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Posted by on May 11, 2024

Transitions: Waiting, Praying, Growing

Transitions: Waiting, Praying, Growing

What can be done with a broken plate, or cup, or bowl? A beautiful keepsake crashes to the floor and is, as the saying goes, smashed to smithereens! An everyday cup slips out of a child’s hands and meets the same fate. Things break, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes they can be mended. Sometimes they can’t. And sometimes they can be reused rather than being sent to the trash heap.

In our own lives, we also experience times of transition. Something exciting and wonderful comes to an end and we mourn its passing. Something difficult begins to improve and we rejoice, hoping the improvement will continue. Sometimes it’s a bit of both and the something new is born slowly and quietly. Sometimes there’s a sudden change and that also requires time for adjustment.

In these times of transition, when broken pieces wait for realignment and transformation into something beautiful again, we don’t always know what to do. These are times for waiting, praying, and growing into newer, deeper, more human persons.

After the Resurrection, the disciples were visited many times by the Risen Lord. They came to believe that he had indeed risen from the dead. Many still thought he might now lead armies in battle to “restore the kingdom to Israel.”

The last time Jesus met with his friends, he instructed them to remain in Jerusalem and wait “for the promise of the Father” of which both he and his cousin John had spoken, the baptism with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:1-11)

Baptism is a word that means to plunge into something. Baptism with water involves having water poured over the person being baptized or their being submerged into water. Baptism with the Holy Spirit is not a physical thing. In the sacrament of Confirmation, the Bishop anoints the person with chrism and lays hands on the person’s head, while together we pray with him for the Holy Spirit to enter into their hearts in a new and deeper, transformative way. Not everyone experiences a sense of something being different in their lives after Confirmation, but there is a difference and some do notice it. Sometimes, the difference is dramatic. In the early Church and at various times in the following centuries, the coming of the Spirit has been seen in the community with signs and wonders – speaking in tongues, prophesy, healings, and other wonderful things.

At any rate, whether with dramatic signs or simply with a quiet sense of peace, Jesus promised the disciples would be baptized, plunged into, the life of the Holy Spirit. How that would happen or what it would mean was not explained before he was taken up and away from their sight. Two men, dressed in white, reminded them that they were to return to Jerusalem to wait and pray for the fulfillment of the promise. And so they did. The men also promised that Jesus would return one day. How or when this would happen was for the Father alone to know, he assured them.

St. Mark also spoke of Jesus’ final words before being taken up into heaven. He told them to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel, the good news, to every creature.” Signs and wonders would accompany their preaching. We can get very literal in understanding the words in the Gospel, but I suggest it’s important to seek understanding in terms of what we have learned in two thousand years about humans and our interactions with each other. People would be healed, new words and ways of speaking would be used, dangerous things would not hurt them. All would see the goodness of God in their lives and actions. (Mk 16:15-20)

St. Paul instructed the community at Ephesus regarding the gift of living their lives as Christians, followers of the Lord. The eyes of their hearts will be opened to see and understand the great hope and power of the inheritance they have received through the Holy Spirit’s anointing. They are to live with humility, gentleness, patience, preserving the unity of the community with peace. They are one body and share in the one Spirit, received through their baptism. Some are to go out publicly and teach and preach. Others will live more quietly in their communities, doing the regular things expected of those with their calling – parents, homemakers, tradesmen, teachers, healers, software engineers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, astronauts, poets, musicians, and so many, many more vocations that have opened through the centuries. (Two reading options – Eph 1:17-23 or Eph 4:1-13)

We are all called to be preachers of the Good News. We are not all called to do it on the street corners or pulpits of our communities. We do it in the everyday way we live our lives. Forgiving when we have been hurt. Helping those to heal who have been wounded, whether physically or emotionally. Finding ways to make living as Christians fun for our families, and preparing each member to be able to hold on to the hope and joy of the Good News while dealing with the opposition they will meet outside the community.

As a community, we are like a great big mosaic that is being created by our Father. He takes each of the broken pieces of our lives, places each in a very specific place in the design he envisions, and creates something beautiful and unexpected. Meanwhile, we wait, pray, and grow, becoming the pieces he needs for the mosaic.

As we wait and pray this week for the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives once again at Pentecost, may we have the courage to request the grace of being open to the ways the Father will shape and mold us into the pieces he needs for his mosaic. It may take a bit of sanding, nipping off a corner here or there, or being turned around or upside down several times, but eventually, we will fit into the picture just the way we need to fit.

Readings for The Ascension of the Lord – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on May 5, 2024

Who Gets to Go First?

Who Gets to Go First?

A group of children get together to play. After some discussion, they decide on a game. It may be a group game or it may be a one-on-one game. If a group game, captains of teams are selected and the group is divided into teams. With a one-on-one game, it’s somewhat easier, as long as the two players have already been selected. If not, then the group must decide which two will play.

Finally, the preliminaries are completed and then the most critical question is asked. Who gets to go first? Is it the player with the red markers or the black markers in checkers? Which team is “up” first in baseball? Who serves first in volleyball? What about chess? Or Chutes and Ladders? Or Candyland? Even games for very young children require addressing this question. Who gets to go first? How is the decision made in a fair way? Sometimes it seems like the team or player who goes first will have the advantage in the entire game. That’s not necessarily the case, but it can feel that way.

In God’s relations with humans, we often think that we are the ones who make the decision about whether God will be part of our lives or not. It’s my decision whether I will pray, or go to church, or have my child baptized, or, or, or.   So many possible times that I must make a decision regarding my relationship with what one of my professors, Dr. David Mandelbaum, called “The Transnatural.”

The Transnatural refers to experiences, forces, unexplainable realities that are experienced by peoples around the world. They are often called gods or spirits or demons or other titles, depending on whether they are perceived as positive or negative in their relationship with human life and community. They are beyond our everyday, ordinary understanding of the natural world. Commonly, the term supernatural is assigned to them. However, Professor Mandelbaum suggested that transnatural as a descriptive term takes away the value-laden pre-conceptions with which we look at such experiences when we call them supernatural.

As groups, we also tend to think that our understandings and rules for membership in our community are exclusively ours to determine. But that is not necessarily the case.

Blessedly, whether we are loved and welcomed into God’s family is not determined by our worthiness, our ethnic or racial background, our wealth, our education, our family connections … God is the one who decides, who takes the initiative, who welcomes all.

St. John reports that Jesus told his disciples, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” How does one remain in his love? By keeping his commandments. He doesn’t say by keeping the Law dating from the time of Moses. He says, “my commandment.” And what is that commandment? “Love one another as I love you.” (Jn 15:9-17)

This love is not one of master and servants or slaves. This love includes self-sacrifice on the part of Jesus, the first lover. He calls his followers friends, – trusted friends, friends with whom he shares his deepest thoughts and even fears. He also shares all he brings from his Father.

Who chose whom in the relationship? “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…” And because we have been chosen and sent to bear fruit, we may ask the Father for what is needed and we will receive it.

Will it always be what we expect? No, most certainly not. But not because Jesus lies or because the Father doesn’t keep promises. Not everything we think we need or want will be good for us or others in the long run. And God is in it for the long run with us.

Who gets the first move? God does and did. That first move sets things in motion and God is still a player, a companion in the game, with arguably a better view of the final outcome.

St Peter discovered this reality relatively early after the Resurrection. He was traveling and stopped to rest and have lunch. While he waited, he had a vision and in this vision, a large cloth filled with animals was lowered from the sky. A voice ordered him to eat them. But they included ritually unclean animals. He couldn’t eat them. He would become unclean himself. The cloth with the animals went up and down from the heavens three times. Each time the voice from heaven told him, “What God has purified you are not to call unclean.”

As the visions ended, messengers arrived from Caesarea with a request from Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman cohort there. Cornelius had been told in a vision to send a messenger to Peter and ask him to come visit. Cornelius was known to be a good man, God-fearing and respected by the Jewish community. Peter agreed to visit him.

The next day, they went to the home of Cornelius, who welcomed them warmly. He explained that he too had received a vision, instructing him to invite Peter and listen to his words. At that Peter began to tell him about Jesus and all that had happened. While he was speaking, the Holy Spirit swept through the room, descending on Cornelius and his family, who began to speak in tongues and glorify God. Usually, the Holy Spirit’s presence was seen after new believers had been baptized and hands laid upon them invoking the Spirit. When this happened outside the usual order and without any human intervention, Peter realized that non-Jews could also become believers. God had called them too and loved them equally. Cornelius and his family were baptized then and there and entered the community of believers. (Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48)

Once again, God made the first move.

Many years later, reflecting on all he had seen and experienced, John wrote a letter to some of the communities who were struggling with disagreements about the teachings of the apostles and Christian beliefs. John, in this letter, stressed repeatedly that love originates in God. In fact, “God is love.” So we must love each other. Only in love can we know God and only through love does life come to each of us. We can love because we are loved. We have life because we are loved. God loved us first. God got the first turn in the game and dance we all share. The dance and game of life and love itself. (1Jn 4:7-10)

This week, let’s remember how much we are loved and how Love does not exclude anyone. Some folks may be harder to love than others, but love doesn’t mean ‘like’ or ‘do just as others do.’ Love means to care and wish the best for all. Love means to smile and be patient while waiting in line or for someone else to finish before we get our own turn. Love means opening to the beauty of the day, even as the rain pours down and winds blow. Beauty and love surround us and are the very air we breathe and the atmosphere through which we move. God has the first move. Now we get our turn. It’s a wonderful adventure.

Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Apr 28, 2024

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Chop Wood, Carry Water

An ancient Zen koan came to mind as I read the story of St. Paul’s return to Jerusalem after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. The koan is this:

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

People have been reflecting on this simple statement for centuries. It’s a statement of deep wisdom that we see play out in the lives of many within our own Christian tradition as well.

The man we know today as St. Paul began as a Pharisee named Saul. Saul was a highly educated man, born in the city of Tarsus in Asia Minor, trained as a tent-maker, and educated in Jewish Law in Jerusalem. He was a Roman citizen by birth.

Saul was deeply troubled by the teaching of Peter and the other followers of Jesus after the Resurrection. It was all blasphemy as far as he was concerned. He was the formal witness to the stoning of Stephen, the first of the Christian martyrs, and Saul absolutely approved of Stephen’s sentence. He was not converted by Stephen’s dying witness either. He set out to root out this heresy wherever it was found.

On his way to Damascus, he met Jesus on the road. He was blinded by the encounter and realized he had been totally wrong. Jesus sent him on to Damascus, where he was healed and taught by Ananias about Jesus and the new way of living in faith.

Not one to sit around twiddling his thumbs, Saul began to share what he had learned with the Jewish community in Damascus. His words were so effective that the leaders plotted to kill him. Eventually, he had to be lowered in a hamper from a window in the city wall that opened to the outside, to escape with his life. He returned then to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, the Christian community quite reasonably were afraid of him. This man had persecuted them relentlessly and now he wanted to join them? Not going to fall for that trap, no siree!

But Barnabas befriended him and introduced him to Peter and the other disciples. He explained what he had experienced and his faith in Jesus. He began speaking and teaching about his experience throughout Jerusalem, again arousing opposition.

Rather than let him get killed or spark renewed persecution, the Christian leaders decided to send him out of harm’s way. They took him down to the shore at the port of Caesarea and sent him back to his hometown, Tarsus. There he returned to his original trade, making tents. (Acts 9:26-31)

Before enlightenment, make tents. After enlightenment, make tents.

For the rest of his life, Saul, who came to be called by his Roman name, Paul, made tents. But the story didn’t end with making tents in Tarsus.

Eventually, Saul was called back to Jerusalem by the community’s leaders and commissioned, along with Barnabas, to travel out into the Gentile world of Asia Minor and share the Good News with Jewish communities there and with any others who were open to hear it. Thus began the great work of evangelization of the Gentiles for which St. Paul is known. Much of the Acts of the Apostles tells of Paul’s journeys and the communities he founded. Wherever he went, he taught about Jesus and made tents to help support himself and those who traveled with him.

What about the rest of us?

St. John tells us that one day Jesus told his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” Just as a vine grower prunes the vines regularly so they produce good fruit, so the Father works through the words of Jesus to prune his vines and prepare them to bear fruit. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” In our following of Jesus and living out his words of love and service to each other, we bear fruit for the vine grower. Our lives of loving service, joy, and peace with those we meet throughout our lives will draw others to belief and sharing in God’s life. (Jn 15:1-8)

Along the way, as we grow in faith and trust, we continue to do the everyday things of our vocations. We chop wood and carry water, as it were. When we start out, we may not really understand the importance of everyday activities to a life of faith and service. With God’s grace, we grow in understanding throughout our lives. Sometimes we are blessed with a deep awareness of God’s presence in our lives and activities. We are enlightened to God’s presence in the NOW of our lives. Then the awareness fades as we continue on our journey from one day to the next. We continue to chop wood and carry water.

As John reminded his community many years later, we are to “love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” (1 Jn 3:18-24) Our daily activities, the chopping wood and carrying water of our daily responsibilities, are the place we find God. This is where we come to recognize the Spirit in our lives and trust that all will be well in the end. The wood will have been chopped and the water carried to where it needed to go.

Seasons are changing around the world. For some the warmer, sunnier days of spring and summer are coming. For others, it’s autumn and winter will be here all too soon. Wherever we are, we are called to do the everyday things of our vocations. But we are also called to remember the Lord, to speak to our Father, to seek the presence of the Spirit in those we meet. We cook, clean, bake, grow vegetables, preserve food, share it with others. We go to work or school and share love and friendship with those we meet there. We come together to celebrate Eucharist, to give thanks for all we have received and shared. We chop wood and carry water.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Apr 21, 2024

Help in Time of Need – The Shepherd

Help in Time of Need – The Shepherd

The afternoon was bright and sunny. The ocean was quiet. The breeze was gentle. All was peaceful and calm.

Suddenly, the chickens next door began to squawk and race around their yard. The roosters began to crow at the top of their lungs. The dogs barked up a racket. Something drastic was happening and they were telling the world.

Neighbors wondered if someone had fallen or if there had been some sort of accident to provoke such an uproar. But when they checked, all seemed fine and the animals had quieted again.

Later, the owner of the chickens and dogs explained that he had seen what looked like a badger approaching the house. The animals had responded according to their nature. The chickens were panicked, not having a great number of self-defense options! The dogs had shouted a warning to their owner that a serious problem was needing attention. And with all the uproar, the threatening animal changed plans and went back to the field.

St. John tells us that Jesus spoke of himself as the Good Shepherd. In biblical times, prophets often spoke of the leaders of the people as being their shepherds. This made sense with an historically pastoralist people, who raised sheep and goats and traveled with their animals. Jesus took the idea of shepherd farther than the traditional one of God as the Shepherd of Israel and leaders who failed to obey the Law as bad shepherds. Jesus declared, “I am the Good Shepherd.” In saying this, he was using the same terminology and usage as God had used when he spoke from the burning bush to Moses, “I Am.” This was one of seven times in John’s Gospel that Jesus speaks of himself in divine terms.

Jesus speaks of the role of the Good Shepherd as watching over the sheep and protecting them. Remembering my niece’s comment about sheep being dumb as compared with goats, I find Jesus’ statement even more striking. The Good Shepherd cares about the sheep, even if, and maybe because, they are not the most intelligent animals.  The Good Shepherd will protect the sheep even at risk of his own life. Jesus will give his own life for his sheep. Those who do not own the sheep will not do this. When the wolf (or badger or hawk in the case of the chickens) comes creeping up on the sheep, the hired shepherd might well run away. Wolves are not animals that are easily defeated. They work together in packs and don’t hesitate to go after humans too, if necessary to get the sheep.

When Jesus spoke about being the Good Shepherd, it was expected that only the Hebrew people were of interest to God. God was still a deity of only one relatively small group of people. Outsiders had no place among those to be protected by the shepherd. Jesus, however, did not consider only the Jews to be the sheep loved and protected. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” His mission is big enough to include all peoples. All are to be members of one flock. And all will be included in the salvation gained for them by the good shepherd who dies rather than allowing them to be lost. (Jn 10:11-18)

This was a huge expansion of understanding of the relationship between God and humanity. Through Jesus, God’s love and call extended formally to all. Those who believe and follow him become children of God. (1 Jn 3:1-2)

Because of the close relationship between the shepherd and the sheep, miraculous healings continued after the Resurrection through the actions of the apostles, as signs of Jesus’ power and relationship with the Father in the Trinity. Humans don’t typically have the power to heal with a word or a touch. But Jesus does. (Acts 4:8-12)

Like the owner of the chickens and dogs who faced the badger this past week, Jesus and his followers step up to help those who need extra help. This includes those with little money, those who have health issues, those whose physical safety is threatened, those who must leave their homes to protect themselves and their children, those who learn new skills or do jobs that don’t take advantage of their existing education but allow them to send funds to help their families far away. Thus, many, many people follow the Good Shepherd and do what they can to help and protect the sheep. And the Good Shepherd is there among all of us, his sheep, with all the messiness of our lives, walking with us and helping us along the way.

In this next week, let’s reflect on the ways we experience the protection and love of our Shepherd. Let’s also reflect on how we can share in his mission and help protect others whom we meet in our daily lives.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Apr 6, 2024

Mercy and Faith – Hand in Hand

Mercy and Faith – Hand in Hand

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who was just learning to walk. He was a curious boy and eager to explore his world. He lived in a home in which there were a davenport, a recliner, and a lamp table sitting together in the living room. (A davenport is a piece of furniture also known as a sofa, couch, or Chesterfield, in case you were wondering.) There was a narrow path between the recliner and the lamp table and davenport.

Sometimes, the little boy would be beside the davenport and notice something on the other side of the path between the recliner and the lamp table. The space was just barely wide enough for him to pass through it, but only if he kept perfect balance and didn’t get distracted on his way. So, he would bravely head into what his family came to call Dead Man’s Gulch! Part way through, he would fall and need help getting back up. Someone always came to the rescue and suggested that it might be easier to go around the recliner on the other side. But next time would come around and into the Gulch he would go, with predictable results.

This child’s experience came to mind today as I was reflecting on Divine Mercy, the theme of the Second Sunday of Easter. We often think of mercy as something that is given to those who merit it. By this logic, there are people who do not merit it at all. We look at what has been done and say that some things are simply unforgivable. Each of us has our own sense of what could never be forgiven, however. We look at whether the person harmed “had it coming” because of something they did or did not do. We look at whether the guilty party thought about and planned the action or whether it took place in a moment of blinding anger. Or maybe it wasn’t planned and was really just an accident that things happened the way they did?

But this is really not the way mercy works when we talk about God. We hear words in many readings and psalms to the effect that God judges and punishes sinners. We hear that God abandons the people when they break the covenant, but eventually God’s heart is softened and he again supports and defends his people, once they turn back to him.

That’s the way humans play the game. However, when we read those words, it’s essential to realize that they are the way humans interpret what is going on. It’s not necessarily the way God actually does things.

I suggest that God is actually more like the adults who helped the toddler up each time he crashed in the Gulch. The child was soothed and comforted, then the adult pointed out that it might be easier next time to go around the chair. Of course, it took a long time for the child to realize the adults might be right about that. In fact, it basically took until he got too big to get through the Gulch (or the adults moved the chair closer to the table so the passageway really was too thin).

We try things out. We act out of anger or frustration or despair or any number of other negative emotions. We decide not to act when we should. We act or speak when we shouldn’t. And God allows it to happen. We are free persons, with the option to choose what we will do and to do things wrongly, whether deliberately or accidentally. Either way, we have to experience the consequences – we crash in Dead Man’s Gulch. But God is there to help us get back up and try again.

The early Christian community experienced this first hand on the night of the Resurrection. The women had reported that Jesus had risen. Peter and John had seen the empty tomb. It was too much to believe. Then Jesus appeared in the locked room where they were all hiding. He showed them his wounded hands and feet. He asked for something to eat. They could see for themselves that he was not a ghost and they rejoiced. Then he spoke to them of mercy. He breathed the Spirit, the Holy Breath of God on them and promised that whatever wrongdoing (sin) they forgave would be forgiven by the Father. If they refused forgiveness, it would not be given.

Thomas needed more convincing, since he missed the first visit. Jesus came personally to Thomas as well and provided the proof he had demanded. He spoke those words of blessing for all of us who have followed afterwards, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:9-31)

The years following the resurrection have been filled with the efforts of the community to live as Jesus lived – trusting in God to provide what was needed, helping each other, serving those unable to fend for themselves, loving and forgiving each other, seeking to give glory to God through their lives, and trying to be a loving, merciful people. (Acts 4:32-35 and 1 Jn 5:1-6)

Sometimes the community has been a beacon of mercy. Sometimes we have missed the mark and become sources of scandal. For this we beg forgiveness and try to make amends. It’s not an easy thing to love as God loves. But it is essential to try. No one is at base unfit to be forgiven, because each of us is still the toddler trying to find the way through Dead Man’s Gulch. God is the parent who is there to pick us up, dust us off, give us a hug, and remind us to try going around the chair next time.

Faith and mercy go hand in hand. When we believe that we are loved and that anything can be forgiven, as long as we too forgive, then the kingdom of Heaven shines forth on Earth through our lives and actions. God’s justice is mercy. Ours must become so too.

Happy Easter. Christ is Risen. Alleluia.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Easter – Sunday of Divine Mercy – Cycle B

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Posted by on Mar 30, 2024

How Do We Remember?

How Do We Remember?

Memory is a tricky thing. As we go through life, we experience so many things that it would be overwhelming if we were aware of all of them at every second of every day. Good things, hard things, sad things, short-time things, long-term things.

When things happen that are particularly memorable or important, we think we’ll never forget them. But we do forget details. And our memories reflect what we found most important about the events. Have you ever told a story to someone else about a past event and had a partner or friend who was there and an active participant in the event tell a very different story or correct your version? The older we get, the more frequently it happens, I think.

Part of what happens is that our minds process information based on our experiences and our past history. The explanatory systems of our culture and our society, the ways we explain why things happen and how it all came to be, also shape the way our experiences are processed. Over time, memories of the everyday sort begin to be just one of so many stored in the “card catalog” of our internal mental libraries – there for the finding again, but maybe a bit aged, torn, or tattered.

I started thinking about memories this year during the Holy Thursday liturgy as we heard the story of the first Passover and St. Paul’s description of how Eucharist was celebrated in the first Christian communities. These events took place thousands of years ago! Yet we still remember and celebrate them. More amazingly, we celebrate them in a way very close to what was originally described.

Moving through the rest of the week, we hear more of the story of God’s work in bringing about reconciliation between humanity and himself. The words of prophets calling the community to care for the least capable people among us. The praise of those who are faithful to their mission despite being mistreated, abused, and even killed. The retelling of the ancient stories of creation, the covenant with Abraham, the crossing of the Red Sea. Descriptions of the Last Supper, Jesus’ agonized prayer in the garden before his arrest, his trial, execution, and burial. The wonder of the Resurrection, first discovered by women from the community who were his followers. The reflections of that community on what happened in the life of Jesus and the tremendous surprise of the Resurrection. Nobody expected such an outcome! There were no precedents on which to draw for explanation.

How would it all be passed on to a wider group of people? It was too important to be kept a secret, though in the first weeks no one spoke publicly about it. That would have been too dangerous. With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they were emboldened to speak publicly and so the world has come to know the wonders they witnessed.

The memories written down in the Gospels and Passion narratives are very similar, but they too were written by different people in different places and for different audiences. So, some of the details differ. The basics remain the same, however. The event happened and in more or less the same way described in each account.

Then how do these differ from other ancient stories such as the Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and others? Why are they still remembered and actively celebrated in a way similar to the ancient ways?

Perhaps there are a few things that have made it possible. The first that comes to mind is the fact that these events happened in a community which had a history of remembering and reenacting ancient events. The Lord told the people that first Passover that the date on which it happened originally was to be the first day of the new year for them. It was to be celebrated the same way each year. And so it happened. Even to our day, at Passover, families and friends gather to celebrate this saving act of the Most High. Out of this celebration, the Christian community drew their remembrance, because Jesus gave the same kind of instructions to his friends when they gathered for the dinner. “Do this in remembrance of me.” This line is repeated each time we gather for Eucharist. Because the Resurrection took place on the first day of the week, Sunday on our calendar, it was seen as the beginning of a new reality in creation.

Another factor that has played into the continuation of this wonder is the fact that it involves more than just words. We pray actively – sitting, listening, standing, moving around the room, singing, eating, and drinking. We bring all of our senses into the experience, so we learn it deeply in our very being. The tastes, the smells, the sights and sounds – all are incorporated into our memories of the experience. Do we remember each specific time we have celebrated Eucharist? No. But we remember it as part of the rhythm of our lives and remember at least some details of the times that were out of the ordinary.

Perhaps one of the most important factors is that there is no time in Eternity. God’s time is totally separate from ours. God’s time is all Now, the present. From this comes the ancient Hebrew understanding that “Our ancestors crossed the Red Sea and our feet are wet.” When we celebrate Eucharist, the same thing happens. We are present with the apostles at that table with Jesus. We receive the same gift from him that was given to his closest friends. We are part of that community of “closest friends.”

And so, in the words of a lovely hymn, “We remember how you loved us to your death and still we celebrate for you are with us here. And we believe that we will see you, when you come in your glory, Lord. We remember, we celebrate, we believe.”

Happy Easter!

Readings for Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper – Cycle B

Readings for Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion – Cycle B

Readings for Easter Vigil – Cycle B

Readings for Easter Sunday – Cycle B

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Posted by on Mar 24, 2024

Hosanna – Please Save Us

Hosanna – Please Save Us

It’s funny how we can live for many years and hear a word over and over without really knowing what it originally meant. I discovered this yet again as I was looking over the readings for Palm Sunday. Words in scripture have very specific meanings that sometimes differ from our usage of them today. We repeat them day after day, week after week, year after year. And what we may think we are saying is not necessarily what the original words meant to those who first said them.

Hosanna is one of those words. In a Christian context, it has come to mean praise, adoration, joy. As a noun, it refers to these same feelings. Words of praise for a wonderful musical performance can be described as hosannas, for example.

Yet the original definition of the word is different. In Hebrew, hosanna is a word that means “save us, please,” or “help.” It is used in prayer as part of the liturgy for Sukkot, the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles.

On Palm Sunday, we enter into Holy Week, the culmination of our Lenten Journey. We begin our “deep dive” into the mystery of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

It all started with a ride on a colt – a young donkey or horse. One that had never before been ridden. It was Passover time and Jerusalem was full of people who had come to town to celebrate the great feast. It was rather like the crowds that gather in Rome for Easter in our times. Jesus was also planning to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. He had arrived with his followers at the home of friends in a nearby town.

As he typically did, he planned to go into the city. But this time he did not plan to slip quietly into town to pray. All four Gospels tell of this day. He sent his disciples into town to find a colt on which he would ride. They put cloaks on the colt and Jesus rode on it. When people saw him coming, or heard that he was coming, they raced out to see the sight.

Now, this was somewhat like the entry of a conquering hero, a military leader, except he wasn’t mounted on a great war horse, he was quietly riding a colt. The prophet Zechariah had said that the king, the savior, would come mounted on a colt. People came out to see him coming. They put cloaks across the road and waved tree branches, palm branches, in his honor, just as had happened in ancient times with the arrival of a king.

And what did the crowds of people cry out? “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” In essence they were saying: Help us, you who are coming in the name – the authority and power – of the Lord, our God, true King of Israel! (Mk 11:1-10 or Jn 12:12-16))

That’s pretty powerful stuff.

Most of the folks calling out for Jesus to help them expected that he would be a military hero who could defeat the Romans and restore the Kingdom of Israel. The Messiah, the Anointed One, was expected to do that. But that was not to be. It was not the way the Lord works.

The readings continue the story for us. Jesus entered the city. He continued teaching and interacting with the authorities. But that’s not what we hear in the readings this day. Today we hear of the sufferings of a Servant of the Lord whose words were not welcomed by those in power. This person whose cry we hear holds fast to hope in the Lord. “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” (Is 50:4-7)

We hear the prayer in Psalm 22 of another who suffered greatly for faithfulness to the Lord’s call. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Jesus himself prayed this prayer as he hung dying on the cross. It sounds hopeless, until you come to its magnificently hopeful and glorious end. “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you … Give glory to him; revere him all you descendants of Israel!”

Another hymn reminds the Philippians and all of us that Jesus, the Christ, did not choose to remain aloof from us as God but rather became one of us. He lived a totally human life and suffered a tortured, disgraced death. Yet in entering so deeply into human life and suffering, without returning evil for evil, he transformed it for all of us. (Phil 2:6-11)

Finally, we hear the story of Jesus’ last few days. We learn of the plots against him. We hear of the gift of anointing given him by a woman who visited the home of his friends in Bethany. We shake our heads at the actions of Judas Iscariot, who agreed to hand over his friend to the authorities. And then we hear of that Last Supper in which Jesus gave us the bread and wine of the New Covenant, one that would not require animal sacrifice. (Mk 14:1-15:47)

As we listen to these words and enter once again into the mystery, may we take time to ponder the lessons of these stories.

The people there and we here today pray: Hosanna – Help us, please save us, You who come in the Name of the Lord.

We all need help on our journey. Jesus opened the door to reconciliation with our Father. He also helps us along the way.

Readings for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

 

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Posted by on Mar 22, 2024

A New Covenant – Written on Our Hearts

A New Covenant – Written on Our Hearts

The story of the relationship between God and humans is told beginning in the Hebrew Scriptures, with the creation myths of the Hebrew people. We learn of the creation, from two different perspectives, each intended to answer specific questions that had arisen in the course of the years. We hear of the covenant between Abraham and God, in which it became known that God is not a local god, limited to one place and time. We learn of the continuation of that covenant through Isaac and Jacob and their descendants.

Following the time in Egypt, when the people were led out into the desert by  Moses to offer sacrifice to God and move to a new land and life as free people again, Moses took them to the mountain on which he had first encountered God, Mt Sinai. There the covenant, the Law by which the people were to live, was inscribed on stone tablets. The tablets were kept in a special tent that was taken with the people wherever they went.

Eventually, in the time of King Solomon, a temple was built in Jerusalem. The tablets of the Law were carefully placed in the center of the building, the Holy of Holies. This area of the temple was kept apart from ordinary people. Only a select few priests were allowed to enter to offer sacrifice and prayers there.

By the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the Covenant had been broken many times by the people and their leaders. God was always faithful and kept sending prophets to call people back to faithfulness. There were times when enemies prevailed and times when the people were victorious over their enemies.

Jeremiah was a prophet during the time when the Babylonians were the most powerful empire. The northern kingdoms of Israel had long since been conquered. The southern ones, Juda and Benjamin, were semi-independent yet, but trouble was brewing. Jeremiah kept warning the leaders and people that if they did not reform their lives, God would allow them to be conquered. He met with unrelenting opposition and as predicted, the Babylonians came in force, destroyed the temple, and took the leaders and many of the people into exile in Babylon. They remained there for 70 years, until Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon and returned those who had been taken into exile and their descendants to their homeland. (Jer 31:31-34)

Jeremiah’s words promise a new kind of covenant.

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people… All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD.”

How can this be? It’s a pretty drastic step on God’s part to assume that people will be able to hold the law of the Lord in their hearts and that all will know him.

I would like to suggest that it’s something that takes many years to learn, but that is planted at the very beginnings of our lives. We come to our parents as helpless infants. We have normal bodily functions, assuming we are healthy, but we can’t eat or drink or anything else unless someone else provides for us. We cry out for attention, help, comfort. But unless someone hears and comes to us, we will simply cry until we are exhausted. We may eventually even give up hope and die.

It is in the giving and receiving of love that we learn God’s law, which Jesus summarized as, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind … and … You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22: 37-39)

We can only love if we have first experienced love. When we don’t get the love we need, it takes much longer to learn to love. We have to be healed with loving patience first.

But we are born to love and be loved, not necessarily in that order. What is learned in the depths of our hearts will always be stronger than anything written on a stone, or on a clay tablet, or in a book, or on the internet! What is written on our hearts lasts through time.

As we move towards Holy Week and the end of our Lenten journey, may we be open to receive the healing love of our God each day, and to pass it on to those we meet on our journey. As this happens, we come to experience the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophetic words. The covenant will be written on our hearts and all will know the Lord.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

 

 

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Posted by on Mar 10, 2024

Gifts From God for All to See

Gifts From God for All to See

The readings for Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, bring word of God’s love and mercy through the centuries and in our lifetime as well.

The story begins in the generations before the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The people and their leaders were repeatedly unfaithful to the covenant with the Lord. They worshiped the gods of neighboring peoples, even daring to do so in the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. God sent messengers, prophets, to them, calling them to return to faithfulness to the covenant, but their message was not well received. Many were mocked, imprisoned, or killed for their efforts. Finally, when the Babylonians came and conquered Israel, the Temple was destroyed and most of the people, including their leaders, were taken to work as slaves in Babylon. It seemed like the end of the world. Where was God? Why had God abandoned them?

For seventy years, we are told, the land of Israel rested, retrieving “its lost sabbaths,” according to the prophet Jeremiah. And then a miracle happened. A new king, Cyrus, became the ruler of the next kingdom to the east of Babylon, the kingdom of Persia – the land we now know as Iran. Cyrus conquered Babylon (present day Iraq). He issued a spoken and written proclamation ordering that “the Lord, the God of heaven,” had instructed him to build a house for him in Jerusalem and to allow the Lord’s people to return to their homes in Israel.

And so the people returned, the Temple was rebuilt, and life resumed in Israel. God’s mercy brought them home. (2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23)

The theme of mercy and light in the darkness continues through the rest of the readings. Nicodemus, a pharisee and teacher of the law visited Jesus at night, wanting to understand more about him and his teachings. He was puzzled when Jesus spoke of being born again of water and Spirit. It was all very confusing, especially when Jesus spoke of the Son of Man who would be lifted up as Moses lifted the serpent in the desert, to bring healing to the people.

Jesus promised Nicodemus and all of us that God loves us so much that he sent his Son to us, to give us eternal life. Again, the message is of mercy. Light has come into the world, attracting those who live the truth and whose actions can be seen as done in God. (Jn 3:14-21)

St. Paul explains to the people of Ephesus that God’s mercy, flowing out of his great love for us moves us beyond the realm of sin and into the world of his own life, risen with Christ. Grace, this share in God’s life, is a gift from God, allowing us to see and live in his presence. We are God’s handiwork, created to do good in our world through Christ. (Eph 2:4-10)

God works in many ways, in many times. We open our eyes and see his mercy and love through the centuries – generation after generation.

May we open our eyes and ears to see and hear God’s presence in our own lives this week. The One who has loved humans through all of history loves each of us too. Truly this good news is a reason for rejoicing. Laetare – Rejoice.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent – Cycle B

 

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Posted by on Mar 3, 2024

Three-legged Stool – Law, Temple & God

Three-legged Stool – Law, Temple & God

None of us is a solitary individual, never touched or influenced by any other person. We are born into families and communities with stories and traditions that stretch back centuries and will continue long after we die. We grow up within these families, sharing the history of their joys and sorrows, learning from the mistakes others have made, sometimes being wounded by those whose own painful experiences have not yet healed. The insights and blessings received by those who raise us and grow up with us also become rooted deep within our being. We share an adventure of life in a specific time and place.

Jesus also was born and grew up in a family and culture. He was as helpless as any other baby boy when he entered his parents’ lives. He learned from them and his extended family. As did all boys, he learned a trade and he learned what it is to be a man of faith within his Jewish tradition. He studied the Law. He worshiped at the Temple with his family. And he prayed the Shema daily – “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One.” (Dt 6:4) The Law formed the basis for interpersonal relationships and for one’s relationship with the Lord.

The Law was given to the Israelites following their time in Egypt and escape into the desert in the Exodus. God gave a series of commandments to Moses by which the people were to be governed – a way of living. We tend to think of the Law as the Ten Commandments only. But those brief statements are simply a summation of a much more extensive set of rules and expectations for behavior within the community. (Ex 20:1-17)

The Temple came along later. The tablets of the Law were carried in a special container and kept in a special tent while they traveled to the Promised Land. Once there, they remained in their tent until King Solomon built the Temple. It was destroyed and rebuilt at least once before the time of Jesus. The final destruction of the Temple happened after his death and resurrection.

This combination of the Law, the Temple, and belief in One God was the bedrock of Jesus’ life. God cared about the people enough to give them rules by which to live together in peace. Prayer and rest were built into each day.

When Jesus  went to Jerusalem shortly after his first miracle at Cana in Galilee, he entered the Temple and was appalled by the ways it had been turned into a marketplace. In the outer areas, there were many animals for sale, so people could buy them to be offered as sacrifices inside the Temple. This was still a time in which animals were killed sacrificially. For a people who were historically shepherds, the animals were a form of wealth. As times changed and more people lived in towns, animals were still sacrificed, but the people had to buy them rather than raise them. Hence the marketplace of animals in the outer areas of the Temple.

Jesus chased the animals and people selling them out of the temple. He upset the tables of those whose profession was to take regular money from people and exchange it for money that could be used to buy the animals for sacrifice. (It was a lucrative trade.)

Needless to say, the authorities were not amused. They asked him what he thought he was doing! By what authority was he acting? “What sign can you show us for doing this?”

Jesus responded, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” St. John tells us that Jesus was speaking of his coming resurrection from the dead. (John’s Gospel presents Jesus as in charge of his life and his fate, knowing what he is doing pretty much from the start.) The authorities heard this statement as a claim that he could destroy and rebuild the physical temple in three days – something that was clearly impossible, the words of an imposter. But many people who heard his preaching and saw the signs he was working in Jerusalem began to believe in his power and authority.

Later, after the resurrection, the disciples remembered Jesus’ words and the sign he had promised they would see. (Jn 2:13-25)

For Jews, signs were important for justifying an action. For Greeks, wisdom and logic were more important. St. Paul reflects on this. God does not act in ways we would consider logical or wise. The signs God uses are not those of success or wealth. Strength is not the basis of God’s wisdom and power. God’s actions in loving and forgiving and giving himself over to experience all of the hardship and pain that can come along with human life seem totally foolish. But they are the source of our hope. This God who is One and is not like the multiple warring, scheming gods of other peoples, is the One who loves each of us. (1 Cor 1:22-25)

We remember the Law, the rules for living together in peace that Jesus passed on to us as well, and our need to pray, to spend time listening and speaking with God. And we remember and rejoice in our One God who became one of us. We too have a three-legged stool on which we can rest and grow closer to each other on our journey home to God our Father.

As we continue to journey through Lent, let us rejoice in the support we have been given and trust that in our times of weakness, our God is there to support us and transform all that happens in our lives into a blessing.

Readings for the Third Sunday of Lent – Cycle B

 

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