiritual sunburn, but it is so much better than the dark. It can be difficult to stay on the path of the light.
Peter and the other apostles chose to walk into the light, but they had trouble staying on the path. Peter denied Jesus! This is a betrayal of Jesus too, but the difference is the reaction. Judas, walking in the darkness, despaired after betraying Jesus, and he hung himself. Peter, walking in the light, wept bitterly. The light exposed his fault, his weakness. The light burned the impurities out of Peter’s soul and purified him. The light exposed Peter’s faults, and allowed him to recognize his need to seek forgiveness.
Isaiah is another person who walked in the light. He set his face like flint toward God. He had no will but to follow God. He would not be put to shame, because Isaiah knew that following God was always the right decision—even when it is difficult. God will give us what we need if only we trust him. “The Lord God is my help,” Isaiah says. He knows that God will be with him in troubled times.
Let us strive to walk in the light. In the light, we may walk with confidence, because we know that God is always with us.
Today’s Readings: Is 50:4-9a; Ps 69:8-10, 21-22, 31 & 33-34; Mt 26:14-25
Hi everyone! Last week and this week (Holy Week!) are pretty full for me. I won’t be able to update as regularly as I would like, but I will try to post a couple of times!
Instead of a reflection, today I will share a bit about myself and about the process involved in preparing for the priesthood.
Tonight I will be installed as a Lector. Last year I was installed as an acolyte, and I received candidacy a few months before that. This is the last ministry I will receive before I become able to receive ordination (God and Bishop willing) to the diaconate in May 2018!
Vatican II abolished the minor orders and tonsure as the process for becoming a priest, and put in place a simplified system. Lector and Acolyte were retained as a sort of office within the church, and every candidate for ordination must have served in the roles for a “suitable” amount of time. The Rite of Candidacy, which makes one a candidate for ordination, is similar in many ways to tonsure, but without the fancy haircut!
The saying “do as I say and not as I do” has always bothered me. I know that there are some who mean to say, “I am trying to do these things too, but it is very hard,” but I usually can’t see that. It always sounds like hypocrisy to me. It sounds to me like the person is saying, “I can’t be bothered to try and do this, but you should.” I much prefer a different phrase, “actions speak louder than words.”
Jesus encourages us to take this a step further in the Gospel today. After telling the Jews that sin is a type of slavery, he condemns the Jews who want to put him to death. He tells them, “You are doing the works of your father!” They reply that they are children of Abraham and not of sin, but Jesus counters their argument. He says that while they are descendants of Abraham they act in such a way that their true father is revealed to be someone or something else. If they were truly children of God, or of Abraham, they would love Jesus. Their actions against love demonstrate, for all to see, that their true master is sin, in other words: the evil one.
The story of the three young men in Daniel today shows the opposite happening. The three young men told Nebuchadnezzar that he was wasting his breath by trying to get them to worship false gods. Furious, he had a furnace heated seven times more than usual before having Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego thrown into it. Some of the soldiers died throwing them in because of the heat! But the three young men were not burned. They were spared. They were even joined by an angel. Their love for God burned hotter than any furnace ever could burn. This witness prompted Nebuchadnezzar to promulgate a decree across his entire empire that the God of Israel must be respected.
This is the power of right action. In our broken culture, we cannot even speak to some people without causing more division—no matter what we say. What we can do is provide authentic, Christian witness by living a good, Christian life in the most joyful way possible. As the song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” But they’ll also know us by our joy. They’ll know us by the different way in which we live.
Actions speak louder than words. Let us be joyful Christians, and work to convert the world through one action at a time.
Today’s Readings: Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; Jn 8:31-42
The book of Numbers sometimes surprises us with exciting stories. Today, we heard about the people of Israel complaining, again. In the past, God had been generous with them and given them everything that they need. He gave them manna and birds to eat, He gave them water, and perhaps most importantly He led them out of slavery and made them a people that were his own. This time, however, the people were simply complaining because they were tired of the gifts that God had given them. That was a mistake, because they were rewarded with snakes.
They realized their error and begged Moses to intercede for them. God told Moses to make a staff, mounting on it a snake, and that people who look upon it would be healed. Much imagery exists in this scene. For example, those who look upon the Crucifix are reminded of how Christ heals all our sins. This is perhaps the most important of the images. One other image that comes to mind is that modern medicine uses this symbol still. The Rod of Asclepius is used in many health organizations’ logos. While many claim it to be Greek in origin, I believe that the Hebrew story is much older. This is just one of the many ways we can see the Christian and Jewish traditions throughout even modern culture.
We can never forget that complaining is poisonous. It can cause problems and negativity, and these can create a toxic environment. The idea that complaints are like snake bites is a very apt image, because the toxic effect is similar. So let us police our lips, and avoid fruitless complaining whenever possible.
Today’s Readings: Num 21:4-9; Ps 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-21; Jn 8:21-30
Last summer, a friend of mine died. It was unexpected. I was chatting with him on Friday night, and on Saturday morning his kayak overturned and through a tragic—and heroic—series of events, he died. (Story in: Local Paper, National Catholic Register; Obituary) I will admit, I wasn’t as close to Brian as his family or the seminarians who attended school with him, but he was a friend, and it stung me when he died. I was surprised, shocked and confused. I couldn’t help but wonder: Why? Why has God taken this great young man away from us, from his family, from the world? Why didn’t God reach out and grant him a little help getting to shore? Why?
I think that this is maybe a little like how Mary and Martha felt when Lazarus died. They knew that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus from dying. It says so right in the Gospel: “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” But then Martha says something that shows her extreme depth of faith in Jesus, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Martha has not asked Jesus to raise Lazarus, but has simply expressed her trust that Jesus will do what is best. This reminds me of the episode at the Wedding of Cana, where the Mother of God’s last words in Sacred Scripture have the same sentiment: “Do whatever he tells you.” She does not tell Jesus what to do, but simply places her trust in him to do what is best. Like the Mother of God, Martha, and later Mary, both express this deep trust in Jesus.
The crowd does not share this faith. They ask, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” The Gospel said that Jesus became “perturbed” by this—Jesus was upset, unsettled. Some translations go so far as to say he was angered. Jesus then goes to the tomb and calls Lazarus forth. Lazarus, who after four days in the tomb was expected to be rotting, was alive! Jesus had planned this from the beginning to increase the faith of his followers. It was a trial for Martha and Mary, but because of their faith, they also grew in true hope.
Deacon Andrew, Brian’s brother, talked about hope at his brother’s memorial Mass. As I sat there listening, in awe of the fact that he was able to compose himself better than I could compose myself, he said that “[h]ope is not sentiment or wishful thinking, it is the habit by which we long for a good, stretching forth for a future good not yet attained. We would not reach out for a good unless it existed and was truly possible. We have hope in eternal salvation and for the reunion of our loved ones because it is indeed possible. Although not a given, and not easy, the Lord makes it possible, and that is why we have hope.” Doesn’t this sound like the Gospel story today? This trial was not easy for Martha and Mary. They desired for Lazarus to be with them. They knew that with God anything was possible. While those who are close to us who die do not typically rise from the dead, we can hope to be reunited with them in eternity.
But for this to be a legitimate hope, we must remember that to meet our loved ones in Heaven, we must actually get to Heaven. In hell, we are cut off from God and we become closed in on ourselves. (See CCC 1033-1037.) Some say that “hell is other people,” but that is not true. Hell consists of eternal separation not only from God, but from other people. The difficulty in getting to Heaven is why we must have hope in order to get there. Hope is necessary when there is something in between us and a good. Martha and Mary had hope that Jesus would bring good out of the situation, even though Lazarus was dead. The Mother of God had hope that Jesus would bring good out of the situation, even though the wine had run out. Deacon Andrew and his family had hope that his brother had fought the good fight, and been filled by the spirit sufficiently that he could reach Heaven. Furthermore, they have hope that they will live sufficiently good lives that they’ll get to see him again in Heaven after their time in this world in complete.
Hope is a gift given to us by the Holy Spirit. (See CCC 1817-1821.) If we do not allow ourselves to be filled by the Spirit, we will not be able to have true hope. The prophet Ezekiel and Paul both talk about the Spirit filling us today. Paul writes that we must follow the Spirit, not the flesh. We must allow the Spirit of Christ to fill us, he writes. This Spirit gives life to us in many ways. It gives us the life of virtues, and it gives us many spiritual gifts every day. God, through His Holy Spirit who lives within each one of us, gives us innumerable gifts each and every day. In this way, He supports us in our spiritual life. Through Confession, the Spirit acts in a special way and raises us from spiritual death—something far greater than a simple bodily raising from the dead. But even this is promised to us in Ezekiel. Speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, God promises to open the graves of his people and send out his Spirit, so that we may live and know that He is Lord.
So how do we open ourselves to this Spirit?
It is simple, but also extremely difficult. We must develop a personal relationship with God. To do this takes time. We must pray daily: perhaps we could say a daily Rosary, meditate daily on the Scriptures, or spend some time in private mental prayer every day. We must attend Mass frequently. While attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is good, this is one thing where more is better. Consider attending Mass during the week some time. We must us the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly. Reconciliation forgives us our sins and raises us from spiritual death. It restores our relationship with God that becomes lost and clouded by the dirt and grime of sin. We should study our faith, especially in regards to Jesus Christ and the Gospels, Mary the Mother of God and the other saints, as well as the many devotions and practices that have been developed over the years to help us all grow in our faith.
After experiences of death, of personal suffering, and of confusion, I have always found my faith a comfort. My relationship with God grows stronger through each trial, because each trial forces me to recognize that I cannot do this without him. We are all called to be friends with God, to be filled with his Spirit. We are all called to have faith and hope in God. When we have even a little bit of true faith, we can move mountains.
So let us continue to build our relationship with God every day, and allow him to help us, especially by the use of the Sacraments.
Today’s Readings: Ez 37:12-14; Ps 130: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45