March 23, 2016 – Spy Wednesday

March 23, 2016 –

Wednesday in Holy Week – also called, Spy Wednesday (disregard the date)

 Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Isaiah 50:4-9

Psalm 69

Matthew 26:14-25

“Then, Judas, his betrayer said [to Jesus] ‘Surely it is not I, Rabbi? To which Jesus said, ‘You have said so!’” (The ending of today’s Holy Gospel)

My mother, who was baptized as a child but not really raised as a Catholic until she met up with my father, was, nonetheless somewhat spiritual by the time I was in school. I have a clear memory of one Holy Week when I was in 4th or 5th grade and my mother telling me and my older sister to go to our bedrooms and read one of the Gospel accounts of the Passion. It’s somewhat odd, that, the question I had – after spending part of the traditional “Three Hours” – was: “Well, if Judas didn’t do it … one of the other apostles or someone else would have had to do it!” Years later, attending of stage production of the musical, “Godspell,” I still have a vivid picture of the Judas character acting in mime with his hands held out above his head and pushing against an invisible box as if he were caught inside and couldn’t get out.” In yesterday’s reflection I said, some people have said that Judas aught to be a saint since he was instrumental in making it possible for Jesus to be arrested and then crucified for our redemption. I also said, “but that’s not the point since God/Jesus isn’t interested in calling people to follow Him who are just robots or actors in a religious drama. The question for all of us is, “How do we follow Jesus and let something about that decision begin to transform us from just being people after their own interests to people who can begin to bring about positive change in their own lives and the lives of people that they encounter. It all seems to come down to our asking ourselves, “what do we want to be and why?” What is it that changes someone who is like a “Mother Teresa” with care and concern for others, who then becomes a terrorist? I’ll leave you with that thought but hope that someone might contact me with a few suggestions. If I jog my memory back to my own growing up years I think I always wanted to be a saint! But that was before I got out into the real world with all the many options and choices. Still, given who I am today, I think I might be on the better half of the road to something great! The choices are always there. May God inspire us to always choose wisely! Amen

March 22, 2016 – Tuesday in Holy Week

March 22, 2016 – Tuesday in Holy Week

Saint for the day: Nicholas Owen (died – 1606)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Isaiah 49:1-6

Psalm 71

John 13:21-33, 36-38

Peter says, “though others may deny you I will never!”

In these last days of Lent, and as we enter into Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum we are given a compendium of scripture readings that seem to repeat what we’ve already heard. We have to be careful that we don’t take a “been there, done that” attitude and miss the importance of knowing our own, personal frailty up against the limitless mercy and love of God.

Judas, a figure that often gets a “bad rap,” appears as a central character in the Scripture readings of these days. We have to ask ourselves why the Gospel writers focus so much on him and don’t even mention any of the others – besides Peter and John. So, today we are presented once again with two characters that represent the two sides of our own lives. Judas, the silent, shadow man is given only a few lines to speak in the Scriptures yet has actions that speak louder than words. Peter, on the other hand, is quick to say that he will never deny Jesus. Two men who represent the two sides of the same coin that exists in all our lives. There are times when we prefer to live in the shadows and times when we are bold, right out there on the front lines. There are some who say Judas should be a saint since he contributed to Christ’s arrest and crucifixion that brought about our redemption. But that’s not the point. What we need to take from today’s liturgy is the reality that we carry within ourselves both of these characteristics and we need to own up to our own shortcomings. Remember that Gospel parable where the father asks each of his two sons to go out into the field to work. One says, “No, I won’t go” but later changes his mind and does. The other says, “Yes, I’ll go” but doesn’t. As we continue through this Holy Week we’re given the chance to look at our own lives and see how Judas and Peter, two followers of Jesus, represent parts of our own lives. There are times when we prefer to live in the shadows and times when we are bold, right out there on the front lines. In both cases we need to remember that God will always call us back. That’s why He loved us “even to death on the cross!” Amen!

March 21, 2016 – Monday in Holy Week

March 21, 2016 – Monday in Holy Week

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Isaiah 42:1-7

Psalm 27

John 12:1-11

The next three days are a kind of preparation for our entry into “The Paschal Triduum” the three most holy days of our Church year. This is a time for us to put aside our regular activities and tasks and focus on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Yesterday we celebrated Passion Sunday – what we used to call “Palm Sunday” – and we had exceptionally large crowds of people in attendance at all the Masses. We gathered outside by the Lourdes Grotto where, to our surprise, there was a live donkey waiting! However, the pastor, didn’t ride on the donkey! What we did, though, was to make our way to the church by processing out from the parking lot and around half of our square-block plot down Bush Street and around Steiner to the entrance of the church. The choir was in the middle singing the verses and we all joined in with the chorus, “Ride on, Jesus, ride on!” The inside of the church was decorated with large palm branches along the main aisle so that there could be no doubt that we were celebrating Palm Sunday! I couldn’t help be think back to my days in Africa when we had truckloads of huge palm branches brought to the church. That’s when I found out that the people weren’t going to be satisfied with a little leaf of the palm frond. They all wanted the top 2’ of the branch so that they had something significant to wave! And that they did especially if the singing had the words “Hosanna” like in the Sanctus! In so many ways that congregation was acting out what the people in the time of Jesus did with their loud cries of, “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna to the King.” Still, we also knew that these same people who tried to make Jesus their King would later be the ones shouting for his death, “Crucify Him!” This is why it is so important for us to look at yesterday’s celebration as being just the beginning of the story and how important it is to go through this week of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday with the Great Vigil of Christ’s triumph over death as we celebrate the resurrection. This is the liturgy that also welcomes new members into the Church. Yesterday we were told by our pastor that St. Dominic’s will receive more than 40 adults into full communion with the Church. This is why it is so important for us to look at yesterday’s celebration as being just the beginning of the story and how important it is to go through this week of Holy Thursday, God Friday and Holy Saturday with the Great Vigil of Christ triumph over death as we celebrate His Resurrection. We shouldn’t really let anything take precedence over our participating in these most solemn liturgies of our Church Year. We have to ask ourselves, “How important is our involvement with “church?” We need to act out our exuberance with the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; celebrate His gift of His Body and Blood, and then, too, be the ones who shout, “Crucify Him!” but also stay around for the Resurrection. Three Holy Days that bring meaning to our own lives of faithfully following Jesus; stumbling along the way and experiencing deaths in one way of another and THEN celebrating “Resurrection!” We shouldn’t miss any part of this fundamental mystery of our faith. Amen!

March 20, 2016 – Passion Sunday

March 20, 2016 – Passion Sunday aka Palm Sunday

Click on the following “link” to read about the start of Holy Week

Scripture readings for today’s liturgy:

Isaiah 50:4-7

Psalm 22

Philippians 2:6-11

Luke 22:14-23, 56

An interesting “anti-note.” Saint Catherine of Genoa wrote about purgatory which, she said, “begins on earth for souls open to God. Life with God in heaven is a continuation and perfection of the life with God begun on earth.”

Our liturgy for this Passion Sunday (what we used to call, “Palm Sunday”) takes us all the way from our jubilant singing of “Hosannas to the Highest” all the way to the cold, quiet of a garden tomb. In-between we’ll hear words like, “I gave my back to those who beat me…” and “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” In the second scripture from Philippians we’ll hear, “… He emptied himself…”

 Then, the beginning of the reading of the Passion sets Jesus – in table-fellowship – with the apostles. This reminds us that everything we believe about Jesus and salvation is centered on this unique gift of His Body and Blood – His very life-presence – to us.

But! We’re not able to just sit around a gawk at Jesus. The fulfillment of what Jesus is all about is always out there! It’s the going out that allows us to continue following Him. And the paradox is always there: a quiet garden where one can enter into the peaceful presence of God turns out to be a place of ambush!

“If you want to be my disciples take up your cross and follow me.”  The rest of the story you know but all of us need to see that we can’t share in “table-fellowship with Jesus” without passing through both the quiet gardens, and the hill of Calvary. It’s only then that we will see the empty tomb – also with lack of real understanding – until we meet the Resurrected Jesus – you guessed it! Out there … on the road where we can then say, “were not our hearts burning as He told us about the Scriptures?”

 That’s why I found that quote of St. Catherine of Genoa so fitting as we begin our Holy Week. Go back and read it again and you’ll see what I mean when I say, “Be here now!” It’s like one giant moment of God’s presence to us. Amen!

March 19, 2016 -Saturday in the 5th Week of Lent

March 19, 2016 – Saturday in the 5th Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Joseph, husband of Mary

Scripture Readings for today’s Solemnity:

2 Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16

Psalm 89

Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22

Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24 or Luke 2:41-51

“Behold, a faithful and prudent steward, whom the Lord set over his household.” (today’s Entrance Antiphon – Cf, Luke 12-42)

If we take the phrase highlighted, above from today’s liturgy, we might use it as a kind of “kick-start” to today’s reflection. All we really have to do is take the above words and ask ourselves, “what do they mean to me?” If I begin with the word, “faithful” what would I say? Perhaps I could go back to the Holy Scriptures and give the definition found in Hebrews 11:1 with the understanding that a “faithful” person is one who is full of faith.” Here’s that quote: “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.” (Exodus 14:14) This quote if far from anything close to the way most of us react. Most often, we want to know the full scope of anything that we strive for. Joseph seems able to trust the Word of God that came to him in a dream, as we hear in today’s Holy Gospel: “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home, for it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived.” Today’s feast urges us to be full of faith even in the times when we don’t see the entire picture. Fear is the other thing that most of us have to deal with. When we can’t see the entire picture we most often get fearful. I love the Old Testament story of the exodus when the Israelites come to the edge of the Red Sea and start grumbling at Moses who then comes back at them, “Have no fear! Stand firm. You will see what the Lord will do to save you.” (Exodus 14:14) Bottom line: Whenever we come to a point of doubt that we are in sync with God the last thing in the world that we should do is run away. St. Joseph is the epitome of a person filled with faith and trust in the Lord with no fear to follow. The irony of all of this is the fact that there aren’t a whole lot of scripture passages that focus on Joseph. He is the protector of Mary and the newborn Jesus and takes them to safety in Egypt. He provides for them at the home in Nazareth and worries when Jesus gets lost in the Temple. That’s about all the scripture quotes that he gets and ends his life as the “patron of a Holy Death!” Would that all of us could have a measure of the faith that Joseph in God which enabled him stand firm in the midst of uncertainty. Let us pray to God those words highlighted above and put a strong, “Amen, Lord” to this prayer.

March 18, 2016 – Friday in the 5th Week of Lent

March 18, 2016 – Friday in the 5th Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Salvator of Horta (1520-1567)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Jeremiah 20:10-13

Psalm 18

John 10:31-42

“Your words, O Lord, are Spirit and life; you have the words of everlasting life.” (Today’s Gospel Acclimation.)

 The S & Ps didn’t have any problem with the good works that Jesus did. How could they not see what wonders He was doing. What they objected to was the fact that He claimed to be doing this kind of good because he was God! Since these guys appear so often in the Gospels and always in the context of objecting – not the good that He was doing – but to the blasphemy of claiming that He was doing what the Father had sent him to do we have to ask, “what’s out of focus in their stance?”

It’s back to the age-old phenomenon – “I’m right and you’re wrong!” And Jesus tries to show them that a relationship with God isn’t an either/or stance but, rather, both/and. Then He calls them “blind guides” which infuriates them even more.

So, what’s going to be our “bottom line” in this situation? We can’t just love God “on paper,” so to speak. The words of James in his epistle come to mind: “what good is faith without works?” but we also need to turn that around to see that “works” alone are not the way, either. The S & Ps were ultra-orthodox. Orthodoxy means ‘right teaching’ but we have a new word, “orthopraxis” which would mean “right action.” Our words have to become flesh too; to reach our fingertips, so to speak. If our faith in Jesus doesn’t bring us to a point where we reach out to those in need around us it is a useless faith.

As we move into Holy Week we might need to open our eyes to see what Jesus is calling us to. We can’t just listen to the words of the Passion. We need to go to the next step and accept what that means. “Those who follow me will do the same works that I do.” We have to pick up our cross and not try to put it on someone else’s shoulder. We need to let our faith in Jesus move us out into action to those around us in need. Amen!

March 17, 2016 – Thursday in the 5th Week of Lent

March 17, 2016 – Thursday in the 5th Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Patrick (415? -493?)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Genesis 17:3-9

Psalm 105

John 8:51-59

Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I Am!”

When Moses encounters God on the mountain he asked, “What do I tell the people if the ask, ‘Who sent you?’” He is told, “I Am” sent you. Not “I was,” Not “I will be.” But “I am!”  This statement is the basis of our timelessness concept of God and it is the foundation upon which Jesus rests his authority: “Before Abraham was, I AM!”

The Jews object saying, you’re not old enough to have know Abraham yet Jesus holds his ground and tells them, “Whoever hears my words – and follows them- will never see death.” We are like the Jews at the time of Jesus and question him on this statement. After all, Abraham – and indeed all the prophets – are dead. So, what is Jesus talking about? It forces us to rethink our understanding of “death.” All of us tend to look at “being” as beginning at birth and ending at death. Jesus is trying to show (by his own death and resurrection) that “life is not ended but, rather, changed.” In this sense, we should spend more time thinking about what we are to become rather than worrying about what we were. God is calling us to leave our homeland and our securities and go into the land “that I will show you.” All of us need to be reminded of this basic reality of life and take it more seriously. Can we think in terms of this being the only moment of salvation that we know. We’re not focusing on “I WAS!” or “I will be!” But, rather on “I am!”

As we are about to enter into the Holy Week let us try to place ourselves in this here and now moment of salvation and let the false notion of following a “I WAS” God or a God who “will be” and see Jesus as the God of “I Am!”

March 16, 2016 – Wednesday in the 5th Week of Lent

March 16, 2016 – Wednesday in the 5th Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Abban (died 620)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Daniel 3: 14-20 …90-95

Psalm Response: Daniel 3:52ff

John 8:31-42

“He whom the Son sets free is free indeed.”

The first question that I would ask is, “who is really free? And what does freedom mean?”

The Jews at the time of Jesus claimed that they were free. “We have never been slaves to anybody.” That statement is also very typical of how many of us would see our lives. None of us would admit that we are “slaves” to anything yet if we look closely at our lives we would see that there are many “things” that pull us away from being truly free. Just look anywhere in our world today and ask, “what price are people willing to pay for true “freedom?” How many people around our world – right now! -are being “tried” in furnaces of humiliation in order to be “free?”

And so, it’s easy for me to say, like the Jews, “I’m not a slave to anyone (or anything).” Yet there are so many “things” in my life that pull me away from accepting the “easy yoke and light burden” of Jesus. As we move into the most Holy Week of the Church year can we begin to look at our lives and see maybe just one or two things that we need to be purified of. I’m not talking about being thrown into a fiery furnace. Just take the time to find one area of your life that you need to be free from. If you’re like me you’ll probably start with a long list! And this is what often keeps us from really making any real headway in our desire to be “free indeed.” As St. Francis said, “stone by stone – slow by slow the way the Church moves, ” and the church, which is us changes for the better . And if the Church is to be vibrant we all have to change. Little by little. No dramatic conversions needed right now. Just one small change in our life – one small step – in order to begin to move into real freedom. “He whom the Son sets free is free indeed!” Amen!

March 15, 2015 – Tuesday in the 5th Week of Lent

March 15, 2016 – Tuesday in the 5th Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Louise de Marillac (died: 1660)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Numbers 21:4-9

Psalm 102

John 8:21-30

“When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself, says the Lord.” (Today’s Communion Antiphon: John 12:32)

 In these last days of Lent the Church gives us enough scripture “tie-ins” to chew on. Today’s scriptures connect the Old and New Testaments with Jesus presenting Himself as the “New Adam.” The story of the Israelites getting bitten by snakes, along with Moses’ remedy is easy for us to see. But underneath this is a wealth of symbolism about our fall from grace and our redemption.

This takes us all the way back to “The Fall.” None of us have any trouble with the imagery of that story but it’s good to flesh it out. The evil one, disguised as a snake slithers down from the tree of life to tempt Adam and Eve with the promise “you will be like Gods.” In the end, the serpent is consigned to a role of slithering along on the ground. Much of the symbolism of that story is easily missed: the serpent, at first, was hiding in the “tree of life.” So much of our failures or sins are first seen as “good” and hidden amongst apparently good things.

The serpent, in punishment for leading Adam and Eve into sin, is consigned to a life of slithering on the ground. But we’re not finished with the serpent, yet. Even in his punishment, he still masquerades as being innocently “humble” (a clear reference to the original meaning of the word, humble: taken from the Latin word, humas, meaning, “grounded in the earth”) and continues to trick us into thinking that we can still “become like Gods.”

Jesus breaks that cycle by Himself being “lifted up on the Cross” just like Moses who took the serpent (a symbol of sin) and lifted it up on a pole (cross) so that the people were freed of the sin they had committed. But we can’t leave out the final thought in this symbolic story: Even though Jesus was lifted up on the Cross for our salvation sin is still lurking there – most often hidden to make us think that “it’s OK.” We can’t just look at Jesus on the cross. We have to embrace Him in His life-giving act of love. Then, and only then, do we “become like God’s and see Him as He really is.” Amen!

March 14, 2016 – Monday in the 5th Week of Lent

March 14, 2016 – Monday in the 5th Week of Lent

Saint for the day: Matilda (Death 968)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Daniel 13: 1-9 … … 32-62

Psalm 23

John 8:12-20

Note: If you like to read about intrigue and opulence be sure to click on the “link” to today’s saint, Matilda, to see how life in the Church was during her lifetime at the end of the 10th Century. Now, on to today’s reflection!

 “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side. (today’s responsorial psalm refrain.)

 Today’s Responsorial Psalm (partly captioned, above) is key to giving our scriptures for today’s Liturgy meaning as we begin the 5th Week of Lent. In the Old Testament story of Suzanna she is almost at the end of her rope. Two Elders try to “have their way” with her but her cry bought others into the garden. The clever, old men quickly hatch a plot to make it look like she has secretly met with a young lover. However, she is saved by Daniel who uses the “divide and conquer” ploy to trap the two elders in their own scheme.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm really does become the perfect bridge to the Holy Gospel especially since Jesus doesn’t really have any rescuers to save him from the trap set by Judas. His first defense is to claim that He is “the light of the world” and that he knows where He came from and where He is going. This statement is up against the two old men in the Suzanna story who were only led by their own lust. There’s a lessen for us in today’s scriptures. In the first place Suzanna knows exactly who she is and has no pretentions and only wants to cool off in the water of the pool. The two old men are only motivated by their lust which really didn’t get them anywhere.

Jesus, on the other hand, knows who he is and what he is about along with where he has come from and where he is going. But the Jews don’t know anything about Jesus and so, are left in the dark. From the scriptures given us today we can see the importance of knowing Jesus; who he is; where he comes from and where he’s going. Thus, our goal in Lent should be to meet Jesus; get to know him; and – for sure – follow Him. Work on those three facts and it will all fall into place.

I once heard a priest end the Mass with these words: “may the peace of Christ profoundly disturb you.” He wasn’t trying to make some crisis in peoples lives but was trying to make clear the fact that any encounter with Jesus has to knock us off our presumptions and change something in the way we live our lives. If the life, death and resurrection of Jesus doesn’t change us in some way or other we might have missed the point all together. Lot’s to think about today! Amen!