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Posted by on Jun 5, 2022

Filled with the Holy Breath of God – Sharing the Good News

Filled with the Holy Breath of God – Sharing the Good News

Fifty days after the celebration of Passover, Jews celebrate another great festival, Shavuot. Shavuot is a celebration both of the early summer harvest (in more southerly climes) and the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai in the early days of the 40 years the people traveled in the desert following the Exodus and before their entry into Palestine.

The first reading for Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after Easter, describes an event that forever changed the lives of Jesus’ followers. They had been staying together as instructed, spending time at the temple in prayer, and waiting to see what would happen next. It had been a pretty amazing set of weeks since the Resurrection. When would they see Jesus again?

That morning, as they were gathered for prayer together, they heard what sounded like a strong wind blowing. It filled the whole house. Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire that separated and rested on each of them. “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

The Holy Spirit – the holy Breath of God – came to each of these men and women who were close friends and family of Jesus. They experienced the love and joy with which God holds each one of us in this moment of deep union. The Holy Breath of God breathed in them, surrounded them, and set their hearts on fire with love.

Sometimes these experiences of the presence of God are very quiet and not externally obvious to other people. But this was not one of those times. The noise was noticed by people outside the building. A crowd began to gather. There were people in town for the festival of Shavuot from all over the known world. It was one of three annual celebrations that brought visitors to Jerusalem for prayer and celebration every year. But this was something different. What was the noise all about?

Then something even more astounding was noticed. These uneducated Galileans were speaking and each person could understand what was being said. There were no spontaneous translators. There was no need for translators. The words spoken by Jesus’ friends were heard in the language of the people who listened to them in the crowd. What words were they hearing? They were hearing “of the mighty acts of God.”

The reading from Acts for this Sunday stops at this point. But take a little time and read more on your own. You will hear about Peter speaking to the crowd, pointing out that it’s too early in the day for them all to be drunk. What the crowd is hearing is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy about the coming of the promised one. Peter shares the good news of Jesus’ coming as Messiah, of his death and resurrection, of the new life promised to all. Many people believed what Peter told them and asked to become a follower of Jesus too.

There is a story in the early Hebrew Scriptures that is meant to explain how it came to be that there are so many peoples and languages on Earth (Gn 11:1-9). In this story, all humans spoke the same language and could understand each other. But they got too confident in their own ideas and ways. They decided to build a tower to the heavens so they could never be scattered. The Lord saw what they were doing and intervened, making them unable to understand each other’s words. Without a common language, they scattered to all parts of the world. The tower is known as the Tower of Babel.

The events of Pentecost were in direct contrast to what had happened at the Tower of Babel. Now peoples from all over the world understood the words spoken to them. It was not necessary for all of them to become one again. God came to them and met them where they were and loved them as they were. For this to happen at the time of remembrance of the gift of the Law, the Torah, is especially noteworthy. The Torah was/is the guide for living a life pleasing to the Most High. And now, the Holy Breath of the Most High is breathed out into peoples from all over the world, speaking many different languages, and living in many different ways.

All are one in sharing the love of the Father. And all can be different in the gifts and perspectives they bring to the community. God is Father to peoples of many lands. It’s not necessary for all to be identical.

The other readings explore aspects of this reality. There are two options for both the Epistle and the Gospel readings. St. Paul writes to the people of Corinth (1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13) about the variety of gifts given by the Spirit within the community. He notes, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Regardless of our background, we are all part of the same body and share in the one Breath of God as source of our life.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul contrasts the status of those who live only according to ordinary human ways with those who live in union with and according to the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead. Without the presence of the Spirit, there is no hope for the deeper life and freedom of the adopted children of God. It is the Spirit, the Holy Breath of God, who bears witness to this and makes it possible for us to call God “Abba, Father” (or as we might say it, Dad).

Usually, the Gospel reading follows directly after the second reading, but on Pentecost Sunday, there is another prayer, the Pentecost Sequence, which traditionally has been sung. “Veni  Sancte Spiritus” Come, Holy Spirit, come! With this song we ask the Spirit to come into our lives too, with all the gifts and fruits of faith, hope, love, peace, joy, and richness that a life of faith includes. As we open our hearts to receive these gifts, we grow in faith. Our own individual gifts deepen and we know the joy of being loved by God.

The two options for the Gospel both come from St. John. The first option tells of Jesus’ visit to his friends on the evening of the Resurrection (Jn 20:19-23). After greeting them and showing them his wounded hands and side, he wishes them Peace and tells them he is sending them now as the Father sent him. He breathes on them, giving them the Holy Spirit (Holy Breath), to bring forgiveness of sin to those whom they meet.

The other option comes from a section of Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper ( 14:15-16, 23b-26). Jesus promises to ask the Father to send another Advocate to remain with them forever. This Advocate will be the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in the name (power, authority) of Jesus. When the Advocate comes, he will teach Jesus’ followers everything and remind them of what Jesus has told them.

Again, the Holy Spirit comes to enlighten the minds and hearts of the followers of Jesus. He doesn’t come to make everyone identical. He doesn’t expect everyone to do exactly the same thing or to think exactly the same things. What he will enable is for these many people to share their gifts and talents in love with the rest of God’s people in our world.

We celebrate the time of the Spirit at Pentecost. God lives within us now, breathing life and love into our daily activities. Teaching us new things as new situations and understandings of how creation works come to light, God does not expect us to remain frozen in time at some ancient date. We live and learn of the wonders of creation and of God’s presence in each person.

Come, Holy Breath of God. Fill our lives with your presence and open our eyes to see you in all the wonders of your world and the people with whom we share it.

May this day be filled with joy as you celebrate with your families and communities this great gift.

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Posted by on May 29, 2022

A New Act Begins – The Ascension

A New Act Begins – The Ascension

Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead, another milestone event occurred – he ascended to his Father, to heaven. We celebrate this event today – the Solemnity of the Ascension.

Historically, the Ascension occurred on the 40th day after the Resurrection. That would have been a Thursday. Until recently, it was celebrated on a Thursday, Ascension Thursday! It was a holy day of obligation (when everybody was supposed to attend Mass) and we had a school holiday to celebrate it. However, our modern way of life and secular society model in the United States didn’t recognize this religious feast as a reason to cancel ordinary activities, so relatively few people were easily able to gather for Mass. The decision was made to move the feast to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, the one just before Pentecost. This is where we have arrived this weekend.

Two of our readings this day tell the story of the Ascension. We begin with the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, written in around 75 A.D. “In the first book, Theophilus …” St. Luke addressed both of his account of the life of Jesus and that of the early church to Theophilus. The name Theophilus means “God’s friend.” It is equally important to remember that as we are God’s friends, it is also addressed to us.

A time period of 40 days, weeks, months, or years is also important in the Bible. Many things happened in 40 days or years, including the great flood during Noah’s time, the 40 years of traveling in the desert between Egypt and Palestine after the Exodus, the 40 days of Jesus’ fasting in the desert between his baptism and the beginning of his public ministry. This is a time of preparation for something that will be different, something better and long promised or awaited. Something new.

Jesus appeared many times to his friends during the 40 days following the Resurrection. He simply appeared in their midst. He didn’t come and go, knocking on doors and waiting for someone to let him in. The door was locked, but he was suddenly there among them. Then, just as suddenly, he was gone. They met him in the garden. They met him on the road to Emmaus. He joined them in the locked upper room where he had eaten that last supper with them. They met him at the seashore in Galilee.

The last time they met, he told them to remain together in Jerusalem and wait for the “promise of the Father” when they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (The word baptize means to be plunged into something.) Clueless as ever, the disciples asked Jesus when he planned to restore the kingdom to Israel. When would Israel again become an independent and mighty world power?

Jesus sidestepped the question of restoration of an earthly kingdom and spoke of the more important kingdom, that of the Father. “It is not for you to know the times or seasons…” The promise for which they are to wait is the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will empower them to become Jesus’ witnesses in all the land, even to “the ends of the earth.”

Once again, Jesus is taken from their sight after these words. This time, he is lifted up and a cloud “took him from their sight.” Many images show him standing on a cloud as if on an elevator arising into the sky. The text doesn’t tell us how it happened. Just that it happened. Two men dressed in white clothing appeared among them and promised that Jesus would one day return in the same way they had seen him leave. These words have been the basis for other images of the Second Coming which depict a victorious Jesus returning to Earth for a final judgement. They also led the early Christian communities to expect a relatively rapid return of Jesus and the end of days. After all, he had been coming and going a lot during the preceding 40 days!

St. Luke’s Gospel (24:46-53) tells of the same event, in a more compact manner. Luke tells us that after Jesus had blessed his friends and been taken up to heaven, they “did him homage” and then returned rejoicing to Jerusalem. There they spent their days in the temple praising God.

Two options are offered for the second reading on the Feast of the Ascension. Each is lovely in and of itself. Parishes have a choice which to include in the day’s liturgy. Here a few thoughts about each.

The reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:17-23) is a lovely prayer of blessing that comes at the beginning of a letter which very well might have been written for sharing with several of the early Christian communities founded by Paul. According to tradition, it was written while he was a prisoner in Rome.

Paul asks that God give the many gifts of the Spirit to Christians who receive these greetings he is sending. “A Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.” He asks that our eyes be enlightened to see and hope in the great riches of glory offered and promised to those who believe.

This is a beautiful statement of the wonders of God’s identity and promise of blessing in and through our lives of faith. All is possible because of the great might he worked in Christ, raising him from death and placing him as head over all of creation. Christ is the head and his body is the church – all of us in the community of Christians.

What an amazing vision and blessing for all of us!

The second possible reading is from the letter to the Hebrews (9:24-28, 10:19-23). In this reading the focus is on Jesus’ role as the high priest who offered the sacrifice that could bring final reconciliation and healing of the rift between God and all humanity. This sacrifice does not ever have to be re-done. It was a one-and-done event, unlike the annual sacrifice offered by the high priest once each year at the temple in Jerusalem.

No matter how badly we mess up, no one has to be sacrificed again to reconcile us with God. All we need to do is turn back to God in confidence that his love and forgiveness are unchanging. God’s promise is trustworthy.

Also an amazing blessing.

We know that the Second Coming didn’t happen right away. But the coming of the Holy Spirit did. Ten days later, on the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with a sound like a mighty wind and tongues as of fire. Their hearts and minds were fired with the experience of the Spirit of God, the Holy Breath of God. And a new act in salvation history began. The public witness and sharing of the Good News of Salvation burst onto the world scene, beginning in Jerusalem

Today, however, we celebrate the promise. We anticipate the mystery to come. We recognize the puzzlement of the disciples, who really had no clue what was happening or why. We rejoice in the promise and blessing of the Holy Spirit living among us and of the great honor and gift of being part of Christ’s body.

So, how to celebrate? This is an important feast. Important enough for it to be moved from its usual spot to a Sunday, so we can take time to enjoy it.

Food traditions can be fun. Some ideas I’ve come across are in our Theologika website here: https://theologika.net/ofs-other-fun-stuff/feast-of-the-ascension/

I like to make orange meringue pie. Just use a regular lemon meringue pie recipe, but substitute orange juice. It doesn’t need quite as much sugar as a lemon one does and has a lovely flavor. I might just do that this year!

What will you do?

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to celebrate this day. Pray today and during the coming week for the Holy Spirit to come into your life in a special way as well. This is a time to open our hearts ever more deeply to receive Love. And next week, set aside time for Pentecost… Amazing things can happen!

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Posted by on May 22, 2022

A Guide into the Future – The Holy Spirit is With Us

A Guide into the Future – The Holy Spirit is With Us

“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us …” (Acts 15:28)

Members of the early Christian community did not have everything figured out and standardized from the beginning. It’s important for us who look back from two thousand years later to remember this. These were a bunch of fishermen, farmers, tradesmen and women, and even some educated people like Paul. They had a message of amazing good news to share with the world. They had witnessed the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They had come to believe in him as their Lord, a title reserved for God. But they were not in agreement on many other things that popped up in the years after the resurrection.

The first reading for the Sixth Sunday of Easter presents an example of one such disagreement that had to be resolved. The reading does not include the entire story of what happened, so here’s a quick summary.

Paul and Barnabas have just completed their first missionary journey in Asia Minor and returned to Antioch in Syria when this reading begins. Their message was mostly rejected by the Jews to whom they first presented it in these lands, but enthusiastically received by many non-Jews. These Gentiles had been welcomed into the Christian community by Paul and Barnabas, who returned to Antioch in Syria with reports of the wonders God was doing among the Gentiles.

Rather than welcome this news wholeheartedly, some members of the community wanted to put extra conditions on admission to membership – first the Gentiles must become Jews in order to be worthy of admission to the new community. Paul and Barnabas rejected this notion and went south to Jerusalem. (The text says they went up to Jerusalem, because that city was located in a mountainous region in the south.)

In Jerusalem, they consulted with the apostles and other elders of the community. The community was not in agreement on the subject. Some argued that only those who were Jewish could be saved, so converts must become Jews and live by Jewish laws. Others argued that becoming Jews was not necessary. Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. Peter spoke to the community about his experience as the one who baptized the first Gentiles, the family of Cornelius, a Roman centurion in Caesarea. When the Spirit of the Lord came upon Cornelius and his family before they were even baptized, Peter realized baptism could not be denied them based on being Gentiles. He reminded the community of this event and asked why anyone would think other Gentiles should be treated differently.

Finally, after much conversation, debate, and prayer, the community reached an agreement. Gentiles did not need to become Jews in order to be Christians. They needed to “abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.” The community sent two of its members to accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch in Syria with the good news for the new Gentile Christians. (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29)

In this early example, we see the importance of several things in the decision-making of the early Christian community. These include consultation with the leadership, conversation among the members regarding the difference of opinion, reliance on the Holy Spirit to provide insight and guidance in selecting the correct path, and willingness to change accustomed patterns of thinking and acting when situations change and new opportunities open. In presenting their decision, the leaders in Jerusalem made it clear that it was not just their opinion, but that it was the decision of the Holy Spirit that was leading to this major change in an ancient practice.

Jesus, in his final teaching to his apostles the night before he died, made clear that not all would be easy to understand (Jn 14:23-29). He knew that unexpected things would happen in their future. He promised the Father would send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to be their guide and remind them of his teachings. They were to follow Jesus’ teaching, his word. In doing this, they would be keeping the word of the Father. Jesus and the Father would come to live within those who keep his word. He promised to give them peace, a deeper peace than any the world can give.

The disciples held on to this promise. Even after Pentecost, as they were fired with faith and courage to go out and share the good news, they counted on the guidance of the Spirit when difficulties arose. During times of persecution and as the years passed and Jesus didn’t return in glory during their lifetimes, this remained a constant.

The reading from the Book of Revelation (21:10-14, 22-23), written long after the events of the other readings, offers a symbolic view of the Church, the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven from God. This city gleams and is radiant with God’s splendor. Its features include twelve gates and twelve foundation stones. The gates, guarded by angels, are named for the twelve tribes of Israel – the chosen people of God who will come from all four directions to this new city. The foundation stones are named after the apostles, upon whose experience and faith the Christian community would stand. But there is no temple building within this new city. The Lord God is the temple himself, lighted by his glory. The Lamb is the lamp through which that light shines.

The presence of God in the Church, the new Jerusalem, the people of God, is the source of all that is to be and the foundation on which the life of the community is built.

We as a Church community have come through a time of great transition in our lifetimes and are seeing new pathways and new understandings of our relationships with each other and with God. It’s been a relatively short time since the Second Vatican Council and the development of the reforms and revised understandings of our relationship with God and the world that it brought. Conflicts among us remain. There is still much to do as we explore the ramifications of the insights of the Council, insights that surprised even those who participated. The Holy Spirit was at work, bringing/calling the Church once again into a newer and deeper presence in our world.

Will we be as brave as those first Christians were in hearing and accepting the guidance of the Spirit? Our world has seen major changes since the early days of the Church and the days of the Council. How have we changed. What have we learned? What areas need our attention and healing now?

We are currently in the process of the first Synod that has ever asked the opinions of lay people about the future of the Church – who we are, what we are called to be, how we are to live in our world. How will we respond as the Spirit speaks through ordinary women and men? Will we trust the Spirit? Are we open to change? Will we follow where the Spirit leads, believing the One who has loved and led us for so long will continue to be there for us too? Will we recognize and accept the peace of the Lord in our lives? The early Church community met, prayed, and discussed changes needed. The Church today continues the same tradition of Synodality. Where will the Spirit next lead us?

“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us …”

Come Holy Spirit!

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Posted by on May 15, 2022

Glory – One Step at a Time

Glory – One Step at a Time

I have long been fascinated by the term “glory.” It’s a word often heard in the Bible, but just what does it mean? What is the Glory of the Lord? What does it mean if something or someone is glorified? Are there different types of glory? Does a phrase like “Give glory to God” mean to offer praise in words like “Praise God” or “Thank Heavens?”  Or does it mean something else?

It’s a word that has many dimensions. Dictionary definitions include abundance, wealth, honor, treasure, majesty, brightness, and the presence of the divine. Other meanings include pride, arrogance, boastfulness, or taking great pleasure in something. It can be a personal quality that makes an individual worthy of praise. It can be described as a light shining from a being or person of great holiness. In art, we often see halos around the heads of saints and angels, visually indicating their holiness.

The word can also be used as a verb – the boxer gloried in his triumphs in the ring! Or, in a different sense, the teacher gloried in the success of her students. The mystic gloried in the presence of God in nature.

Phrases such as “Give glory to God,” when used in Scripture, can have another meaning that is culturally specific. For example, in the story of the man born blind and healed by Jesus, the authorities were demanding, “Tell us the truth – confess that you have sinned, that what you are claiming is not true!” The notion of praising God was intimately tied to being truthful. The man’s refusal to recant his account of the healing was actually totally consistent with what they were asking of him. They just didn’t recognize it as such!

The Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Easter brought these reflections on the word glory to mind once again. In his account of the Last Supper, John tells us what happened after Judas left the table (Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35). In this Gospel, Jesus is very much in control of the narrative of what is happening and aware of his unique relationship with the Father. John quotes Jesus: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” The relationship becomes mutual – “If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once.”

There’s a lot of “glory” going on in these few brief words. Knowing what was coming up next for Jesus, it’s rather remarkable to think that his passion and death were the route to glory. And it will happen at once? A rather daunting image…

Jesus continues, making clear the crucial factor for his followers here. The fundamental characteristic of the followers of Jesus is to be their love for each other. In fact, it is so fundamental that it becomes the “new commandment.” To love each other as Jesus has loved us. That is the root of glory – a community of love.

But how can that happen? When will it happen?

The readings from the Acts of the Apostles (14:21-27) and Revelation (21:1-5a) give us a hint.

Last week we heard about the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas to the city of Antioch in Psidia. Their preaching had mixed results. Gentiles were more open to their preaching than the Jewish community was and eventually they were expelled from the city. The moved on to Iconium, then to Lystra, and Derbe. In each city, they spent some time, teaching and sharing the good news. But it was not all sweetness and light. In one city, Paul was stoned and left for dead. In another they fled before the crowd could stone them. Nevertheless, by the time they retraced their steps to return to Antioch in Syria, there were communities of new believers in each area they had visited. They returned to each community of believers as they passed on their way, teaching and encouraging them. They selected and appointed leaders from among the members of the community and asked the Lord’s blessing on their behalf.

When they returned to Antioch in Syria, they reported on their journey and all that God had accomplished. They didn’t brag about their success. They reported on what God had done in opening “the door of faith to the Gentiles.”

One step at a time, for many years, Paul, Barnabas, and other Christians traveled through the known world, spreading the word of God’s love, building communities of followers of the way, and sharing the wonder of the Lord’s glory, reaching beyond Israel to all humans.

This mission was urgent for the early church. Jesus was expected to return very soon. They needed to be ready and to share the news of God’s love and reconciliation with all people as quickly and as widely as possible. There were many bumps along the way. Plenty of challenges and conflicts to work out. Much reflection on what had happened and what it meant. But under it all, there was a sense of urgency. The Lord is coming soon!

When the second coming didn’t come as quickly as anticipated, more reflection was needed. The reading from Revelation presents a deeper and newer understanding of what it means to say that Jesus is with us always. If he’s not visibly present, where is he and when will we see him? This reading presents a new reality.

A new heaven and a new earth – a new holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. In this great vision, John explains that God will now live with humans forever. They will be his people. He will be their God. Eternity begins here and now. Tears will be dried away. The old order is gone.

In the old Jerusalem, God was present in the Temple. In the new, there is no temple. The city, the community of believers, is the dwelling place of God.

The end does not have to come immediately. The One on the throne declares: “Behold, I make all things new.” It is already begun here and now.

Glory shines forth from the ordinary, the everyday, the one-step-at-a-time of our lives. When we care for each other, when we care for the earth and its creatures, when we notice and smile at another person, the glory of God shines forth.

We don’t consciously see the light shining forth in these encounters. Our eyes aren’t tuned to see it. But if we are attentive, we notice the love and affection and “a certain something” that is present. Similarly, at times when that love is blocked or denied expression, we notice that too. Again, we don’t physically perceive the loss of that “light,” but we feel it if we pay attention.

This week, let’s reflect together on the ways and times in our lives when the glory of the Lord shines through. Let’s rejoice in health, endure suffering patiently, and trust that with God among us, all will be well. One step at a time, we’re on our way and are taking our communities and our world along with us.

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Posted by on May 8, 2022

A Light to the Gentiles

A Light to the Gentiles

“Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia.” (Acts 13:14) These words describe an event early in the first missionary journey of St. Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus. They caught my attention as I realized I really didn’t know where Perga or Antioch in Pisidia were located. So, I did a little research.

As it turns out, Antioch is the name of at least two cities in the ancient world. One is in what we know today as Syria. This is the Antioch in which followers of the way were first called Christians (Oil Heads). The other Antioch is a city in what is now Turkey, near the southwestern edge of the great central plains in the center of Turkey. This Antioch was known as Antioch in Pisidia (a region of Asia Minor and part of the Roman Empire).

Tarsus, the home city of St. Paul, is also in southern Turkey, but much farther east, closer to Syria. It was to Tarsus that Paul retreated for safety after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus led to his conversion. Following a time of retreat in the desert, he went to Jerusalem and gained acceptance from the community he once had persecuted there. But the authorities were angered by his conversion and he was not safe there, so the community in Jerusalem advised to go back to Tarsus, for everyone’s safety.

About eleven years after his conversion, the community in Antioch (in Syria) sent him on a missionary journey with Barnabas, one of the early followers of Jesus. They traveled to Cyprus and then to Turkey, landing at Perga on the southern coast in a region known as Pamphylia. From there they traveled over the mountains to Antioch in Pisidia.

The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter begin with the story of what happened in Antioch in Pisidia. (Acts 13:14, 43-52) As was their custom, when they first visited a new community, they went to the synagogue on the sabbath to worship. After the initial prayers, they were welcomed as visitors and asked if they would like to share anything with the community gathered there. A major section of the narrative is left out of today’s reading, but it’s good to know what it was. Paul stood up and went through the history of God’s dealings with the Jewish people, from the time of the exodus from Egypt to the present. He reminded them of the prophecies of the coming of a Messiah and of God’s care for them through the centuries. Then he presented the good news that the Messiah had come, had been put to death, and had been raised from the dead. As they left the synagogue that day, they were invited to return again the next week to tell more about these events.

The reading picks up again at this point, noting that many of the Jews and others who were converts to Judaism followed them and were excited to hear this news. Paul and Barnabas continued to speak with them during the week. The next sabbath, when they went to the synagogue, a large crowd, including non-Jews, gathered to hear them speak. Leaders of the synagogue became jealous and argued “with violent abuse” against what they were saying.

Paul and Barnabas did not back down in the face of this opposition. Instead, they boldly stated that although it was essential first to present this news to the Jewish community, they were now going to obey an ancient command of God – to become “a light to the Gentiles” and an “instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” This command is from the Book of Isaiah (49:6). It would have been well known to this community in Antioch.

Non-Jewish residents of Antioch were delighted with the news of salvation extended to them. But opposition from the Jews of the city, including some prominent women, stirred up enough opposition that Paul and Barnabas were tossed out of the territory. So they continued their journey to Iconium, another city to the southeast of Antioch. We are told that they “were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

In this account, we see the beginnings of Paul’s mission to the Gentile world, to all of us who are not genetically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Paul and Barnabas continued this practice of going first to the synagogue in communities they visited, and then to the Gentiles. They traveled extensively throughout Asia Minor (Turkey) and Greece. Eventually, they even went to Rome. Paul was martyred there in 68 A.D.

The second reading, from Revelation (7:9,14b-17) speaks of a great multitude of people “from every nation, race, people, and tongue” who stood in front of the throne of the Lamb. These people represent the entire world, gathered to praise the Lamb. They have survived a time of great suffering, washing their clothing in the blood of the Lamb, and thus being purified. The Lamb will provide all they need and lead them “to springs of life-giving water) as a shepherd. God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Not long after Jesus described himself as the good shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep follow him, St. John tells us of an encounter between the authorities and Jesus at the Feast of the Dedication (the re-dedication of the altar at the temple in 164 B.C.). The authorities were pressing him to state clearly whether he was the Messiah or not. Jesus refused to say so directly. Instead, he pointed to his works and his teachings. “The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” (Jn10:25) Then he told them the reason they didn’t believe in his teachings was that they were not among his sheep.

John quotes Jesus in the reading today (10:27-30). “My sheep hear my voice …” He describes his followers as his sheep, given to him by the Father. Then he sates, “The Father and I are one.”

The Shepherd, who is also the Lamb, calls people from all the world, Jews and Gentiles alike. He cares for them and provides for all their needs.

This is the great good news which we receive each day as we join in prayer and reflection on the scriptures. Ours is not a faith that excludes anyone. All are welcome. All share in the gift of salvation. All are called to share this good news with everyone we meet by the way we live our lives. We are all the sheep of the Good Shepherd – cared for, protected, and guided by the One who loves us.

Do I really believe this? Do you? Does my life reflect this reality? How does the love of the shepherd/lamb shine through in my life? Do I care for others whom I meet? Am I gentle and loving in my dealings with others? Will others see His love because my life is a window rather than an obscuring wall? Much to consider, both as individuals and as a community of faith.

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Posted by on May 1, 2022

Doing Ordinary Things When Everything Else is Not Normal

Doing Ordinary Things When Everything Else is Not Normal

Most of the time, when we wake up in the morning, we have a pretty good idea what kinds of things will happen during any particular day. We get up, dress, have breakfast, and get started on the day’s activities – school, work, social gatherings, and so forth. But once in a while, something unusual happens that upsets the entire normal reality. These can be happy things or sad things. Getting news of the birth of a long-awaited child, for example, starts a chain of joyful activities to support the parents and child through the first challenging days and weeks of life. Getting news that a loved one has passed away, on the other hand, starts of chain of difficult tasks, grief, and disruption of daily schedules and activities.

Having come through a year in which multiple loved ones have passed away, I find the reaction of Jesus’ closest friends during the days following his death and burial very understandable. On this Third Sunday of Easter, Jesus’ friends are bewildered and trying to sort out what has just happened. They know he has died. They are hoping against hope that there really is some way that Jesus has risen from death, but are they just imagining things? Can it really be true?

As all this swirls around them, Peter declares, “I’m going fishing.” Fishing is something normal, ordinary, everyday, easy to understand. Either you catch fish or you don’t. It was the work he and most of Jesus’ other closest friends had done for years before they met him. They can always go back to fishing.

We too go back to doing things that are comfortable. We go to the office and sit doing routine things that don’t require us to be brilliant. We go to school. We go to the kitchen and bake cupcakes. We wash the car, or pull weeds, or change the bedding so guests will have clean sheets when they come. Peter and the others went fishing.

St. John (21:1-19) tells us that they fished all night and didn’t catch a thing. At dawn, they saw someone standing on the shore who called out and asked if they had gotten anything.  They responded that they hadn’t. The stranger told them to toss the nets out on the other side of the boat and they would find something. This had happened once before, when Jesus first called them to follow him. They did as he instructed without arguing this time. The nets were filled to bursting with fish. It was at this point that something changed. “The disciple whom Jesus loved” (tradition says this was John) recognized the Lord and told Peter. Peter tucked his robe into his belt and jumped into the sea, swimming for shore. The other disciples brought the boat into shore and pulled in the net full of fish.

Jesus had a fire ready and invited them to bring some fish to cook for breakfast. They selected some as they counted their catch – 153 fish and the nets hadn’t broken! Why does it matter how many fish there were? Some writers in the early church noted that there were 153 peoples in the Roman Empire – thus the number reflected the entire world. Another theory suggests that 153,000 men worked to build the temple in Jerusalem, therefore these 153 fish might symbolize the construction of a new temple, not made of bricks, that would become the community of followers of the Lord. Remember, when Jesus first called Peter, he promised to make Peter a “Fisher of men” of humans.

After a breakfast of bread and fish, served to them around a fire by Jesus, there was still something that needed to be addressed – Peter’s denial of Jesus three times on the night of his trial. So Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon… do you love me?” He uses Peter’s original name, Simon. Each time, with increasing intensity, Simon Peter responds that he does love Jesus. Jesus tells him first, “Feed my lambs.” The next time it’s,”Tend my sheep.” The final time it’s, “Feed my sheep.” The word love used by John to tell of this exchange has two different meanings in the original Greek. One is friendship. The other is deeply committed love. The first two times Jesus posed the question, he used the term for deeply committed love and Peter responded with the love of friendship. The third time, Jesus used the term for friendship and Peter used the word for deeply committed love. Peter’s commitment had become deeply personal and committed to Jesus.

Finally, Jesus mentions the type of death that will come to Peter. Peter is not going to die peacefully in his bed surrounded by his children and grandchildren in old age. Peter will die when he is older at the hands of others, in a way he would rather not die. Jesus then said, “Follow me.”

Peter and the others did follow Jesus. In taking a step into something familiar when they were in great distress and confusion, they met the Lord again and in a way that they could recognize him and again hear the call to follow. They returned to Jerusalem, they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and they witnessed to what they had seen and heard – the great deeds of the Lord in reconciling humanity with God.

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles (5:27-32,40b-41) describes an event from some of the earliest days of the church. The apostles had been teaching and healing people daily in the city. The community was growing dramatically. The leaders of the Sanhedrin had told Peter and the others to stop teaching and causing such disruption of everyday life in the city. But Peter and his companions did not stop. They were arrested and ordered to stop speaking in Jesus’ name. Peter and the others declined to do so, saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” A section of the story not included in the ready tells that they were flogged and released with a warning not to continue teaching. But as they left the Sanhedrin, they rejoiced to have “been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.”

The story of the early church continued for many years and is told in the Acts of the Apostles. It’s well worth reading. Many triumphs, many defeats, much joy and much suffering. Ultimately, the preaching of the Good News throughout the Roman Empire to Jews and Gentiles alike continued and spread. There’s more to the story of early Christianity in this book than can be included in the Sunday liturgies.

The story culminates symbolically in the Book of Revelation (5:11-14), as John describes what he saw in his visions on the Island of Patmos over 50 years after Jesus’ resurrection. The reading today describes all creatures in heaven and earth, creatures under the earth, and the entire universe giving praise to God. This is the reality of the work of all of creation, the praise of God.

In this one day’s readings, we see the transition of a group of discouraged men who just needed to do something ordinary, to go fishing, when everything was crashing around them around them. In this transition they became a group of men unafraid to speak out before religious and political authorities in witness of what they had seen and heard. They took this word out to their community and it spread through the known world. All the earth can now join in praising God for this reconciliation of human and divine.

How do we participate in this great mystery? Do we find the Lord in the ordinary things of life? Do we meet Him in each other and in strangers along the way? Are we open to hearing new things, to receiving new insights from the events and people in our lives? Do our lives reflect the joy of the resurrection? Will people find us and our lives appealing enough to want to learn the source of our joy?

Easter and its wonders continue this week. May we be open at this time to see the Lord in new ways and in new places as we move through our daily activities, as the Apostles did on the seashore long ago.

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Posted by on Apr 24, 2022

Mercy – A welcoming back into the circle

Mercy – A welcoming back into the circle

Easter is both a day and a season. For fifty days, we bask in and reflect upon the great mystery of the Resurrection. The Sunday after Easter, the Second Sunday of Easter, is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. We have a chance on this day to notice God’s loving presence in our lives, even when we are not consciously aware of that presence and possibly even actively turning away from it.

Many years ago, I was teaching a group of 5th and 6th graders in our parish religious education program. I had the children for two years at a time, so we got to know each other well. One year I had a girl in the class who was quite bright. She could also be quite impulsive and outspoken. Everyone liked her and she was a natural leader.

I always started class by calling the children into a circle. We recited a verse, sang a prayer, and then prayed for their special intentions before I began to present the topic of that day. One day, she was not feeling ready to begin class when I called them together. We met after school on a Thursday, so they were all tired of school by that time of day. I made class as little like school as possible, to help them enjoy our time of learning together. But she was not ready to stop visiting with her friends and enter into our lesson. Instead, she turned her back to me and commented that she didn’t like what I had just said to her, so she wasn’t going to join us.

There we were. A group of ten to fifteen people in a circle, ready to begin our time together and one person had turned away from us. The other children were astounded at her behavior and clearly wondered what I would do.

What would you do?

Here’s what I did. I spoke to the other children and called their attention to what we were seeing. We were all there together happily, in a circle and ready to begin our activity. One person had turned away. It was a beautiful example of what happens when we choose not to do what the Lord is asking us to do. What happens when we choose to go our own way and refuse to go the Lord’s way. The Lord and the community are still there waiting and inviting us to join the circle. We turn away. As soon as we turn back, we are immediately incorporated back into the group.

When my student realized that she had just given me a perfect example of what we were going to be learning that day, she turned back immediately, filled with apologies to her classmates for giving me a chance to teach them through her example. Of course, all was forgiven and we continued with the lesson. That year we were learning about God, prayer, and sacraments. It was just perfect timing!

The Gospel reading from St. John today speaks of something similar (Jn 20:19-31). It is Easter Sunday evening. The disciples are gathered in the upper room. They don’t really understand what has happened. It’s the first day of the new week, the day after the Sabbath. And here appears Jesus. The first thing he says to them is, “Peace be with you.” To show them he wasn’t a ghost, he showed them his hands and his side, pierced by nails and sword. Again, he spoke to them, “Peace be with you.” Not a word of condemnation or scolding for having run away or denied him. Just Peace.

Then he went even further, breathing on them the power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who is love, giving them authority to forgive the sins of other humans. This is pretty amazing stuff. Humans can forgive like God does and on behalf of God?

Thomas wasn’t there that night. He didn’t believe a word of it. No sir, not a word of it. Furthermore, he made clear, he would not believe until he had seen for himself and touched the nail marks and the sword wound in Jesus’ side. A week later, Jesus appeared again and called Thomas to touch his hands and his side, instructing him to believe now. Jesus also spoke words that ring through the centuries to all of us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” We are some of those millions and billions of people who have believed without physical evidence of the Lord’s resurrection.

The people of Jerusalem saw the evidence of his resurrection in the community that formed among them, caring for each other and those around them (Acts 5:12-16). They recognized the power of healing that flowed through them and brought the sick out to be seen and healed. Many joined the community because of the love they saw among those who were already followers of the way.

We too see the Lord’s presence in the community around us. We experience it in the actions of other members of our community. We see healing and forgiveness that draw families and communities back together. As the early followers of Jesus were noticed, people who have seen the love within our families and communities have also been drawn to seek the Lord.

On Easter Sunday, the eighth day of creation dawned. A new start for humans and for our relationship with God burst forth. A community came into being that would grow and eventually encircle the globe, a community of love and forgiveness. A community led by “one like a son of man” who is “the first and the last, the one who lives.” The author of the Book of Revelation shares with us this vision he received and the encouragement to continue in faith as a community (Rev1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19). In obedience, he writes down what he has seen, because it is happening and continues to be happening, not just then, but into our times and into the future. The circle of Divine Love and community is always present. We are free to turn toward the circle or to turn away. Divine mercy waits patiently for each of us to turn back into the circle and rejoin the dance of life.

As we move forward during this season of Easter, how do we welcome those from whom we may have become estranged?  How do we reach out in love and forgiveness? How do we seek reconciliation with those whom we have hurt? How do our communities welcome the stranger or encourage the one who has grown tired and lost hope? How can we be the face of the Lord’s mercy and love? How do we receive it in our own lives?

It’s a new day. Creation is new and our relationship with God is fresh and ready to grow. The Lord is Risen! Mercy is ever-present! Alleluia.

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Posted by on Apr 16, 2022

He Is Risen as He Said!

He Is Risen as He Said!

Our celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus, begins with Easter Vigil, beginning on Holy Saturday evening.

The three days leading to Easter are known as the Triduum – literally “Three Days.” The first of those days, Holy Thursday, we celebrate the gift of the Eucharist and the ministry of service and sacrifice. On Good Friday we recognize the tremendous cost of reconciliation which comes when we humans turn away from God. God goes to unbelievable lengths to bring us back – even to becoming one of us and dying rather than deny the message and example he brought to us.

On Holy Saturday, we sit quietly in the face of loss, the emptiness of the absence of ones we have loved. It’s important to take the time this day to experience quiet, especially as we find ourselves hurrying to prepare for Easter celebrations.

Easter Vigil begins our celebration on Saturday evening. The new day has begun, according to traditional Judeo-Christian measuring of time. We gather in darkness and the new fire is kindled. The Easter candle is lighted and its light shared with all present. The deacon sings a hymn of praise for the light that shines undimmed in the darkness. We enter into the darkened church, bringing the Light of Christ with us.

As part of Easter Vigil, we remember the history of God’s relationship with humanity and all of creation. We read and tell the stories. We sing the ancient psalms. We hear the words of the prophets. Only then, when we have remembered our history and the great deeds of our God, do we sing the Gloria and light the room fully.

We hear a reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans and from the writers of the Gospels. Tonight we will hear from St. Luke. They tell of the great good news of the Resurrection, and of the confusion felt by Jesus’ followers as they beheld such an amazingly impossible reality.

New members of our community profess their faith with us as they receive the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. We celebrate our Mass together, then go forth in joy with a final blessing, to share this great gift with all we meet.

The celebration continues Easter morning. Again we gather as a community to celebrate. We hear from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul, and the writers of the gospels. There are different sets of readings for different times of the day. So much to tell. So much to celebrate. So much to share.

These few days are the most important days in Christianity. If Jesus had simply said, “Forget it. I’m out of here!” when faced with the mighty power of those who opposed him, we would not likely be celebrating his life, death, and resurrection today. These were the events that changed the history of the world, of our understanding of the relationship between God and humans. At Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the witnesses of the Resurrection received the grace and courage to go out fearlessly and share what they had seen. But first they had to see. They had to experience the great mystery.

We today are called to do the same. Experience the mystery. Then go out into our own worlds and live the reality to which we have been witnesses. Christ is Risen. A new day has begun in creation. We are the ones who will make it real for our world today.

Happy Easter. Christ is Risen, He is Truly Risen! Alleluia.

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Posted by on Apr 15, 2022

Good Friday – Time to celebrate?

Good Friday – Time to celebrate?

Good Friday.

Sometimes it seems that the really hard things aren’t good at all. Why call this Good Friday?

The great mystery of life and love is that sometimes the hardest times are the most important. These are the times of growth, times of stretching. This is when we learn to depend totally on others to help us get through. When the others aren’t there for us, the Other who brought us forth into being from the great Dance of Love of the Trinity is there for us. This Other is not really “other” in the usual sense. This is the source of our deepest life and being. It’s in the deepest realms that we learn the truth of what matters. We learn compassion, patience, endurance. We understand the suffering of others in a new and deeper way. We realize that the easy answers of our childhood may not be the final answer. We grow in wisdom as we grow in age. With God’s help, we grow in grace too, that fundamental sharing of divine life.

Jesus didn’t know that he would rise. In this he was a human like any other one of us. But he was a man of great integrity, faithful to the God he called Abba (Dad), and willing to testify to what had been revealed to him about God’s love for us. He went to his death forgiving those who had condemned him, those who crucified him, those who mocked him, and the thief who was dying beside him. Mercifully, he did not have to suffer long. His Father claimed him quickly. His friends claimed his body and buried him, then returned home for the Sabbath rest.

We know the surprise that awaited them on Sunday morning. But for now, let’s take time to experience the great mystery of unknowing. The mystery of trust in a God we cannot see.  The mystery of life and death.

Happy Good Friday!

Readings for Good Friday

Image is of one side of the altar at St. Patrick Church in Spokane, WA – Artist: Harold Balazs

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Posted by on Apr 10, 2022

Recognizing the Lord when He Comes

Recognizing the Lord when He Comes

Holy Week begins. This is the most important week in our entire year as Christians. The mystery of reconciliation of humans and the divine plays out graphically in the events we celebrate this week.

Sunday of Holy Week is known as Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Traditionally, we begin our liturgy outside the church building. We gather with palms around our presider and hear the proclamation of the Gospel which tells of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem a few days before his arrest. Following the reading, we process into the building and continue with our liturgy, formally opening this week of prayer and celebration of the mystery in which we participate.

The Gospel reading for the blessing of the palms will be from one of the Synoptic Gospels – the three oldest versions of the events of Jesus’ life – as narrated by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  In Cycle C (which we celebrate in 2022), it is Luke’s account that we will hear.

These accounts all tell of Jesus coming into the city riding a young donkey. Kings and conquering military heroes of his day rode into cities mounted on great war horses, with banners flying, triumphal music playing, and crowds of grateful (or at least cheering) people to welcome them. Coming into town, riding a steed, and attracting a crowd of cheering people speaks to the Jewish dream of a Messiah in those times, a hero who will rescue the nation from captivity to a conquering nation (Rome). This was the kind of hero long-awaited – the kind many hoped Jesus would be.

Jesus, however, came riding a young donkey. One version says it had never been previously ridden by anyone. This is an important detail. In the prophecies of Zechariah, written almost 500 years earlier, there was a statement that the Messiah would come riding a donkey, just as had princes and leaders from before the period of kings in Israel. This person would be a leader who was humble and would bring peace. He would not be a warrior or a conquering hero. The symbolism of this entry riding on a young donkey would not have been lost on the people welcoming Jesus, nor was it lost on the authorities. In fact, they asked him to tell the people to be quiet and go away. They were quite likely afraid of the potential negative Roman response to the commotion. Jesus’ response was that even if the people went away, the very stones would shout out against the injustice of the social structure.

Another detail of interest in Luke’s telling of the tale is the question of palm branches. In Luke’s version of the story, there is no mention of palm branches or fronds having been waved in greeting or salute to Jesus. Palms are there in the other three gospels, but not in Luke.

In Luke, as in the others, the fact that people lay their cloaks out to make a road and that Jesus sat on cloaks that had been placed on the back of the donkey is noted. A cloak was a very valuable possession in those days. It was an outer garment that served as coat when the weather was cold and as a sleeping bag at night, especially for those who were not inside a building for the night. Ordinary folks were putting their coats on the ground for the donkey and any following closely behind to trod. That’s a pretty major commitment. I’m glad I didn’t have to pick my coat up and sleep in it after having a donkey and a large crowd of people walk over it!

Once inside the walls of Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell that Jesus disrupted the markets in the temple, chasing out the money-changers and others who were cheating the poor. He spent time teaching there as well, presumably not immediately after shaking everything up! The point is, he was not a quiet, meek, “what-ever” kind of guy. He had a vision and a mission. He was passionate about following the spirit of the Law and living what he had preached in the years leading to this visit to Jerusalem. He was not a person who could be ignored.

The first and second readings on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion are the same every year, as is the Psalm. Our attention is drawn to the events that followed Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

The first reading is from Isaiah (50:4-7), the Suffering Servant’s declaration of his determination to speak words of hope and encouragement to the people, despite opposition and persecution against him. This is a proclamation of great hope in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds. The prophet declares, “I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”

Psalm 22 is the one Jesus prayed on the cross. The psalms were much like our traditional “prayers” such as the Hail Mary or Our Father. These were prayers that could be offered any time and at any place by anyone. There’s a psalm for just about every situation in life. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” A cry for help when in desperate straits, with a conclusion that declares a joyful recognition of the Lord’s power to overcome all – “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.”

Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) includes another ancient hymn. Modern musicians have put it to music for our communities too, celebrating the great mystery of the incarnation. Jesus did not hesitate to become one of us and experience all that we experience, including rejection and death. God raised him up and gave him a name (power and authority) above all others. This is one of the earliest proclamations of our belief – “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

St. Luke’s telling of the Passion and Death of Jesus is the Gospel reading for Cycle C. It is a powerful story that begins with the narrative of the Last Supper and the gift of Jesus’ body and blood for our Eucharistic celebrations. It continues through the agony in the garden, Jesus’ trial, condemnation, carrying of the cross, and execution. His words of forgiveness and his prayers on the cross speak to us. We close with the quiet sorrow of his death and hasty burial in a borrowed tomb.

We are not called to be saddened by all of this. It is to be a source of great hope, but a hope that is so outrageously improbable and powerful that we are in awe of it. We enter this week with quiet hope for our own lives and the world in which we live. We pray for insight and the ability to see the Lord’s presence in all the times and ways he comes into our lives.

This can be a very busy week. There are liturgies and preparations for Easter. Work and school don’t necessarily take the time off. Yet it is a solemn time too. Liturgies for the blessing of the Holy Oils, Holy Thursday and Good Friday services, Easter Vigil, and then the great feast of Easter all await.

How will I mark this time? What things can wait, what need attention? What do I normally neglect that maybe I should spend some time doing?

May these final days of preparation for Easter be ones of peace and quiet joy, as we trust that through all the ups and downs of life, our God is with us, loving and supporting us each step along the way. Hosanna in the Highest.

Here are links to sample a couple of versions of the song from the Philippians that St. Paul shared with us.
In English, from Ken Canedo
In Spanish, from Pedro Rubalcava

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Posted by on Apr 3, 2022

Doing Something New

Doing Something New

The readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent in both Cycles C and A all speak of the ways in which God is doing something new. Once again, we have two possible sets of readings. Readings from Cycle A are used for celebrations of Eucharist in which those preparing for the Easter sacraments are present. Those from Cycle C are used for the others.

In the first reading for each cycle, we hear of God stepping in to do something new. In Cycle C,  Isaiah (43:16-21) speaks for the Lord, telling the people that although in the past the waters of the sea were parted so the people could pass through, now something new was going to happen. Forget what happened in the past, pay attention to what I’m doing now, is the essence of the prophecy. “I am doing something new!” There will be a way through the wastelands, rivers will flow in the desert, wild beasts will honor the Lord, and a new people will be formed to announce the praise of the Lord. All will be new again. A fresh start, so to speak.

The Cycle A reading is from the book of Ezekiel (37:12-14). The Lord promises: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.” He promises his spirit will settle upon them, so they will recognize their God. They will return and settle on their land once again. Something new is going to happen.

“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy,” sing the people of God in Psalm 126. We have gone forth from our homes in tears, but we return rejoicing. In Cycle A, the Lord’s mercy is celebrated in Psalm 130. “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.” All can and will be forgiven. Call out to the Lord, trust in the Lord, and the Lord in his kindness will redeem Israel.

St. Paul assures both the people of Philippi (3:8-14) (Cycle C) and the people of Rome (8:8-11) (Cycle A) of the love of God and promise of new life for those who have faith in Christ. Sharing in the suffering of Christ, turning away from worldly pleasures and ambitions, the faithful believer will be raised from the dead because the Spirit of the Lord lives within them.

In the Gospels we see different stories, but in each God is doing something new. In Cycle C, we hear from St. John about the time the scribes and Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into breaking either Jewish law or Roman law. They brought a woman accused of adultery to him for judgement (Jn 8:1-11). They told him she had been caught in the act, so was clearly guilty as charged. The Mosaic law imposed the penalty of stoning for this offense. What should be done? The trap was subtle. The Romans did not allow the death penalty to be imposed by local authorities. Only Roman authorities could impose that penalty. If Jesus opted for stoning (in accordance with Mosaic law), he would be breaking Roman law. But would he advocate turning her over to the Romans for punishment? That would be unthinkable. What would he do?

Jesus did something unexpected. He simply bent down and began to write on the ground. The accusers kept insisting on an answer, so finally he spoke. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, the accusers all left. No one condemned her. Jesus then spoke directly to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

Something new. The possibility of forgiveness for what was seen as a terrible sin. There are several “I wonder” moments in the story. Where was the man who would logically have been present when the woman was seized by the authorities? Was her sin really what we would call adultery, or might she have been the victim of a different crime? If she had been outside her home without a male chaperone, would that culturally have justified an assault on her that could be called or perceived as adultery?

Many possible angles and unknowns in this story. The critical point, however, is that Jesus does not judge as others in his community would have judged the woman. He did not fall into the either/or trap. He did something new and different, something bringing joy to the woman in question and showing the kindness and mercy of God. “Neither do I condemn you.”

We see Jesus doing something new in St. John’s Gospel from Cycle A as well (Jn 11:1-45). Jesus and his friends have gone away from Jerusalem for a while after things got too hot politically. He was in danger of being killed, so he had gotten out of town for a while. Then word came that his good friend Lazarus was dying. The sisters of Lazarus sent word to him, certainly hoping he would come and heal their brother. But Jesus stayed where he was for two more days before traveling to the community near Jerusalem where Lazarus and his sisters lived.

His friends cautioned him that it was dangerous to return to Jerusalem and the nearby towns. But Jesus insisted on returning. Lazarus had died, but Jesus would still heal him. In fact, it would be an even more amazing healing than those performed earlier, so more likely to lead them to belief.

When Jesus meets Martha, Lazarus’ sister, she expresses her belief that Jesus could have saved her brother’s life. She also believes in the resurrection “on the last day.” It is then that Jesus makes an amazing statement. “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live…” Martha expresses her faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God come into the world.

This was truly a case in which God did something new. The name Lazarus speaks of God coming to the rescue at the last moment. Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb four days after Lazarus had died. There was no question about whether or not the man had died. It had been four days. Four days was a legal landmark. The person was not coming back. Possessions could be distributed. All was done and over. But God came to the rescue. Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb, ordering, “Untie him and let him go.” And Lazarus lived again.

The Lord has done great things for us too. What is the Lord doing that is new in our lives? What specifically needs healing in my life, in your life? Where will the Lord call us out of a desert into a rich land? Where will we rise from our tombs of anger, frustration, or apathy? When will we receive forgiveness for the wrongs we have done? Will we recognize and accept the kindness of the Lord come to redeem us too?

Lent is nearing its end. New things are coming. Let’s continue in hope and open our eyes to see the beauty of the new life coming.

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Posted by on Mar 27, 2022

Seeing with God’s Eyes

Seeing with God’s Eyes

I’m always intrigued by those puzzles in which there are two pictures that at first glance look the same, but have a caption reading, “Can you spot the differences between these two pictures?” There are small things that differ between the two pictures. One might have a yellow flower and the other a red one. One is missing a beach ball or has a baseball in the same place. I suspect those who develop these puzzles have a good laugh as they do their work. “How long will it take before the kids notice this difference?” Such puzzles help children develop an awareness of detail and subtle differences. They’re good for reminding adults that things are not always what they seem at first glance to be.

We have reached the Fourth Sunday in Lent, a Sunday known as Laetare Sunday. Laetare is the first word in Latin of the opening antiphon of the Mass, Laetare Jerusalem, Rejoice, O Jerusalem. This Sunday the celebrants will wear rose-colored vestments. (Teasingly, some folks refer to the color as pink, knowing that in our time and culture, pink is a color more commonly associated with women’s styles and fashion than with men’s vestments. The men smile and correct them, “It’s rose.” Another example of different ways of perceiving the same thing….)

Once again, we have two different sets of readings. Cycle A readings are used in communities which are celebrating the Scrutinies with their RCIA candidates. Cycle C readings are used in other communities.

Sometimes the readings have very different themes, but this day there are some common threads.

Cycle C readings begin with a section from the book of Joshua (5:9a, 10-12). It takes place after the people have crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. For forty years, they have been in the desert and eaten manna each day. Now they are in the “Land of Milk and Honey,” a land of great abundance. They celebrate Passover there and eat the unleavened bread and parched grain of that meal. The very next day, the manna does not again fall. The “yield of the land of Canaan” is now theirs to enjoy.

Psalm 34 rejoices: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” The lowly will hear and be glad. “I sought the Lord and he answered me.” The Lord delivered the poor one from distress. So many examples of the goodness of the Lord, a goodness physically tasted by the Israelites in the text from Joshua.

St. Paul explains to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:17-21) that old things have passed away and new things have come into being for those who belong to Christ, those who are members of the Christian community. All are part of Christ’s body and share in the mission of reconciliation between God and humanity. This is not just the calling of the apostles. It is the calling of all Christians. Those outside the community may not perceive this difference, but those who have answered the call will shine forth the righteousness of God in their lives of faith as Christ’s ambassadors to the world.

The Gospel story in Cycle C is from Luke (15:1-3, 11-32). It’s known as the story of the Prodigal Son. A man has two sons. One begs for his share of the inheritance in advance. The other stays home with his father and works on the family land. The first goes off to another land and spends all his money frivolously. Eventually a famine comes. He has fallen to the point of needing to care for pigs, unclean animals, to earn any money at all. He in such a sorry position that he doesn’t even get offered the food fed to the pigs. Coming to his senses, he realizes his error in leaving home. He decides to return and beg his father for a job as a field hand.

As he approaches, his father sees him coming and runs out to meet him. A party and great celebration follow. The brother who remained at home is terribly upset and won’t come into the house to the party. His father begs him to come and celebrate, “because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again.”

The father in this story sees things as God does. We too are called in this parable to see through God’s eyes.

The Cycle A readings start out with the selection of David to be the successor of Saul as King of Israel. The Prophet Samuel (Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a) is called to go to Bethlehem, to the home of a man named Jesse. Jesse has many sons, all of whom appear at first glance to be perfect for becoming king. Yet as each appears, the Lord tells Samuel that this is not the one. Finally, after all the sons at home have been examined, Samuel asks, “Are these all the sons you have?” As it turns out, there is one more, a boy who is out taking care of the sheep. No one even thought of him as a possible option.

Samuel calls for the boy to be summoned. When David appears, the Lord says, “There – anoint him, for this is the one!” When Samuel anointed David, “the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” David grew up to become the second king of Israel.

The Lord’s eyes perceived something in David that was not obvious to the rest of his family.

Psalm 23 follows in this set of readings. In this psalm, the composer declares, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” We are very used to seeing this as a beautiful and comforting sentiment. Traditional pictures show a well-groomed, rather effeminate man, or a healthy young boy, tending a flock of sheep on a beautiful afternoon. But this was not the lived reality of the world of the shepherd. There were wet, rainy days. There were muddy fields and cold nights. There was very low social status as the people moved from being traveling shepherds to having farms, cities, armies, and kingdoms to defend.

There were still a good number of shepherds in the time of David and Jesus, just as today there continue to be shepherds. Shepherds and other pastoralists (such as cowboys) still follow their animals from pasture to pasture. Many farmers also keep sheep and cattle as part of their operations. These animals provide many resources that are useful for the humans who tend them and sell or exchange those products as part of a way of earning their living.

To think of the Lord God as a shepherd brings a multitude of images. The notion of a God who would get his hands dirty, entering into the earthiness of our lives as humans, is striking. The notion that God is like a shepherd who knows what is best for the sheep and will protect them is comforting.

A lot depends on whose eyes are looking and from what perspective. What is different in one picture/scenario than in the other?

In his letter to the people of Ephesus, St. Paul speaks of light and darkness. Those who are not yet followers of Jesus are still living in darkness. Christians are children of light, from which goodness, truth, and righteousness flow. He advises them to bring anything that is not good to the light so it can be healed. The deeds of darkness are shameful and bring harm. Those that are brought into the light become visible and bring honor. In a culture in which honor and shame are shared across an entire family, this is tremendously important. The picture of a life is quite different when lived with honor in the light of Christ.

The Gospel for today is from St. John (9:1-41), the healing of the man blind from birth. In Jesus’ time, there were no social services for children born with disabilities. To give birth to a child born blind was a great tragedy. There were very few occupations, if any, that welcomed the blind and allowed them to learn a skill and support themselves as adults. Most disabled people found they must become beggars to survive. People passing by might help. More often, they simply pretended not to see or hear the beggar. Most likely, they simply tuned out the voices of the beggars as they themselves went about their day. (We sometimes do the same as we pass the unhoused on our streets, if truth be told.)

Jesus and his friends passed a blind man who was begging. The disciples wondered whose fault it was that the man had been born blind. In their culture, it was assumed that blindness was punishment for sin – whether the sin of the person who had been born blind or the sin of the parents. Jesus replied that no one had sinned and thereby caused this tragedy for the man in question. God’s works would become visible through the blind man and his misfortune.

Jesus spat on the soil, making a mud paste which he smeared on the man’s eyes. Spittle was believed to have healing characteristics in those days. Then he instructed the man to go wash off the mud at the Pool of Siloam. The man didn’t ask to be healed. He could have laughed and remained at his post. But instead, he went to the pool and washed. He played a role in the healing himself by following Jesus’ instructions. When he washed, his blindness was healed and he could see.

He came back from the pool a transformed man. He had been a beggar, dependent on the goodwill of strangers. Now he testified to what had happened. “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”

He did not know where to find Jesus or even what Jesus looked like. He had been healed at the Siloam while Jesus had continued on his way.

St. John tells of the witness of the newly healed man and his courage in speaking the truth of his experience to the religious authorities and teachers in Jerusalem. The authorities did not believe him. His parents testified that he had indeed been born blind. He didn’t back down from his story of the healing received. He argued with those who claimed that Jesus was a sinner, therefore not possibly able to heal. He reminded them that God listens to those who are devout and do his will. He did not back down in his testimony and was eventually tossed out.

Jesus went to find him when he heard of the actions of the authorities. He asked the man whether he believed in the Son of Man. Upon learning that this was Jesus speaking with him, the man professed his faith.

Themes of seeing and blindness run throughout this story. They don’t follow standard patterns. The blind see and the seeing are blind. God’s eyes see differently than do the eyes of those who think they know what is possible, right, and good. God looks at the big picture and sees differences that we might not notice.

Today I ask myself, what is it that I am not seeing? Where are the blind-spots in my life? Do I really want to see? If I see, what will change? Do I want change? Where does God fit into all of this? What does God see that I don’t? Two pictures – Many things basically the same – A few things different.

Open my eyes, Lord. Help me to see your face… Help me to see.

Mass at Resurrection Catholic Community, Aptos, CA – You Tube

Open My Eyes – Jesse Manibusan

 

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Posted by on Mar 22, 2022

Living Water – Drawing from Deep Wells

Living Water – Drawing from Deep Wells

Water – fresh, running water, drinkable water, water in the desert, water from a well, living water. Water and hearing the voice of the Lord are linked in today’s readings. 

On the Third Sunday of Lent, two different sets of readings may be used. For communities in which people are preparing for the Easter sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist – the readings are those from Cycle A. There are three different Cycles of readings used in our liturgies. This allows us to hear more of scripture that is possible if only one set is ever used.

A ritual known as the Scrutinies is celebrated on the Third, Forth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent. We join with those preparing to enter the Church in looking at our lives and examining areas in which we need a bit more help from the Lord to live our lives as witnesses to the love of God. The readings from Cycle A support the theme for the prayers and reflections that form these rituals.

This year, for celebrations of Mass that do not have the Scrutinies, the readings from Cycle C will be used. At Resurrection, for Sunday’s Zoom Mass, it will be the readings from Cycle A.

Moses and the Israelites in our first reading (Ex 17:3-7) are wandering in a desert – hungry and thirsty, remembering the days back in Egypt when they at least had something to eat and drink, even if they had to be slaves. Moses fears they will turn against him and possibly even kill him in their anger at being in a desert with nothing to drink. He turns to God in frustration – “What am I to do with this people!” And he hears the voice of the Lord (God) telling him to strike a rock with his staff – the same staff he used to part the waters of the sea and bring them back flowing over the pursuing Egyptians. When Moses strikes the rock, water pours forth. 

In our experience, this sounds totally improbable, outlandish even. But in that land, water hides within and behind rock formations. It is possible to break through the rock and find flowing water. That water sustained the Israelites and they were able to continue on their 40-year journey, wandering through the desert on the Sinai Peninsula before arriving at the Promised Land. 

St. John tells us of the time when Jesus stopped in a Samaritan town and met a woman at a well that had once been owned by the great patriarch, Jacob. (Jn 4:5-42) Jesus and his friends were hungry and thirsty. His friends went into town to buy some food. He stayed at the well. A woman approached the well. Based on the time of the day, he knew she was not a woman of good reputation. Most women came to the well early in the morning. They were busy with household activities around noon when this encounter took place. Possibly, this woman “worked” at night. She had been married many times. She was living with a man to whom she was not married. She was not a person respected by her community. She came to the well at a time when she did not expect to meet anyone there.

Jesus spoke with her, despite the fact he would have known she was not a respectable woman based on the time of day she had come to the well. He asked her for a drink of water. She was shocked and questioned his motives. Why would a good Jew speak to her, let alone ask her to get him some water from the well? Men didn’t speak to women whom they did not know in public places like a well. Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans.

As the woman and Jesus speak, she realizes that he is more than he appears. He speaks of giving her living water (another name for running water rather than water from a well). That seems totally off-the-wall to her. It doesn’t occur to her that he might be speaking of what we call the water of life, the life of and with God. Yet eventually, as they speak, she comes to recognize that he is sent by God and is a prophet. Water comes in many forms, it seems. Sometimes it’s a gift of new life possibilities. 

John tells us that Jesus and his disciples stayed in that town for two days. Jesus spent the time teaching the people of the kingdom of God. Many people came to believe in him when they heard his teaching. The waters of life flowed in their community, after first being offered to a woman whom no one respected, a woman who shared what she had discovered with the rest of her community.

St. Paul speaks to the Christians in Rome about the gift of peace with God to which we have access by our faith in Jesus (Rm 5:1-2, 5-8). We can hope in the glory of God, the love of God poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we don’t have to be perfect or even respectable for God to love us. God reached out to the people of that village in Samaria. God reached out to the people of Rome. God reached out to the Hebrew people in the desert. And God reaches out to us each day. Jesus came to us when we were imperfect. He lived and died as a truly human man. And in his life and death, the witness and integrity of his life became our model. Through his resurrection, we all have life and the possibility of reunion with our God.

In California this year, we continue to be very aware of water, including the lack of water. We are very short of rain. Water conservation and even rationing loom on the horizon. But the water of life, given by God, does not run short. There is plenty of that for all. It’s an abundant resource, just waiting for us to reach out in faith and tap into it.

As the Psalmist says, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” (Ps 95) Where do we hear God’s voice today? What is the living water we need? 

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Posted by on Mar 13, 2022

Seeing the Glory of God – Deeper than at First Glance

Seeing the Glory of God – Deeper than at First Glance

A couple of years ago, a painting came home from school. It was a watercolor, folded in half, then in half again, and then yet again, until only 1/8 of the picture showed. The young artist was not happy with it and didn’t want even to talk about it. I looked at it and found it puzzling. There were blues and whites, with maybe a bit of yellow.   The colors had clearly run more than the artist had hoped. It looked like salt had been sprinkled on parts of the painting, resulting in irregular starburst-type shapes. There was a bit of red, some very light and some more streaked.

I didn’t understand what the picture was supposed to represent and he wouldn’t tell me. It was totally unclear to me which end was even supposed to be up! I put it on the side table with other things from school. There it lay for at least a week, probably longer, and I was still no closer to recognizing its theme.

I picked it up and turned it around once or twice to see if that made more sense. It still didn’t identify itself.

 

 

 

 

Finally, one day in early spring, I turned it one more time. And the image jumped out at me. My eyes, in a sense, had been opened to see its subject and its beauty. It was a snowman! I wondered how I could have not seen it all the other times I looked at it. It was so clear when my eyes looked at it from the right perspective.

It now proudly adorns our freezer.

The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent remind me of this experience with the snowman. In the first reading Abram and God have been talking. (Gn 15:5-12, 17-18) God has told Abram that he will have many descendants, even though both he and his wife are old and she has been unable to have children. Then God also promised that Abram’s descendants would possess the land into which they had traveled, following the Lord’s instructions. Abram and his extended family were not a lot of people. He questioned how they would ever possess a land belonging to so many other peoples.

There was a tradition among the peoples of the time to make covenants (legal agreements) in very visual ways. Animals were taken and sacrificed. The bodies were split in two and laid across from each other, making a pathway between them. Then the parties to the covenant would walk through the pathway. In this way they pledged that if they broke the covenant, the same thing might be done to them. It was not something to be taken lightly.

The Lord God told Abram to bring five animals – a heifer, a she-goat, a ram, a turtle dove, and a pigeon – and sacrifice them. He was to place their carcasses in such as way as to create the ritual pathway. As the sun set, Abram entered into a deep trance and saw the Lord, represented by a fire pot and flaming torch, pass through, entering into the pathway between the sacrificed animals. In this way, the Lord pledged himself to a covenant with Abram and his descendants. Abram did not have to pass through the pathway for the covenant to be established. Only the Lord passed through. The land from Egypt to Mesopotamia (current Iraq) was to belong to the descendants of Abram. (Today these lands are still peopled by his descendants – both Arabs and Jews.)

Abram saw the glory of the Lord that night, entering into a sacred covenant.

The psalmist sings today of the deep presence of the Lord. “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” (Ps 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14) Don’t hide from me, but hear the sound of my call. The Lord is a refuge, so there’s nothing to fear. “I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living…” All is focused on the presence and light of the Lord. All wait to see that goodness.

St. Paul writes to the community at Philippi (Ph 3:17-4:1) to encourage them to continue living in the way he taught them when he was with them in person. Controversies regarding whether it was necessary for Gentiles to become Jews in order to be Christians had reached them as well. Paul reassures them that all that is necessary is to believe and live in faith as they have first learned from him. As Christians, their citizenship, their loyalty, is in heaven. As such, all hope is in the saving power of Jesus, who will change our earthly bodies into heavenly, glorified ones, bringing all things to himself. At this point in time, all that is needed is to stand firm in faith and live as his followers.

The final reading, from St. Luke, tells of a very special experience of seeing. (Lk 9:28b-36)

Jesus went up on a mountain to pray. He took Peter, James, and John with him. As he prayed, his appearance changed, becoming filled with dazzling brightness. He was speaking with Moses (representing the Law and covenant) and Elijah (representing the prophets) when his friends woke up. They had fallen asleep as he was praying. They saw the glory that enveloped Jesus as he spoke with Moses and Elijah. Peter, ever the practical and impulsive one, offered to put up three tents, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. As he spoke, a cloud appeared and a voice spoke from the cloud. “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Then the vision passed and Jesus was there alone. As they went back down the mountain, they were silent.

What was there to say? Who would ever believe it? Did they even see it? Imagine if you were witness to this kind of transformation of someone you thought you knew! You too might be at a loss for words or uncertain whether anyone would ever believe your words if you spoke of it.

We call this experience of Jesus the Transfiguration. A transfiguration is a complete change of form or appearance from the ordinary to something quite beautiful and extraordinary. In many ways, it’s a question of what is seen. On certain days, or in certain lights, or under certain conditions, we perceive quite ordinary things differently. Somewhat like the painting of the snowman.

How does Jesus’ transfiguration speak to me today? How does it speak to you? What wonderful things are there in life that are just waiting for me to see in all their splendor? Where does the glory of God peek through into my days and my world? How about yours?

May our eyes be opened today to see deeper than first glance – to see the glory of God present in our world.

Here’s an activity you can do with children to celebrate the Transfiguration.

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Posted by on Mar 6, 2022

Don’t Go Looking for Trouble

Don’t Go Looking for Trouble

One of my favorite hymns is “On Eagle’s Wings,” by Michael Joncas. This hymn is based on Psalm 91, which we sing as part of the liturgy on the First Sunday of Lent. The psalmist speaks of all the benefits of trusting in God. A key promise is, “No evil shall befall you … for to his angels he has given a command … that they guard you in all your ways.” The Lord promises to support those who cling to him in trust when in the midst of distress. The Lord will deliver and glorify the one who trusts.

This theme of trust in the word of the Lord in times of trouble is present in the first reading as well. This is from the book of Deuteronomy (26:4-10). This book begins with a short history of God’s dealings with the Israelites and care for them from the time they left Egypt up to about a month before they entered the Promised land. A series of teachings about the Covenant with God follows. Then comes a section about the Law and how the people are to live. This is the section from which we hear today. The book ends with the final words of Moses before his death just outside the new land to which they had at last arrived.

Moses reminds the people of God’s care and their responsibilities in obeying the Law. Today he speaks of their responsibility to give thanks with a sacrifice of the first fruits of the harvest each year. They are to speak of their history, beginning before their time in Egypt, through the Exodus, and the blessings of this new land in which they now live – “flowing with milk and honey.” Their gifts are to be presented to the Lord and they are to “bow down in his presence.” They have arrived and at last enjoy the blessings of the Lord’s care for them in this land.

Many years later, St. Paul wrote a letter to Christians in Rome. He spoke to the Roman Christians of the role of the Jewish people in salvation history. At one point he reflects on the fact that even though Gentiles have never known and obeyed the Law, they can be saved by believing that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. He quotes the book of Deuteronomy in which it is written that the commands of the Lord are not far away or impossible to reach. They are “very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” (Dt 30:14) In this same way, those not bound by the Law are saved by the word that is very near. Believing in the heart and confessing that belief verbally leads to salvation. Everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved.

Given the history of God’s intervention in human history to care for his people and rescue them in times of trial, the experience of Jesus in the desert is not too surprising. St. Luke tells us that Jesus went into the desert when he left the Jordan after his baptismal experience of the presence and love of the Father. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and so went to pray. (When the Spirit comes upon a person, it’s an amazing experience, but it takes time to process what has happened.) For forty days, Jesus prayed and fasted.

Forty days is a period long enough for new habits and skills to be learned. In Judeo-Christian history, it’s a reminder of the 40 years spent by the Israelites in the desert between the Exodus from Egypt and their entrance into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. It’s also a very long time for humans to go without food, or with very little food. At the end of his forty days fast, Jesus was probably tired and was definitely hungry.

In this weakened state, he had a visitor. The Greek term that we translate as devil means a false accuser or slanderer. This visitor tried to convince Jesus to do something out of the ordinary to appease his hunger – to use his new-found relationship with the Father for his own benefit. Prove that you’re the Son of God. Just turn a few stones into loaves of bread and you won’t have to be hungry anymore. You’re special. God’s own son. Take advantage of it! But Jesus would have none of that. He quoted Scripture to remind the visitor that “One does not live by bread alone.”

Well then. That didn’t work. Time to try something else.  Up to a mountain top. See all the kingdoms of the world. “I shall give to you all this power and glory.” It’s mine. I can give it away. Just worship me and you can have it – power and glory. But Jesus turns that down too. He quotes the Law: “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”

OK, so this guy wants to quote Scripture all the time. One more thing to try, thinks the visitor. Here’s the great temple of Jerusalem. Way up on the very topmost peak. Now throw yourself down from here. After all, Scripture says, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you … With their hands they will support you…” The visitor quotes Psalm 91.

Jesus rejects all these temptations – to use his power and position to meet his own needs, to gain earthly power, or to force God’s hand and provoke a miraculous intervention to save his life. Talk about fame if that happened! But Jesus rejects them all. “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” (Dt 6:16) Once again we return to the Law as presented in the book of Deuteronomy.

What is the lesson for us? I think it could be summed up with the simple admonition, “Don’t go looking for trouble.” It’s easy to think we have all the answers or that we are special because of our education, our social status, our job, our family, our good looks, or whatever. Sometimes we are also tempted to take advantage of these characteristics with which we may have been gifted. Or we are tempted to think that a spiritual experience makes us better judges of what another person should do. We might also think that God will get us out of any trouble we get into, so what’s to lose?

There are many ways the visitor who tempted Jesus can whisper lies to us as well. Even Jesus had to deal with this visitor. Jesus saw through the visitor’s offers and lies. He relied on his faith and its traditions to guide his thinking about how he was to proceed and what his ministry would be.

As we journey through the season of Lent, we too are called to trust in the Lord. This is a good time to turn to scripture – read a Gospel or the Acts of the Apostles. Study the documents of the Council. Read one of Pope Francis’ books. He’s written some fantastic ones. They’re short and filled with wisdom.

And then, take time for prayer. It doesn’t need to be filled with a lot of words. Take a walk with Jesus. Open your eyes to the beauty of the place in which you live. See the flowers. Listen to the birds. Smell the earth or the water. Notice the gifts of God in your life. See the beauty of the people you meet along the way. Smile.

Troubles will come soon enough. They come to everyone. When they come, God will be there with us. Angels will be there to support us, sent by God. We may not see them, but they will be present, offering strength on which we can draw if we remember to seek and hope for it. Sometimes, we even meet their helpers along the way – our sisters and brothers in faith who reach out to accompany us on our journey.

Don’t go looking for trouble! Just keep your eyes open for God’s presence supporting you when trouble comes around.

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