My parents gave me my name. When one of them says my name, it is different than when other people say my name. They can communicate, simply in how they say it, so much more than a simple desire for me to pay attention. I see something similar with my friends and their kids. How a mother says her child’s name communicates a lot to the child. And it goes both ways. My friends can tell me which child is crying, and if that child is hurt, throwing a tantrum, or needing some sort of attention—just by the sound of their crying. Sometimes, I can calm one of these wailing children down, but sometimes only a parent’s touch will do.
Mary Magdalene is crying. She misses Jesus, the God-man who forgave her sins. The one man who was capable of showing true love for her. Two angels come, and they are unable to comfort Mary. She tells them that someone has taken Jesus, her Lord, and she does not know where he has gone. Only her Lord can calm her.
So, Jesus comes to her.
Mary does not recognize Jesus right away. She mistakes him for a gardener. But he heard her cry, and he will not allow her to suffer alone. When he calls her by name, she instantly becomes aware of who this gardener is. He is Jesus. By saying her name, Jesus, the Lord of the Universe, communicated comfort and re-assurance beyond all telling to Mary Magdalene. Then he tells her that she cannot hold on to him. He will be going soon, and she must be able to do on without him. Jesus is preparing her for his Ascension.
Jesus went to the Father, but he did not leave us alone. He left Holy Mother Church to care for us, to minister for us. She has been given all authority by Jesus. She will not let us be alone. And when only Jesus will do, we can always receive him into ourselves through the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
In Exodus, the Jewish people were to slaughter sheep with the “whole assembly present.” Why was this such a big deal?
The Ancient Egyptians worshipped sheep. Specifically, the god in charge of the rising and the falling of the Nile—and as the Nile rises and falls, so does Egypt—was depicted as a ram, an adult male sheep. God was commanding his people, through Moses, to kill the gods of Egypt and mark their doorposts with their blood. This most certainly made a statement, and it also explains why it made sense to be ready to go right after the Passover meal: your people had just killed thousands of another culture’s gods. You need to get out of town. Quick.
By spreading the blood on their doorposts, the Jewish people were telling everybody that they believed in the God of Abraham. It was a public sign of fidelity, of faithfulness. An angel, with a superior intellect to ours, can tell a Jew from a non-Jew. Angels wouldn’t need to see the sign on the doorpost. More important was the sign on the hearts of the people as a result of visibly proclaiming their faith. Again, the Jews were smearing the blood of the gods of Egypt on their doors. This is not an activity done lightly.
Because they listened to God, the Jewish people were spared the wrath the consumed the first-born children of Egypt. But I’d like to propose thinking of this in a little different way than we are often accustomed: it was not their Jewish heritage that saved them, but their public faith in the God of Abraham. We can even see it as a foreshadowing of the final judgment, where we are judged by our actions. Those willing to put aside the gods of Israel were judged worthy. Those who did not suffered greatly.
Like the Jews in Egypt, we too mark our doorposts with blood. The Blood of Christ that we receive in the Eucharist—whether we receive both species or not—marks the door posts of our souls. We wash ourselves in the Blood of the Lamb at every Mass. During the Last Supper, Jesus transformed the bread and wine into his Body and Blood, and he told us to “do this in remembrance of me.” He did not ask us to simply remember him: he asked us to do this—to transform bread and wine into his Body and Blood and share it amongst ourselves. We remember that it was Jesus who died in giving us this gift. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, was sacrificed in the New Passover, and we paint the door posts of our souls with Hid Precious Blood when we receive the Eucharist. How fitting is this imagery! The stakes of the New Passover are just as high. In the Old Passover, judgment was visited upon the Egyptians for their treatment of the Jewish people. In the New Passover, Christ—the Lamb of God—judges us for our treatment of every other person we encounter.
If we were judged solely on our merits and actions, we would be in sad shape. God knows this. He knows that we struggle and strive, but we still can’t be perfect. We plead for help, and when we make mistakes we have to beg for forgiveness. Jesus washes the feet of his apostles, and the apostles were not comfortable with this. When you wear sandals every day and walk around on dusty roads, your feet get dirty. The apostles knew who they were, and they knew who Jesus was. God was washing their dirty, nasty, grimy feet. God was making his apostles clean again. All the apostles needed to do was allow Jesus to minister them, to love them. Their job was to receive Jesus into the hearts, and to trust Him even when his actions did not make much sense.
To me, this action of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles sounds a lot like what happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus, through the priest, enters into the areas of our life that are dirty, those of which we are ashamed, and He cleans us. He doesn’t do it half-way either. He cleans us totally, making our souls spotless of sin. He loves us so much that he will forgive us all our sins. We only have to be receptive to God’s mercy, and humble enough to ask for God’s grace and His forgiveness. We have to let God love us.
When we tell the priest our sins in confession, this is what we are doing. We tell God, in sorrow, what we have done, and through this action we demonstrate our faith that God will heal us. We profess that we have made mistakes, but that we know God is stronger than any sin. Then we are given a penance, a task that we must do. This penance helps us to grow in charity. Without charity, we are not true children of God. We do not stand a chance of remaining clean. We cannot truly receive Christ in the Eucharist. We cannot fully paint the door posts of our souls with the Blood of Salvation.
The Gospel today ends with Jesus calling us to love others as he loves us.
Jesus loves us enough that he forgave us all and died for us. Then he gave us his own Body and Blood as food for eternal life. He gave us this food to nourish us spiritually, and so that he could remain with us forever. He gave us this food so that we could grow in love and charity for God and for our neighbor.
Jesus loved us totally, and he is calling us to love others totally. As Jesus forgives without desiring revenge, so must we forgive and put aside our desire for revenge. As Jesus lives with us through every part of our lives—especially the hard parts, we must not avoid people because they have difficult lives. As Jesus feeds us spiritually, we do our best to nourish not only the bodies of those less fortunate, but we should also feed the spirit and minds of others through worship, prayer and study of Scripture.
On Holy Thursday, the first day of the sacred liturgies of the Triduum, we remember the Last Supper and the Washing of the Feet. We remember the charity that Jesus showed to all of us through his ministry on the earth and through his Church. Let us strive to mirror that charity in how we treat God and one another.
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.
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.
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
Jeremiah, who wrote thousands of years ago, is just a relevant today as he was then! God tells Jeremiah that the people of Jerusalem will not listen to him, they do not take correction, they are not faithful. The Psalm further reminds us not to harden our hearts as the Israelites did in the desert when they left Egypt. It seems that part of the human condition is that we do not want to be told what to do! The Word of God, however, has power. Through it, Jesus casts out demons. We should listen to words with such power.
Jesus leaves us with a warning at the end of today’s Gospel. When we have cleaned out our soul, that is a wonderful thing; however, if someone stronger than us comes, it won’t last. There is always someone stronger than us. We cannot follow God and listen to his Word from our own strength, the only one strong enough to do that is God! If we trust in God and put our faith in his Word, God will protect us. Our bodies may be assaulted, but our souls will always be protected.
Let us trust in God. He will save us, and He will protect us.
Today’s Readings: Jer 7:23-28; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 11:14-23