Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
“..no prophet arises from Galilee.” (John 7:53)
Jesus worked many signs among the people: John’s gospel is all about them. They pointed to who He was. Many believed, many did not: those who did not want to believe were looking for reasons in the Scripture. Much of the quarrel was about where Jesus was born, and where Scripture said He would be born.
We are naturally drawn to romantic settings – “city of David” for instance. Perhaps because I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Jersey (“New Jersey” is where wealthier people live, Jackie Kennedy, President Nixon – horses too) I am more prone to this romanticism than most. I have travelled all over the world and been in many wonderful, deeply moving places. And yet I can honestly say I experienced my vocation call at a Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge near Exit 3 on the New Jersey Turnpike; and, after I had taken my vows, the Lord let me thrash around the world of Washington where I was working with street people in considerable desolation – but He came and walked with me when at Christmas I spent a day at the Jersey Shore, on Long Beach Island. What good could come from Jersey? Much – for me, a lifetime’s worth!
And so it is with our discernment. People in the world love to impress by symbols of status, suburbs named after British villages – Americans perhaps more than most, since we know little of pedigree and lineages. And yet Our Lord has told us that He is among us “as one who serves,” that He prefers to be with the poor and the lowly, that we are to find Him in unexpected places (cf. Mt. 25). So let us walk gently in our judgments of who matters and why: God has a way of being most present where and when we least expect Him. He is, after all, God, and turning our expectations upside down is His prerogative.
Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent
They “were trying to kill Him.” What strange words these are! And yet – are they really so strange? Remember the schoolyard, that most savage of battlefields – and the terror that “the big kids are going to kill me”? Or that gang of little monsters waiting around the corner, waiting to “kill you” as you were ambushed on the way home?
Perhaps these things didn’t happen in the nice lawny suburbs of America, but in the streets of the New York area where I was raised, they were everyday fare. But I’m not being quite honest: the human heart conceals murderous desires, the prophet Jeremiah tells us the heart is “wicked above all things.” And so violence and death are a threat to us from the very first moments of our existence, everywhere. Given the resources, we air-brush the world, we color the human jungle in pastels. But if one lives long enough, and is honest, well, it is a jungle. Savage beasts in the night.
And that is why Jesus matters. Because He came not as Mr. Nice Guy, not as Mr. Success; He did not know how to “make friends and influence people” and He certainly did not follow the steps of successful people, nor did He create an “amazing parish”. In act, He was denied and betrayed by His closest followers, and died a lonely death, rejected by every group around. No: He was real, He was love, He was of God. He came with nothing but goodness, but that was a harsh light turned onto the human scene. He revealed that which is in the human heart not to shame or accuse – but to exorcise and heal. Which is why as we go through Lent, we follow Him on the way to Calvary, where He will be crucified by those who “were trying to kill Him.” Yet – He will rise. To vindicate all the just witnesses of human cruelty and oppression back to Abel on to the last martyr crucified by the electronic media and successful administrators, Roman or American.
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
We rarely think of Moses. And yet he is one of the greatest figures in world history, and certainly a central figure in the Word of God. Poor Moses! He was leader of a “stiff-necked” people – and that really not from any desire of his own to be a leader. He was called, and then found that the people made his life difficult at every turn. And so when the people turned against God – having just received the Law – God simply wanted to destroy them. Why not?
Yet Moses is a mediator for his people, and in that lies his greatness. He is one who cares and loves even the people who are making his life a living hell. In this, Moses is very father-like. How many men put up with endless grief at work, and sometimes at home – adolescent children! – and yet are faithful because, well, because that is what they do, that is to say, that is who they are? How many mothers remain at their posts through years of ingratitude from spouses and children, because they love?
God relented in what He had planned at Moses’ instigation. Of course, we like to think that God wanted Moses to do this all along and was inviting him to be the great and holy man he was called to be. A true friend of God, with whom God could share His broken heart and His sad desire to simply be shuck of the problem – and a man to whom God listened, because God loved him, and he loved God. A man called to be part of the mystery of salvation, mediator, forerunner of the Son of God who pleads for us “at the right hand of the Father.” Spiritual ancestor of Jesus: Moses. We should think more of him.
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?”
At one point, not so long ago, this question would have been seen as a very far-fetched exaggeration. No doubt it was written with that in mind, and no doubt there is a fundamental reality that does not change, for the human soul and the world of ultimate reality to which it opens does not change. But this world – ah, this world is “under the Prince of Lies” and the illusions that fill our screens and our minds can lead us far, far away from the realities of our hearts, until the thread is cut, God turns on the light, and we encounter Reality. Not “reality TV.” Reality. God’s world.
When the women’s movement was really getting underway – part of the 60’s revolution – ah, the hopes that were aroused! As it seemed women were more gentle, more loving, wars would end: there would be no Vietnam War if women were in charge! It was presumed that change in social position and status would not affect the person of woman who, throughout the Christian ages in the West, had been cultivated on the model of Mary, Mother of God. But such was not to be, and the results are all around us. It is, as the theologian von Balthasar noted, a “monosex” world, And yet we are not made that way. Children need a mother’s love: it is the basic symbol of goodness in ancient Chinese orthography, it is the single best loved symbol in Christianity beyond, perhaps, the crucifix of Our Lord. A mother and her child.
So what do we do, in a world in which it would appear tenderness for children is all too often absent, in which the most basic loyalties seem so often shockingly violated in the name of other “values” centered on the “self”? The answer is given us through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah: “Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Greater than any horror of human failure, blindness, egotism, sin is the infinitely greater mercy and love of God. He does not change, and does not forget. Any of us.
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Thirty eight years is a long time to be sick. And not just to be sick – but to be lying at the place where healings happen with no one to help get the healing. We can only imagine the wild, unexpected joy when Jesus breaks into the encrusted habits of illness, chronic pain and suffering, and shines His light and brings new life.
Wonderful as this is, though, it is not Our Lord’s primary focus, for His works are signs, as He calls them, signs of a reality of another order. For He tells the man: “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” Was sin even on the sick man’s mind? Surely he was so ecstatic to be well again – he had just about forgotten what that felt like – that dark thoughts of sin would not enter his mind.
And yet Jesus knows us far better than we know ourselves, for He sees with the light of God, in the light of God: His all pure eye sees the hidden causes of all our maladies, and sees through our apparent health as well, to that sin which so characterizes the human condition. As we move more deeply into Lent, let us not be afraid to face the simple fact that we live in a fallen world, among sinners (just try to get on the freeway – or out of the church parking lot!) – but most distressingly, really, that we are sinners as well. And then let us turn to our healing and saving Lord with humble confidence, for though His ability to heal our infirmities is marvelous, His ability to forgive sin is infinitely more important.
Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
“Your son will live.” With these words, Jesus both describes what He sees will happen and we can imagine that as the Son of God actually causes it to happen. The power of the Lord to give life is at the heart of His mission to our world, at the heart of His coming to from Heaven.
But the human life He gives is a symbol of the eternal life that He Himself is. Sometimes we hear people complain they are weary of life, that this life is quite enough, and they would not want more – anywhere else! And yet, when we are in love, ah, we want to live; when beauty surrounds us and our hearts are lifted – we want to live. And so the power of God, building on the love of a family can keep someone going, keeping them from rolling into the world of the dead – as the royal official’s son was able to experience.
When all is said and done, though, this return to life is a resuscitation, not yet a resurrection. It is a return to life in this world, a world bound for death. In our Lenten journey we become more aware and appreciative of the goodness of creation; but we also fast and mortify ourselves to remember that even the best of human life will pass. But if it is united with Jesus, then it will be raised, by Him, with Him. And so, “we will live.”
Fourth Sunday of Lent
Admitting we are wrong is an extremely difficult thing. Not only are we proud and unwilling to admit a mistake. We also live in a world of competing egos who put themselves forward, and are looking for any chink in our armor for a chance to attack us. The human condition. But there are surprises, pleasant surprises in life –
I have heard that when St. John Paul II was Archbishop of Krakow, a priest came to him who had found himself in a difficult, embarrassing situation, one for which he could be properly disciplined, even severely. The story goes that Archbishop Wojtyla heard the priest’s confession, and as the priest got up and was ready to leave, took the stole from his neck and gave it to the penitent and asked; “now will you hear my confession?”
So it was with the prodigal son: he received unexpected, undeserved mercy, which is, of course, what mercy is all about. May we pleasantly surprise our debtors when they repent and come asking forgiveness – and may we begin to practice that forgiveness in our hearts, even before our debtors come before us. May they find an open-hearted welcome on our faces, in our hearts.
Saturday after Epiphany
The season of Epiphany is ending, and with it the Christmas season. The lights, the joyful gatherings, the feasting – all these help us get through the darkest time of the year. On the natural level, the sun is now getting perceptibly stronger, if only slightly, the days inching up a bit longer.
On the spiritual level, the entire Christmas season is a tremendous gift of joy. The joy is irresistible, in spite of all the disasters that can surround family gatherings and office parties. The babe in the manger, the soft lights on the Christmas tree, the marvelous sounds and smells inviting the senses to remember another, a better world – all these give us new heart, even as winter has really just begun. That is, even as winter really gets into it in earnest, the sun tells us that winter’s cold is already being drawn inexorably into spring.
Let us rejoice that we have known – and, more importantly – that we are known by God, and gifted with His Son, to be our savior. For though we now hover over the newborn child, and tend to His needs, yet, He is the one who tends to our needs. The one who elicits the best in us and gives us new heart, and new hearts; the one who will lead us through all the darkness into the light from which He comes. With this quiet joy, with this quiet confidence, let us then embark on the apparently calm seas of “ordinary time.”
Friday after Epiphany
Pope Benedict in his writings has sometimes pondered why people seem to have lost their interest in “eternal life.” He suggested that that was because we tend to think of “eternal life” as just more of the same thing we call “life.” That is, well, driving on the freeway (and sitting in traffic there). Going to the office, and dealing with the politics there. Watching TV. Going through the TSA at the airport. Well, daffodils as well sometimes – but much of life is tedious if not maddening.
And so, the prospect of an eternity of pushing a cart through a supermarket is less than appealing, and so many seem to say: “who would want to live eternally?” But “eternal life” is something quite different, for “eternal life” is an endlessly bubbling fountain of delight. “Eternal life” has a name: that is Jesus who came to reveal to us that that love for which we struggle on freeways and offices and supermarkets is in fact pure and purely available to us in His Person. In this world, at this time, in the sacraments, in faith, and in the service of those He places into our lives.
Beyond this world of trial, this broken and fallen world, following the thin thread of pure love – of Jesus – an entirely new universe opens up of a perfect, pure love that knows neither beginning nor end. It is into that love of God we are invited to enter, it is through the wounds of the Risen Christ that the light of God pours out into the cosmic darkness. World – that world – without end. Amen.
Memorial of Saint Raymond of Penyafort
The Christian understanding of “the world” is a complicated concept. The Christian is waging war against “the world, the flesh, the devil.” And yet, we are also told: “God so loved the world….” Which is it?
Well, all that has being was created by God, who declared it good in its parts, and “very good” in its sum. God created freedom as well – it is perhaps the great glory of creation – but that was the great “wild card” in creation, for creation could turn against its Creator. It did, it has, it does turn against God – and we, free creatures at some point invariably take part in that rebellion. Original sin. And yet – “God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son into the world.” To save it. To save us.
But how do we, who are in and very largely of this fallen world, overcome it? Simple: we don’t. We need a Savior. And God has sent us His Son to be our Savior. We need to believe in Him, and in that faith – which is also His gift to us – to be lifted out of the fallen world. And in being lifted, He transforms the world (for after all we are world as well), and He, who also became part of creation and has transformed it entirely, lifts all of us into the glorious light of His Father. And so the world’s rebellion is overcome, and we are saved from that destruction to which all creation, fallen and rebellious, tends. Let us rejoice in that faith that is the victory that overcomes the world, let us build the buildings of our lives ever more on that one sure foundation, of that one sure material, according to those only sure plans. Jesus, in whom God has revealed Himself to us. Epiphany.