Reflection for Easter Tuesday

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.

Today’s Readings: Acts 2:36-41; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20 & 22; Jn 20:11-18

Reflection for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Thursday)

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.

Jesus washes the feet of the apostlesIf 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.

Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-4; Ps 116: 12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

Reflection for the Fifth Wednesday of Lent

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

Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent / Year A

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

Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent

About halfway through today’s Gospel, the woman at the well says to Jesus, “you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus responds to this in an interesting way,

“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.”

A lot is going on in these few sentences. Jesus affirms worship in Jerusalem, but then says that neither Jerusalem nor anywhere is where the worship will take place. But we know that true worship, even now, continues in a multitude of places on the earth. While this could be a prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, it can also be seen to contain more truths about true worship. The center of Jewish worship was the Temple. Non-Jewish worship was often centered around a particular place. Ancient peoples often believe mountains to be the places of the gods. The Psalms, which are both Jewish and Catholic prayers, often reference this idea of going up a mountain to worship. What Jesus is telling us is not that there will be no places of worship in this world, but that the true center of worship will no longer be here on earth. The true center of Christian worship is in the Heavenly Kingdom of God. The Mass in the West, the Divine Liturgy in the East, these are both participations in the Heavenly Liturgy. They are but images of the true glory of Heavenly Worship.

This worship requires us to know who we are worshipping. If God is not physically present on this earth, we must have some understanding of who he is in order to give him worship. This does not mean that we understand God: God is beyond our understanding. It means that our God is understandable. There is order, some sort of reason, to God at which we can grasp. The false gods of the pagans did not have this. They were given earthly forms so that people could form images in their minds, but their actions and behaviors were unreasonable. The stories of the gods were as often about their cruelty and strangeness as they were about their positive qualities. Furthermore, there was not a rationality to the religious system which allowed for rich, deep and complex thought. It allowed for many wonderful stories, and for much thought about human nature, but it was ultimately shallow. Often, the pagan gods take on aspects of human nature and the stories are formed more by human condition than by the nature of God.

The Jews, after hundreds of years of various journeys through the desert and exiles, had banished such thought from their minds. They had finally realized that God is one, that he is immaterial, and that there is an order to Him. Perhaps we do not understand, but there is a perceivable order. The Jews were chosen by God to spread this wonderful discovery to all the people of the world, but they failed their mission. Salvation still comes from the Jews through Jesus Christ and the Apostles, all of whom were Jewish. Jesus and his Apostles brought salvation to all mankind, by teaching us how to worship God in Spirit and Truth through the Eucharistic Sacrifice. It is a sacrifice in Spirit because it joins in the Liturgy of Heaven, and it is a true sacrifice because it is an anamnesis—a true memorial in which we make present what occurs in the past—of the Passion of our Lord.

This worship in which we participate then forms the basis of our entire lives. It is the water which Jesus promised the woman at the well. When we pray and offer ourselves to God totally, most perfectly through participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we receive this water that lasts through all eternity.

(Sorry this is late! – MS)

Today’s Readings: Ex 17:3-7; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42

Reflection for the Second Wednesday of Lent

You know that feeling where you must say something, but you know it is going to make everyone mad? You don’t want to do it, but it needs happen. I get that feeling a lot. Sometimes I will try to talk myself out of it, saying “they don’t really need to know that,” or “I’m sure they’ve already thought of this.” Other times, especially when I have to correct someone, I think, “God said ‘judge lest ye be judged,’” or “turn the other cheek.” Maybe if the other person is older and supposed to be much wiser than me, I might think, “I am not smart enough to correct this person, I am just a child.”

I think that Jeremiah probably came up with all these excuses, and probably more. The book of Jeremiah begins with Jeremiah trying to tell God he was too young and not ready to be a prophet. God replied, “Say not, ‘I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver.” God had called Jeremiah to proclaim the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple to the people of Jerusalem: his job was to tell everybody “repent or you will all be exiled or killed, and everybody’s stuff will be destroyed.” This would be, to a Catholic in modern times, like someone saying “the Vatican, every government building, and every social media site on the internet will all be destroyed,” and not only will they all be destroyed, but anyone who survives gets to go live among a hostile population. It sounded ridiculous. No wonder the people were plotting to kill Jeremiah! They thought he was a nut job! It didn’t really cross their minds as to whether he might be right.

Jeremiah is troubled by the response of the people. He especially doesn’t understand why he is being “repaid with evil” for doing a good thing. He spent his entire life going where he did not want to go, and preaching to a people who would not listen. I’m sure many of us can relate to this. We do something good and receive bitterness, criticism, and hatred in return.

Jesus definitely knew what Jeremiah was going through. Jesus spent his life preaching of God’s justice, love, and mercy, healing the sick, casting out demons—all very good things to do—and he was repaid with torture and crucifixion. Through Jesus’s death, however, something amazing happened. Because of his sacrifice, Heaven was opened to humanity. His apostles followed him and became servants to all, and most even followed him to their own martyrdoms. Jesus went further though, and called all of us to follow him.

What is in common among Jeremiah, the apostles, us, and Jesus? Suffering. We all suffer. We suffer even when we do good. The apostles all suffered, and Jesus told them it was going to happen! He told them, in front of James and John’s mother, that they would share his chalice, the chalice of suffering. It doesn’t make sense. It hurts. But through our suffering, something we could never expect happens. We are drawn closer to God. We come to a greater realization of what is most important (trusting and loving God!) in our lives. When we see others suffer, we learn to have compassion and to recognize others as worthy of love. Most incredibly of all, we learn to offer our suffering to God. We learn to unite our suffering with the suffering of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Through the Cross our suffering is transformed into something new. It is transformed into a redemptive sacrifice for mankind.

So, in this time of Lent, either in our small and intentional Lenten sacrifices we make to grow, or in the large sufferings thrown at us, let us remember to unite our suffering with Jesus on His Cross. Let us make it a gift to God that will help redeem the world. It will be hard. It will be painful. But God can bring good out of even the worst situations.

Edited for grammar and structure on March 15, 2017.

Today’s Readings: Jer 18:18-20; Ps 31:5-6, 14, 15-16; Mt 20:17-28

Reflection for the Memorial of St. Peter Damian

Today’s reflection is based on the optional Gospel reading for memorial (Jn 15:1-8) and the hagiographical reading from a letter by St. Peter Damian in today’s Office of Readings (PL 144, 473-476).

St. Peter Damian was a Benedictine monk who worked tirelessly for the reform of the church. But his first devotion was always to God. A man who did not totally love God and give himself over to God’s mission would never have been able to achieve what St. Peter Damian did. He reformed the monasteries, the clergy and even aided the popes.

In the Office of Readings today, St. Peter Damian wrote “some words of consolation” to someone he refers to as brother. He encourages the brother to remember that he is a son of God, that he need not fear.

“…for God’s chosen ones there is great comfort; the torment lasts but a short time. Then God bends down, cradles the fallen figure, whispers words of consolation. With hope in his heart, man picks himself up and walks again towards the glory of happiness in heaven.”

In this beautiful quote, Damian writes that while we may encounter trials, God is always there to comfort us. All we must do is remember to ask God for his help and comfort.

This ties in perfectly with the Gospel selected to accompany St. Peter Damian’s memorial. We are the branches on the vine of the Father. We are pruned so that we may grow and bear much fruit, but we are always connected to the Father. When stay close to the Father, and allow his words to remain in us—allowing Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to live and act in our lives—we can ask of anything and it will be done. When we are so intimate with God that we live in him and he lives in us, we will only what God wills, so it would be impossible for us not to receive those gifts for which we ask.

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Reflection for the Seventh Monday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Sir 1:1-10; Ps 93:1ab, 1cd-2, 5; Mk 9:14-29

“O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?”

The disciples could not drive the demon out of the boy, because they did not have the faith. Jesus, Peter, James and John are just coming down the mountain from the Transfiguration—an intense experience of prayer for Jesus, and an intense confirmation of faith for Peter, James and John. The other disciples, though, weren’t there. They had faith, but not enough.

Jesus, after casting out the demon, explains to his disciples that prayer is required for this sort of demon to be driven out. But Jesus just said they did not have the faith necessary. Which one is it? Both. Prayer and faith work together. Prayer increases our faith, and faith improves our prayer.

This faith can allow us to do wondrous things, Jesus says it could move mountains, but it also can give us something even great: true understanding—the ability to see things as they are. Seeing things as they are—this is what wisdom is.

When has the story of the wise sage on the mountain ever ended with him telling us to do something in order to fix some problem? The wise sage helps his visitors to see clearly what they already know, what they already have seen in an obscured way.

Faith and prayer helps us to see God, who created all things and gave humanity wisdom. If we have a relationship with Him, properly established through prayer and faith, then we will be able to see other people and the material things of this world as they truly are.

Reflection for the Sixth Saturday of Ordinary Time / Year I

Today’s Readings: Heb 11:1-7; Ps 145:2-3, 4-5, 10-11; Mk 9:2-13

Faith is at the core of everything. The Letter to the Hebrews goes through of creation, showing what we know by faith: that God created and ordered the universe, that we can offer fitting sacrifice to God, that there is an afterlife and that we are invited to share that with God. What do we have if we do not have faith?

Peter, James and John witness the Transfiguration in the Gospel. They are frightened. The voice coming from above tells them “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” Why do they have any reason to heed this voice? It is precisely because they have faith—perhaps in the voice, but even more likely in Jesus himself. Then Jesus told them not to reveal what had occurred until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Why would Jesus not want them to reveal the incredible miracle of seeing Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus? I think it is because that sort of miracle can build faith in those who are ready, but it can also stifle faith in some ways. Instead of slowly growing in faith, understanding the deeper realities behind Jesus and his ministries, the Transfiguration would have given an almost supernatural faith. This is a faith to which few people can relate. The disciples had to grow in their faith—slowly and painfully—just like we do today.

Let us never lose our faith, and try to grow it little by little every day. Faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain: imagine what we could do if we let it grow!

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