Saturday, April 30, 2022

Gospel Reflection John 6:16-21

Today's Gospel reading presents St. John's account of Jesus walking on the sea. We read that after the disciples hear from Jesus "Do not be afraid," they wanted to take Him into the boat. Yet, the boat immediately arrived at the shore. The calming presence of Jesus assures the disciples a peaceful passage to any destination, wherever that may be. 

In this case, it was a trip across a stormy lake. In other cases in our life, the voice of Jesus says "Do not be afraid" and, if we are careful to listen, we will realize that He has granted the storms raging within our minds to be calmed. The storms of uncertainty. The storms of anxiety. The storms of persecution and violence. Each of these can be weathered when we realize that Christ is alongside us, having already conquered the worst. As the divine Son, Jesus' authority is over all things; visible and invisible. He has authority over the powers of nature and the powers within our own nature that cause us dread. 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Gospel Reflection John 6:1-15

John 6:1-15

Jesus said, "Have the people recline." 

How often are we anxious about our life? All the time. We are anxious about what the future will bring and where our next meal will come from. We worry about what others think of us. We worry about how we will be remembered. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that our Heavenly Father will care for us, just as He cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field (Matthew 6:25-34). Our needs will ultimately be met, one way or another, through the Lord's provision. 

In today's Gospel, Jesus provides a meal for thousands of people. Much more than this one meal, we see a wonderful signification of His identity as the giver of all life and nourishment, He provides us with a profound truth of everlasting value, eloquently captured by St. John. 

When we are in Christ, we can 'recline'. We can cast our worries upon Him. We can relax and let go of the anxieties that drive us to all sorts of distress. If we can be confident in anything in this life, we can be more than confident that God will keep His promises. He will fill us and sustain us. Of course, this can sound like a platitude. Our cynical minds might cause us to either over or under spiritualize this teaching. But if we are honestly reflective, we can find more than enough occasions in our own life to test the truth of what Jesus says. The real challenge is whether we will cling to our own way or take the way provided by the Lord. 

There is also a great deal of Eucharistic typology in the passage today. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and distributed it to the people. The people have food for the journey. Further, there was more than enough, for in Christ exists the unlimited reality of divine grace. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Gospel Reflection John 3:31-36

Today's reading continues with the important self-revelation of Jesus throughout St. John's Gospel. It follows a short discourse from John the Baptist. After the Baptist exalts Jesus, we learn more about the Son of God. We learn that the one who comes from above, Jesus, is above all. He is not merely one among many, not an instance of a kind. Rather, He is the very God who creates all things. Nothing could in principle be higher or better than the divine Son. 

The Son speaks to us about things which we could never know about on our own. Key elements of the Christian faith, including the inner life of God, are not discoverable via unaided human reason. Many things are within our capacity to discover, things within the world on the same plane of existence and subject to discoverability beginning with the senses. But there are so many things beyond this that God has graciously shown us. He creates within us the capacity to know these heavenly things and then actualizes this capacity in the Person and Work of the Divine Logos (Son). Through the Son, the Father speaks to His creation. He speaks in a plenary way, via the creation itself - the very calling into being of the finite. He speaks to us through the words of the Son and through the words of the prophets. All voices of truth speak the words of God. 

Being the infinite plentitude of Being, God does not ration His gift of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, as true God, pours out over creation at the beginning (Genesis 1:2) and pours out into the cosmos. The Father gives everything to the Son. Another example of the limitless love within the divine essence. Love is non-competitive, inexhaustible giving for the sake of the other. The limitless giving of the Spirit and the giving of everything to the Son testifies to the nature of God as Goodness and Love. 

Receiving and, in turn, pouring out the love and existence given to us by God ratifies our reception of it. In this very reception of divine love, we are drawn up into the divine life, becoming partakers of the divine nature itself (2 Peter 1:4). The rejection of this great gift is perilous, it is to reject life itself and therefore to experience a dearth of it. To disobey the Son is to disobey the Father, it is to turn away from the unrationed gift of the Spirit and to spurn that which is meant to actualize the fullness of our being. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Gospel/Theological Reflection John 3:16-21

Today's Gospel reading brings us several power-packed verses. One could spend a great deal of time on each of them. In the reflection yesterday, I briefly touched on John 3:16. Since it was not actually in the set of readings, I did not dwell for very long. And since so much has been written on it over the years, I will only add that 3:16 must be read in the overall context. It must be read from within the dialogue with Nicodemus, and with the surrounding verses in view. 

Yet, even within the most famous verse itself, there is something quite profound that can often escape our attention. 

God so loved the world. 

The term used for 'love' in the original Greek is agape. This is sometimes called self-sacrificing love, for it refers to the love of God exemplified by giving His only begotten Son. Agape is often contrasted with eros and phileo (or philos), which are different kinds of loves, affections, or dispositions (romantic and friendship, respectively). In the Christian context, it is often said that, at the most fundamental level, to love is to will the good of the other, as other. To love is to will what is good for the other's own sake. 

When we think about who and what we are as rational creatures, we affirm or explicate certain qualities or attributes of our nature. Within our nature is an intellect (capacity for intellection, the ability to reason, order, and apprehend universals or formal causes). We are also endowed with a will. The will is the rational appetite for the good. The will moves us to act for what the intellect judges as good. True goods are what is desirable. 

The attainment of (genuine) goods or the Good itself is desirable because it perfects the rational creature; it is what we are made to do, it is who and what we are. Our will seeks fulfillment of desire for the good until there is nothing left to seek. Only by recognizing various goods can we be moved toward the Good. In this context, 'good' is ultimately convertible with being (existence), for something can only be desirable insofar as it exists and is understood in some way in the intellect of the creature. 

In loving, we properly judge was is good for the other and are moved to act in the attainment of that. When we love another person, we realize that what is most desirable for them is true happiness, and beatitude. We realize the Good is what is ultimately desirable for all. The most loving thing we can do is help someone toward God, who is the summum bonum (highest good). God is not one good among many. Rather, He is Goodness itself. 

Now, anything that is in an effect must exist pre-eminently in the cause. For creatures to have the capacities and attributes described above, there must be something within the cause of creatures bestowing that upon them. Since God is the First (primary) cause, all effects exist in Him in some way and are made to exist in creatures in accordance with the nature of the creature. Ultimately, creatures can love because God is love. 

From what has been said, I hope it will be slightly more evident how profound it is for the Evangelist to tell us "God loved the world." The Greek term for 'world' is kosmos, which generally refers to the created order en toto. If the scope is brought to its most narrowly plausible, the reference would be to worldly inhabitants. In other words, we might say that the Creator of the entire cosmic order, of all reality, so wills what is good (ultimately perfective) for that order and its inhabitants, that He gave His only begotten Son so that those who believe in the Son will enjoy the Highest Good. The way to the Good itself, the way to true happiness where our wills can desire nothing more, is through the Son. 

God wants us to be happy in the truest sense. He wants us to enjoy beatitude. The disordered state of the cosmos is coming to an end by the power of the Eternal Son entering into it. John the Baptizer proclaims that the "lamb of God is taking away the sin of the cosmos." Beatitude is given to us in Jesus Christ. It is the desire of God that the broken created order be fixed. It is the desire of God for us to fully participate in the divine life. It is the desire of God for us to enjoy Him forever. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Gospel Reflection John 3:7-15

Today's Gospel reading recounts a wonderful exchange between Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus. It is in the context of these verses that we get perhaps the most famous passage in all of Scripture, John 3:16 ("for God so loved the world..."). As a child, I remember seeing someone in the crowd at an NFL game holding up a cardboard sign with only "John 3:16" on it. My father explained to me that it was a Bible verse. Holding the sign up was that person's way of evangelizing. It may have been effective for others at the game, but it certainly made an impression on me. I wondered what it really meant. 

Jesus tells Nicodemus that we must be "born from above." The birth that comes from the lineage of our earthly parents, following all the way back to our first parents, is wonderful in so many ways. All part of God's providential ordering of the cosmos. It also comes with certain finitude. There is no escape from the fact that, if God had not decisively acted in a magnificently gracious way to us, we could not see the Kingdom of Heaven. Our earthly grave would be the end. Life would be just what the modern materialist and hedonist think it to be, a cosmic accident devoid of any transcendent purpose. But God says differently. 

In the wilderness episode referenced in John 3:14, the Israelites had to look at what afflicted them. They had to see the result of being cast away from the paradisical presence of God into a world without that nearness, into a world fraught with mortal peril. They looked upon the serpent which reminded them of how man came to fall from grace. Looking at the serpent on the pole was a means of acknowledgment and repentance from sin. 

It was in looking at the source of their finitude they found life. Thus, in looking at Christ lifted up - Christ on the Cross and then Christ ascended on high - we see the defeat of our finitude in the very Person and work of Christ. What should have been a shameful event became a glorious event. What should have been the end is actually the beginning. 

To be born of the Spirit is to be born 'from above'. It is to be made into a new creation by the work of God. Only God could do this, for only He has the power to create. Just as the Israelites looked upon the bronze serpent held aloft by Moses so that they would survive the serpents, so we look upon the Jesus held for our eternal life. Looking upon Jesus, believing in Him, brings us into the spiritual rebirth from above by which we enter the Kingdom of God.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Gospel Reflection Mark 16:15-20

In today's Gospel, we read St. Mark's account of Jesus giving the Great Commission to His disciples. What I take from these passages is an unqualified boldness; the Gospel will go forth into all regions of the earth despite the inherent dangers in that exercise. This reminds us of the confession of St. Peter after which Jesus tells him that the "gates of hell shall not prevail against [Jesus' church]." 

We can be tempted to take this in a defensive way, wherein the besieged Holy City of God will not be breached. But I think the Lord Jesus means to tell St. Peter, and us, that we are to be on the offensive. We will smash through the gates of hell, obliterating the powers of evil and death by the power of Christ. This is what I find in today's Gospel reading. Despite great effort, the enemy will not prevail. No demonic power, no physical danger, will thwart the Good News and the consummation of Christ's Kingdom. The onward march upward and onward continues unabated by the opposition. 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Gospel Reflection John 20:19-31

Today's Gospel gives us the famous passage about 'doubting Thomas'. We have all heard the saying "don't be a doubting Thomas." While usually well-intentioned, I think this saying can be misunderstood, by both those inside and outside the Christian faith. 

When someone says "don't be a doubting Thomas," I suspect they mean to not have a skeptical or cynical attitude toward the elements of the Christian faith. But this saying is commonly misunderstood to mean "just believe no matter what." Of course, the modern skeptic has a field day with this, taking it that the Christian message is one that should be believed contrary to all reason, evidence, and clear thinking.  The 'doubting Thomas' saying is also interpreted as an impugnation of the faith of a person who sometimes (or often) struggles with doubt. 

If we are honest, we all struggle with doubts about things. Perhaps even certain aspects of Christianity. We pray and the answer from God is 'no' when we desperately want it to be 'yes'. We face withering criticism from all sides, challenging the rationality of our beliefs. Doubt is a normal part of life. In the progress of our growth in holiness, we still face crises of faith and may wonder if God is there after all. 

Many times doubt arises out of emotions, frustration, or confusion. We tend to steer off the path of truth often and start to see things only from our own perspectives. Sin can blur our vision. Evil and suffering bruise our souls to the extent that we keel over as if kicked in the stomach. 

We do not know much about Thomas' psychological state at the time he expresses his desire to touch the wounds of Jesus. I think it is safe to say he was not a skeptic in the modern sense of the term. But he was struggling. Thomas had seen Jesus perform many signs and wonders. I also think it is fair to say Thomas did not repudiate his belief in God from the time of the crucifixion until the moment he saw Jesus alive again. Still, there was something inside of Thomas that perhaps did not believe Jesus rose bodily from the grave. Thomas had a hurdle to get over. Hence the desire for physical contact with Jesus. Biblical scholars have established that Second Temple Judaism did not have a real conception of resurrection other than the last day(s) when God would bring everything to final and full consummation and judgment. So perhaps Thomas thought the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus he heard about were simply an apparition or a ghost. Thus, he maintains that he will not believe Jesus rose bodily unless he can see and touch. Thomas' doubt mirrors our own in many ways.

Out of an abundance of grace, Jesus offers Thomas the opportunity to touch His wounds. Thomas's response is one of the great doxologies of the New Testament "my Lord and my God! (I like the word-for-word in the original Greek "the Lord of me and the God of me!"). Thomas cannot but acknowledge Jesus as Lord of creation after experiencing the bodily resurrection. None by God can do (and be) what Jesus was right there, staring Thomas in the face. 

Yet what we have today is, I believe, much more than what Thomas had to on in terms of the foundation of faith. Yes, Thomas walked with the Lord Jesus and saw the many signs. But we also have the gift of the Holy Spirit, the ever-present indwelling of God Himself. We have the testimony of the Apostles, the inspired writings of the New Testament. We have the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church. We have a united fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ from all across the world and across time. We have the great communion of the saints. We can be strengthened by the testimony of the martyrs and missionaries. We need to look no further than experiencing the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is in these and so many other ways that we can happily acknowledge the reality of what Jesus says to Thomas "blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." This is not a blissful ignorance, but a blissful realization of the multi-faceted ways in which the presence of God in Christ permeates our existence. God gives us these graces out of the abundance of His love. May we receive them with gladness. 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Gospel Reflection Mark 16:9-15

Today's Gospel reading comes from what is called the longer ending of St. Mark's Gospel. The reason it is called this is because verses 9-20 of chapter 16 are not found in the earliest extant manuscripts. There is good evidence these verses were considered canonical in the second century, as writings from Justin Martyr and Tatian indicate. The church has included them as canonical, and we find strong consistencies with the other post-resurrection accounts and sources. One of the most obvious similarities is the call to proclaim the Gospel to the whole of creation. 

What is entailed in proclaiming the Gospel? Ask 10 different Christians this question and you might get 10 different answers. Some might say preaching about sin and repentance. Some might say catechesis. Some might say charitable works. There are perhaps other options that might emerge. Yet, what is at the core? 

To get at a good answer we need to ask ourselves what the Gospel really means. Gospel comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (transliteration: euaggelion, phonetic: yoo-ang-ghel'-ee-on). We tend to translate it into our modern English as "good news," but it more specifically means "glad tidings." This word was used in the ancient world to announce a military victory or successful conquest. Thus, I think in the New Testament context the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the glad tidings of the victory that He has won. It is the proclamation that Christ won over the powers of evil, darkness, and even death itself. The second Adam has come from heaven so that we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven instead of the image of the man of dust (1 Corinthians 15:48-49). 

No longer would humanity be in perpetual bondage to sin and decay. No longer would malevolent spiritual powers hold sway over people and nations. In the fullness of time, the King set out and decisively defeated all those who oppose Him. By the power of Jesus' death, our sins are forgiven. By the force of His resurrection, we know our own bodily death is not the end. 

To go into the whole of creation and proclaim the Gospel is to announce what Christ has done and to teach others about Him. It is about God keeping His promise and the upward thrust of human history toward union with God. It is the very best news imaginable. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Gospel Reflection John 21:1-14

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus visits His disciples by the sea. He again breaks bread with them and shows Himself literally, bodily raised from the dead. There is another time of fellowship. The resurrection of Jesus completes the picture of our reconciliation with God. When we were once far off, we are drawn near to the Father through the Son. Alienation is replaced with close intimacy. 

In the passage today, the disciples catch a huge quantity (some translations refer to a 'draught', which I very much like) of fish at the very word of Jesus. This hearkens back to when Peter was first called to follow the Lord (Luke 5:1-11). As Peter's future comes more clearly into view, he is reminded of how he first came to see that Jesus was calling him to something more than fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was calling Peter to be a 'fisher of men'. 

Peter would indeed lead the disciples in taking the words of eternal life out into the world. They would drag a net over the earth, harvesting more disciples. I think the draught of fish symbolizes what will happen as the Gospel of Jesus goes forth. There will be such a huge haul that they would scarcely be able to handle it. And all this by God's grace. The harvesters, the net, and the sinews holding together not by human power, but by the continual act of divine love and mercy. From the day many years ago that we read about in John 21 until this very moment, the 'net of grace' has been roving too and fro across the earth. 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Gospel Reflection Luke 24:35-48

Today's Gospel passage records a significant post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples. It is not merely an appearance, but a substantive interaction. Here again, He breaks bread with them. And again, the encounters are stated to be physical, not merely psychological states or subjective experiences of the disciples. He very clearly shows them how He is not a ghost or apparition. Although in a glorified body, Jesus still eats with them and spends time teaching them. He opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. 

I think it is significant that Jesus repeatedly returns to fellowship with the disciples, offering a greeting of peace. He harbors no resentment toward those who abandoned Him. In these intimate teaching moments, Jesus is very clear about His identity and mission. Equally clear is the commission given to the disciples. They are to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins, going forth to the nations. The resurrection of Jesus after His sacrificial death was for the benefit of the world (John 1:29). 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Gospel Reflection Luke 24:13-35

In today's Gospel reading, we take a journey with some of Jesus' disciples on the road to Emmaus. To me, these passages help reinforce the authenticity of the Gospel accounts. The disciples are not heroes. They are lost and confused. Frustrated and bewildered. Jesus offers a mild rebuke but then takes up the task of Rabbi and interprets the Scriptures for them. He walks with them and no doubt takes pleasure in the time spent. How often have we been in one of those 'face-palm' situations in life, where the cold truth or fact of the matter was right in front of us, yet we missed it? All of what is recorded does not at all smack of fabrication or conjecture, nor does it evoke legend or mere folk tale. 

After what was no doubt an enthralling stroll, with typical middle-eastern hospitality, the two disciples implore Jesus to eat with them. What happens when we break bread with Jesus? That is when we enter into communion with Him. What happens when we experience Him in the Eucharist? Just like these two disciples, our eyes are opened! We realize why our hearts again burn within us! Jesus Himself, His presence, is the very nourishment and sustenance of life. In John 6:35, Jesus says "I am the bread of life." When Jesus gives us His life, which is nothing less than Himself, the crusted scales fall from our eyes and see what we have been missing. The potentials within us are actualized. Deadness quickens to life. As we progress through our earthly pilgrimage, we are increasingly sanctified by these divine encounters. 

Whether we have been away from church or altogether drifting about, Jesus calls us to walk beside Him and to communion with Him. As the compelling finish to the passage today says, "...he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread." After communion with Jesus, the disciples are energized to go forth. They are powered for mission. We need food for the journey just like they did. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Philosophical/Theological Reflection: Maimonides and Being Like Elohim

In his Guide for the Perplexed, Moses Maimonides (also called Rambam, an acronym for his full name with title) briefly explores what happened in the Genesis 3 account of man's rebellion. This is sometimes called The Fall. I think there are some fascinating nuggets from the Rambam. What I find especially compelling is how we can use these writings and principles to help us better understand the human condition and the need for redemption. What happened and why is always a great explanatory context for the εὐαγγέλιον of Jesus the Messiah.

First, Rambam explores what Gen. 3:5 means in more detail. The Hebrew Elohim is used "...and ye shall be like God [Elohim]." The meaning of Elohim is contextually dependent and could mean God (Yahweh), angels, judges, and the rulers of countries. In this passage, Ramban argues that it should be understood as "and ye shall be like princes." It is not clear to me if this refers specifically to earthly princes or possibly to spiritual creatures having domain/jurisdiction over certain geographies. The latter interpretation of bene Elohim in the Scriptures is controversial in some ways but seems plausible to me (Heiser's work on this topic is tremendous). So, what the author of Genesis tells us is that man was tempted to be like princes or royalty, some station about their own. Rambam's reading is that they were not necessarily tempted to be like Yahweh the Most High, but still something above or beyond their nature or station. What we have is a rupture of rectitude.  

Next, Rambam returns to a point he has made earlier about what it means for man to be made in the image of God. This primarily involves the capacity for intellectual perception, the exercise of which does not employ the senses. The intellect judges what is true and false. Rambam distinguishes the true and false from right and wrong. The former are necessary truths, and the latter are moral or apparent truths. The function of man's intellect before his rebellion was to discern between the truth and the false. At this time, there was no intellection of apparent truths, no weighing of good or bad (in the moral sense, not the metaphysical sense, as I take it). After man gave in to his passions, he was punished by "the loss of part of that intellectual faculty which he had previously possessed." After the 'fall', man no longer has a faculty exclusively dedicated to judging the true and the false, the highest truths. Man is now mired in lesser or lower truths, those concerning the good and the bad. In his felicity, man did not occupy his mind with anything but God and divine truth. Now, man is occupied with what is proper and improper, and his passions interfere with the correct judgment of these.

After God announces the punishment, man realizes he will now be occupied with something lesser. He will be like elohim, thinking about the good and the bad instead of the true. Thus, man realizes he is naked and should have clothing. The combination of giving over to the passions and contemplation of right and wrong raises this awareness. Man finds things wrong he did not previously find as wrong. For they were not wrong in the absolute sense, but in the relative sense after losing part of the highest intellectual faculty. I think this means to be banished from the presence of God involves losing (or forfeiting) the faculty of being able to perceive or experience the fullness of God. The punishment for seeking lower goods was to receive those lower goods. Man changed his aim away from God, and God sent man away toward this other aim. The alteration of his thoughts and intentions toward what was forbidden is punished with getting just those things. Rambam says this was "measure for measure," consistent with proportional justice. 

Further, in his banishment, man becomes more like non-intellectual creatures. He must toil for his food and eat by the sweat of his brow. Man trades the heavenly meal for the earthly meal, abundance is given up in lieu of mere sustenance. 

With the preceding in mind, the failure of the intellectual creature to hold fast to truth and reason, we can better understand why St. John tells us about the Logos coming to make things new again (John 1:1-3, 14). The Logos becomes flesh to reunite us with God, to bring us back to paradise. He comes to fix the rupture, to restore us to proper rectitude of inellect. In the Logos we are made, and by the Logos we return to Him.

Gospel Reflection John 20:11-18

In today's Gospel, we find Mary Magdalene at the tomb of Jesus. What is particularly striking to me in these verses is Mary's love and dedication to the Lord Jesus. Yes, the Sunday School answer is the repeat what Jesus says in Matthew 22:37 ("you shall love the Lord..."). We all know this answer, but it is quite another to live it in the midst of the unthinkable. 

Mary first goes to Jesus' burial site to pay homage and respect. Distraught at the empty tomb, she presses on with her mission. Determined to be reunited in some way with her Rabbi, she persists through the sadness and confusion and asks where she might find the Lord's body. Then, she encounters the Risen Lord. And what a wonderful encounter! 

Hebrews 11:6 says that God rewards those who seek Him. The prophet Jeremiah writes that we will find God when we seek Him (with all of our heart). I think what we learn from Mary Magdalene in the passage today is this very thing. She would not stop seeking the Lord no matter what. Even though she thought He was dead, she still could think of nothing but finding Him somehow and being united to Him. 

"Sir...if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away." Just to see Him again, no matter how marred His appearance might be, to properly anoint and mourn Him, were all Mary could think about. She was a true disciple. May our faith be such that we can think of nothing but being united with Christ. 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Gospel Reflection Matthew 28:8-15

Today's Gospel reading provides another post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. I love how overjoyed they are, running to announce more good tidings to the disciples. So many conversations between Jesus and His followers must have transpired between the Resurrection and Ascension. It might have been fun to listen in on what was said. But I suspect we know a great deal from the writings and teachings of the early church. 

In the passage today, we also find a more troubling course of action that persists to our day. That is explaining away the Resurrection. Matthew records a conspiracy of sorts, where the chief priests sought to suppress the testimony of the tomb guards about Jesus being raised to life. These types of conspiracy theories are like weeds that pop up every spring with the flowering fields. Pluck them out and others pop up in different places. 

On one level, what we learn here is of historical interest. The empty tomb of Jesus is a reasonably well-attested historical fact. A very accessible article on this subject can be found here. Jesus' tomb was empty and His opponents needed to explain it. They knew His followers would report what they saw, so the seeds of a lie needed to be sown. At best, this effort was met with mixed results. For we know the early church began in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus was killed and buried, and spread from there. It would be impossible for anyone there to take the theory of grave robbing seriously, especially if those grave robbers were Jesus' own disciples who later faced extreme persecution and social ostracization for their proclamation of the Resurrection. The disciples all knew Jesus was dead. They had no reason at all to steal the body, having no belief at the time of Jesus' death of any resurrection before the last days. There was no plausible motive for stealing the body. The chief priests' story was a complete sham. It reminds me of the story of Susanna

On another level, we see the amazing schemes of those opposed to God. How far they will go to stand athwart truth and light. How subtle and prima facie plausible are their lies and deceit! But as soon as we look closer, we see these claims, these "resurrection rationalizations" for what they are; futile attempts to look away from the work of God, to make the work of God into the work of man. 

Matthew's recording of this early attempt to explain away the Resurrection should help us keep our attention on where the same issue comes up in our day. Each generation of Christians had to deal with this claim. We can address the critic with dignity and charity while maintaining the objective historicity of Jesus being raised from the dead. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Gospel Reflection John 20:1-9

Today is it. The day we celebrate the most important and decisive event in the history of the world. I love St. Paul's words "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." Indeed, if there is still a tomb with the bones of Jesus somewhere, then our hope is in vain. 

This sounds like a very precarious position. To stake one's very life in many cases on the claim that a man was killed and raised again from the dead. To risk alienating friends, family, and co-workers to follow the teachings and example of this man who was dead and is now alive. To subject oneself to mockery and derision. All of this and more Christians have done with glad hearts, despite being dismissed as foolish, delusional, harmful, and in our present day, even hateful. 

Still, here we stand and can do nothing else because that is what happened. Not because I or anyone else wanted it to happen or because some happy accident sprang froth from random particle collisions, but because God acted from eternal love for His creation. 

As St. Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 15 "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was a literal, bodily resurrection. It was not merely a subjective experience of His followers or anything that can be ultimately explained away by one's discomfort with the spiritual or the miraculous. If God exists, then the entire cosmos is created by Him, sustained in its very existence, at every moment it exists. Every molecule belongs to Him. So, raising His only begotten Son from the dead is not a difficult feat (as if God faces any limitation).

The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that there is something more than our earthly existence. Death is not the end. It is a condition that was brought into the world that will one day be evacuated from the world. 

I could not conclude today's reflection any better than by sharing another passage from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

Glory to Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord!

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Gospel Reflection Luke 24:1-12

In Today's Gospel, we read about the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus. They had seen Him killed and knew where He was buried. They return to do homage to the Lord. I think this is one of the great examples of love and faith in the Bible. While Jesus' other followers wallowed in their sorrow and perceived defeat, these women boldly went forth at the break of day to honor their Rabbi. These women were the ones who discovered the empty tomb, who got to see and speak with angels and first behold the Risen Lord. 

It is interesting that the report of the women was not believed right away. Imagine the disciples hearing that Jesus' tomb was empty and the angels there reported that He had risen. We can understand their incredulity. Every day we encounter our own incredulity at the work of God. At some point in our life, we tend to lose the child-like awe of God and the wonders He has made in the world and develop a callous exterior. We don't want to be let down another time. Too many failed expectations. We become cynical. 

But God is always doing things to turn our expectations upside down. Things like we read about in the resurrection accounts. He is constantly drawing our gaze upward. 

The women disciples of Jesus return to the tomb. Maybe they were expecting something, given the words the Lord spoke to them ("He...would rise on the third day."). They might have remembered and held out hope for something amazing. If so, they were not let down. 

Another key point from today's passage is that message of the resurrection could not be bottled up. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the Mother of James all return to the other disciples, with some presumable haste, to report what they saw and heard. There was no hesitation. Just an immediate response to the work of God. May we respond to the Lord in such a way.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Gospel Reflection John 18:1 - 19:42

Today's Gospel provides St. John's account of Jesus' passion. 

The tone of Good Friday is a somber one. We know joy is coming, but it will be a difficult path.  Like Dante, we travel through the depths of darkness before we reach the light. For then we see and enjoy the light as it truly is, having a comparison to its contrary and able to be fully enraptured in the Good. 

A Roman cross was an abjectly horrible thing. But let us not pretend that such brutality was germane only to the ancient world. Lest we think too highly of our enlightened time, we need only look at our own world to where man savages his fellow man, both physically and psychologically. Political and economic disenfranchisement. War. Human trafficking. Drugs. The silent killers of time and family unity at the hands of media and entertainment addiction. 

Darkness perpetually encroaches upon us. We cannot escape it by telling ourselves a noble lie, that we just make up our minds to be happy, define our own meaning, or anything else. That shell game collapses quickly. 

Yes, the cross was horrible. But it was necessary for our good. Without the horror of the cross, we could not see and experience the glory of God. The cross confronts us with our own sin, the sin of our fellow man. When we see the crucified Savior, we see what cosmic rebellion really means. Disorder. Injustice. Selfishness. Pride. A spectacle of blood and contempt. 

In His passion, Christ holds up a mirror and we see the result of man's spurning of divine love. We see ourselves for what we are without Jesus. We recognize what is broken in us and the need for a repair we cannot render. 

Moreover, in His passion, we see the giving of Jesus' life for our own. We see God's love poured out for us. We see the ultimate sacrifice. The ultimate example of self-giving love. We see our sins being taken away. We see hope. We see that there is something beyond the darkness. No matter how difficult the path is, there is a destination at the end that is worth the scars incurred during the journey.  

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Gospel Reflection John 13:1-15

To some readers, the 'hard' sayings of Jesus would be what we hear in the Sermon on the Mount, or in other chapters of St. John's Gospel. For example that we must reconcile with our brother before bringing a gift to the altar or that we must "eat His flesh and drink His blood" (cf John 6:53). Or perhaps Jesus' teaching about denying ourselves, counting the cost, or regarding knowledge of His return. 

Instead, I think one of the hardest sayings of Jesus is found right here in John 13. Jesus tells His disciples that they must wash each others' feet. The Lord gives them a model to follow and then a command to follow it. 

I wonder how often we fail to repent for not following this admonition? 

Even if we could take the foot-washing phrase in today's reading as entirely symbolic, we still have a mighty struggle. The reason is that it is often easier to 'wash the feet' of a stranger or an unbeliever than to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We tend to take greater umbrage and rack up more guilt points for those who share our faith. We rightly have a higher standard for their conduct but then fail freely to offer the grace we have so generously received. One of the major stumbling blocks for Christians and those looking at the Church from the outside is how we treat each other. In the same Farewell Discourse, Jesus tells His disciples that the world will know them by the love they have for each other (John 13:35). How true this is! 

Washing the feet of another person often seems beneath our dignity. Yet, it is just this type of humility that Christ models for us. If in an act of charity He would deign to wash the feet of His followers and friends, then how much more so should we be willing to do the same? Will we listen to Jesus and cast off our pride? Will we be ready to act with love when it is most difficult? I believe progress in this area is a mark of the Christian life. 

Let us pray to imitate Christ in His humility and service. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Gospel Reflection Matthew 26:14-25

Today's Gospel reading gives us another account of Judas' betrayal of Jesus. Judas went to the chief priests and made a deal. Thirty pieces of silver. I have often wondered what prompted Judas' double-crossing. Sometimes the answer given is that it was simply part of God's providential plan. After all, who can plumb the depths of human depravity? True enough. But if Judas freely chose to betray, then he was likely not thinking about acting in accord with divine providence. There must have been something else going on. 

Perhaps Judas was fed up with Jesus not taking up the sword of the expected Messiah. Judas may have been zealous (but not a Zealot, per se) for the restoration of Israel and the removal of pagan occupiers. We get hints of this latent expectation in Jesus last hours, when Peter strikes the servant of the high priest with a sword (John 18:10) and in Acts 1 when the disciples ask Jesus if now is the time when the Kingdom will be restored to Israel. When Judas realized Jesus was not going to be the conquering Messiah, he abandoned the cause. 

Or perhaps greed got to Judas. The Gospels tell us he was a thief (John 12:6). He saw an opportunity and gave into the temptation to have more. We later learn that he bought some property (Acts 1:18). The trouble with this motive is that Judas did not get rich from his treachery. There was symbolism in the priests offering 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13). It was the price of a slave. More or less an insulting offer. This makes the Judas' act all the more despicable. Something more sinister was afoot. 

Maybe Judas was being vengeful. There may have been a slight, where Judas was insulted and he sought a way to get back at Jesus and the other disciples. In any event, Judas more than likely knew the arrest of Jesus would mean his death. To hand over Jesus would seal his fate. 

Based on the calculated deviousness of his actions, I think Judas grew to hate Jesus because Jesus was not who Judas wanted Him to be. Judas spent significant time around Jesus. He knew his rabbi well. When Jesus did the signs and wonders, it captivated Judas. When Jesus taught with authority, Judas was enraptured. But then something happened. Judas' cast his gaze outward from Jesus to other things. He was not satisfied with what Jesus was. He did not want what Jesus wanted. He started to nod along to the teachings as his mind drifted. He started to roll his eyes whenever another leper came to be healed. He grew weary and calloused to the work of God. He therefore turns his heart and mind away from Christ and looks for a prime opportunity to abandon ship. 

Galatians 6:9 tells us to not grow weary in well-doing. Hebrews 12:1-3 says to run the race before us with perseverance, looking to Jesus as the founder and perfecter of our faith. St. Paul writes about fighting the good fight and finishing the race (2 Timothy 4:7-8). As we see what happened to Judas, whatever it was, he gave up hope. Let us follow the exhortation of the Scriptures and do the opposite; cling fast to the eternal hope that we have. No matter how difficult things get, we have examples of those who have gone before us. We have a great cloud of witnesses. We know that it will be hard, but more than worthwhile. Let us not get close to the Lord only to draw back. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Gospel Reflection John 13:21-38

Today's Gospel takes us to the scene of Jesus' Farewell Discourse. This extended teaching of Jesus runs through five chapters of John's Gospel. I think there is something significant in such an allocation. In these chapters, we learn a great deal about the final hours before Jesus is arrested and crucified. 

The Gospels often speak of Jesus having a meal with friends. Food is a universal human need and good. The breaking of bread together is a sacred act. There is something deep within our nature that wants to share this time with others. Many couples spend their first date having a meal together. Families gather for feasts at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Business lunches and dinners are usually important occasions. Somehow, we find out more about people when we eat with them. Perhaps we find out more about ourselves. 

Sharing a meal is a sign of peace and fellowship. We are at one when we break bread. We acknowledge our mutual need and dependence upon the fruit of the land and the work of God. Those who love God are called to the marriage supper of the lamb, the great heavenly banquet (Revelation 19:6-9). The Lord God desires to eat a meal with us in His Kingdom. 

Yet, it is in the breaking of bread, the great sign of friendship, that Jesus' betrayer yields to temptation. Judas Iscariot is infamous for his treachery. Who could turn on their friend in such a way, especially when that friend was Jesus? And how bad would it be to harbor animosity while at the table of fellowship? We tend to overlook how much it must have hurt Jesus to know that His close friend and disciple betrayed Him. 

We must not neglect to remember that the other disciples also fled and abandoned hope. St. Peter denied Jesus three times. Judas stands out as an example of one who had the grace of God invade his life and still wanted something else. In yielding to Satan, Judas capitulates to the same inclination as our first parents. 

Our first parents had a friendship with God. Their felicity was broken when they took food. It was at a meal of sorts that they sinned. And then they fled and tried to hide from God. Still, God offered them mercy and grace. Just as Jesus does for the disciples. Just like He offers us today. After His resurrection, Jesus says "peace" to the disciples and shares food with them. 

What was broken at a meal is restored in the true Bread of Life. We are joined with Him and grow ever closer as we partake of divine nourishment and look forward to the heavenly banquet. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

Gospel Reflection John 12:1-11

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus is anointed at Bethany. This happens after Jesus raises Lazarus. Imagine what the conversation was like between Jesus, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus! 

Mary anoints the feet of Jesus, showing us an act of great reverence and worship. She gives up something of great value to the Lord. She does not do this to make a spectacle, or even so that St. John would write about it. Rather, she is focused on the better thing (cf. Luke 10:41-42). 

What a great thing it was! Expensive ointment to anoint the feet of the King. While the others dine with Jesus (a good thing), Mary again chooses to exemplify loving God and proper worship (the better thing). Her act springs forth like living water from the very fibers of her DNA.

St. John contrasts Mary's act of worship with the selfishness of Judas. Mary wants to give; Judas wants to hoard. Mary is turning toward God as Judas is caving in on himself. 

The focal act of worship is the giving of ourselves over to what is most worthy. This can only be God. We are to make our entire lives a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2) to the Lord. To grow in Christ as we are drawn to do, we must not hold back.

What we see vividly on display here in John 12 is the push and pull of the spiritual life. We have a tendency to be like Judas. To hold back on what we want to offer God under the guise of piety. Maybe we reason that giving too much will put us in a position of need. Or we might rationalize away clear Kingdom priorities, putting into our own order what Jesus has already ordered. The inevitable result of hoarding is poverty. We must remember that God does not need a 'rainy day fund'. He is infinite goodness and love and we can fully participate in this as members of His family. 

When we withhold our praise and worship, when we keep something in reserve, we get the spiritual life backward. God wants us to imitate Him and His only begotten Son in giving ourselves over to that which has no limitation. First, to Him. Then to our fellow man in friendship and charity. 

Let us pray that we respond to God and worship as Mary rightly shows us. Let us pray that we eschew the way of Judas. Let us pray that we continually allow God to mold our life as we give ourselves over as living sacrifices. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Gospel Reflection Luke 19:28-40

Today is Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. There are several Gospel readings. I will focus on the first, which records Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. 

Entire books could be written about all the symbolism in this passage. The Lord riding a cold. The Mount of Olives. The very entry into Jerusalem. Something in particular that captivates me is the proclamation of the multitude as the Lord enters, riding on a colt. "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." Indeed, Jesus came in the name and in the very person of Yahweh, the Lord of Israel and all of creation. 

The Pharisees make a paltry attempt to shut this down, as the mechanism of their treachery was working behind the scenes. Jesus replies "I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!" 

In the presence of God, right praise will come forth. Nothing can contain it. We read this over and over in the doxologies of the New Testament. St. Paul repeatedly bursts forth into praise in the midst of his writings (Phil. 4:20; Gal. 1:4-5; 1 Tim. 1:17; et. al.). Likewise, when we truly encounter the Lord Jesus, the Eternal Son and God of the universe, we cannot help but praise Him. Words will always fail to capture to totality His glory and majesty. 

We were made to live in harmony and peace with God. We were made to praise Him. God is goodness itself. We can desire nothing higher or better. As Augustine famously says, our hearts are restless until they find rest in Him. When we rest in God, our nature as rational creatures compels us to communicate this to the extent we are able. 

When we praise God, we speak of what we know. We speak from the depths of our being that has been transformed by divine love.