Friday, March 31, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 10:31-42

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus directly appeals to the works He is doing as a means of validating His very nature and message. The trouble with the reasoning of Jesus’ opponents here is that they were in fact stoning Him for good work. All of Jesus’ signs and wonders (e.g. miracles) were done in the context of His claims as the unique Son of God inaugurating the Kingdom of God. The works and the man (the God-man) could not be separated. As the man who was healed of blindness in John 9 says, no one could do such a wondrous thing if God were not with Him. Jesus’ claiming equality in conjunction with the works He did - that could only be with and through God - means that His opponents were in fact trying to kill Him for the works that He did. Thus, they were directly opposing God in the most base, violent way. 

To oppose God by violence goes back at least to Cain. The human soul becomes so bent and twisted by sin that it lashes out. Cain demanded God conform to his offering and slays his brother when he cannot control his jealousy. Cain lashes out at God by attacking the image bearer of God. And so it goes from that time until now. 

When He quotes Psalm 82, Jesus reminds His opponents, who accepted the full revelation of the Psalms, that they were put here as representatives and agents of God. This is sometimes called a vice regency. Being made in the image of God, per Genesis 1:26-27, means that man has a unique purpose in representing God on earth. Hence, the directives to stewardship and fruitfulness. 

Man cannot create per se as God does, but man does share an important part in bringing into existence rational creatures via procreation. Man also shapes and forms what God has brought into being. Being endowed with intellect and will, man is unique among terrestrial creatures. Having these capacities, and having been given the very words of God in the Scriptures to remove ambiguity, there should be no doubt that the creative and regenerative power of God, something not given to men, was on plain display in front of them. The agent should be able to recognize the role of the principal, to know when they are ‘in their lane’ as it were, and when the principal is acting in their capacity. The works of Jesus and the response make plain man’s de facto repudiation of the agency he was endowed with. The agent becomes self-determining, no longer responsible to the principal. 

We should see a connection between today’s passage and the parable of the tenants. When man loves himself more than God, violence is close at hand. Violence is the default answer when we cannot get God to be made in our image. This gloomy part of our existence should make us all the more glad that the Lord Jesus came to rescue us from it. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 8:51-59

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus unequivocally identifies Himself with God. He says “before Abraham came to be, I AM.” Here, Jesus claims the holiest and most sacred name of God known to the Israelites. This name was so holy that it was not spoken out of fear and reverence. It is translated often as LORD in the Hebrew Scriptures we have today. 

With all the creeds, church teaching, and early ecumenical councils we have been blessed with, it can be very easy for us to overlook how radical this claim of Jesus was at the time. We can imagine the looks of absolute shock on the faces of those hearing these words. The mind draws a complete blank before even formulating a response. The God that spoke to Abraham and made an everlasting covenant with him, the God who spoke to Moses from the burning bush and disclosed this holy name…was now speaking directly to them as a man. Unthinkable. Unspeakable. Blasphemous. Or, maybe, just maybe, it was true. And if it was true? Wow! The implications. 

Sometimes our senses controvert what we take as firmly established in our minds. This can be painful and causes a range of possible reactions. We can lash out, sulk, or stumble around. I think this is because we can come to interpret experience in a set way, such that a practically immutable paradigm governs all new inputs. Our thinking about the way things are is the way they must always be, here and everywhere. It is very difficult to change or shift such paradigms. It causes us a certain fear of losing something or destabilization of the self. 

What we see in Jesus’ exchange with His opponents is a visible, tangible upending of their paradigm about God. A large part of the error in this is the very Scriptures they claimed to love and affirm warned them against presumption about God. He was always doing something surprising. The great I AM was not to be placed inside man’s paradigmatic expectations, such that He should act always in thus and such a way. 

The connection to Abraham in today’s verses is therefore especially instructive. God’s call to Abraham, the covenant, the progeny, and the entire life of the great patriarch was a paradigm-upending story.  God uproots a man from his homeland, has him sojourn among hostile tribes, provides children for him and his wife in old age, and so forth. The same is true of Moses. From his miraculous adoption to his time in the desert to the contest with Pharaoh and the exodus, the story of Moses challenges the set of preconceived notions one could have about God. In fact, I would argue entirety of the Hebrew scriptures, their very existence, is a living example where God was doing the astonishing. 

God is a God of surprises. He is a God of wonder. A God of mercy. A God of grace. His revelation to mankind demands the utmost humility, awe, and reverence. If there is anything we should ‘expect’ from God, it is that He will shatter any box we try to place around Him in our own minds. We must live with a constant openness to His action in our lives and the world around us. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 8:31-42

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” To commit sin is to become a slave to sin. The inheritance we receive from our first parents is this type of spiritual bondage, with far-reaching impact, where we are unable to extricate ourselves from that which alienates us from God. 

Freedom from slavery, in the ancient near eastern context, usually required a redemption fee to be paid to the slave owner. One needed to therefore be ransomed from slavery to freedom. The rescue had to come from a family member or perhaps a close friend. The price was often steep, as a labor value of a slave was relatively high. When it comes to sin, the wages of it are death (Romans 6:23). No mere creature can redeem us from the slavery to sin because no creature can buy us back from death.

In Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28, Jesus says that He came to give His life as a ransom for many. He came to free us from slavery and the ultimate destruction of sin. God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son as our ransom from sin and death. Only God can give life, for He is the very source of it. 

Believing in the Son, as one becomes a true disciple, is to remain in His word. It is to fully trust the whole of our lives to Him. If we call Him Lord, then He is Lord of everything or Lord of nothing. The works of Abraham, we are told, were the works of faith (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him (Abraham)  as righteousness (Romans 4, et. al.). Jesus tells the crowd that those who are true children of Abraham will follow this example. God was in the midst of these people in a much more obvious way than He was to Abraham. They had more to go on, as it were. And they still turned away. This is the exact opposite of Abraham’s exemplary faith in trusting God despite having much less to go on. May we follow the path of Abraham and embrace the grace and mercy of God that is right in front of us. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Theological Reflection - Justification and Works

What follows are some brief thoughts on the subject of justification. Specifically, with regard to justification and works in the context of dialogue between Catholics and Protestants. One of Jesus’ teachings in the Farewell Discourse speaks against the idea of faith alone being the basis for justification. 

In John 14:15 Jesus says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments...” The words of Jesus present us with a conditional, where the standard rules of logic, such as modest ponens/modest tollens, would apply. This will come back into the picture shortly. 

Loving the Lord Jesus is an essential component of Christianity. It would be very difficult to see how one could be right with God, that is, justified in any way, without loving Jesus. To think so would militate against what Jesus says a few verses after the one quoted above. “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21) And “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” (John 14:23-24) How can God make an abode with the impenitent or with one who is unjustified?  It seems very unlikely to be so. Without justification, sin will preclude divine indwelling. 

Add to this very similar verses from 1 John. “And by this, we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:3-6). Dispelling any doubt, the ‘knowing’ here implies a sense of personal connection, as would be the case when one knows the Lord Jesus in a salvifically relational way. 

From the preceding verses, it seems reasonable to conclude that one cannot be justified, that is, in any position of being right with God, without loving Jesus. Loving the Lord Jesus is synonymous with being right with God. Thus, we can rephrase the first conditional (above):

If you are right with God, you will keep the commandments of Jesus. 

Jesus commanded us to love God and our neighbor as the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37). To love is to will the good of the other, as other. To love God is to love the things God loves, to will union with Him. To love our neighbor is to will their good. The will is what moves the self toward action. Love is not a feeling, it is action. All Christians will agree with this, as it gets to the heart of the agape given to us in Jesus. We cannot love and do nothing. So, we can rephrase the conditional from John 14:15 again: 

If you are right with God, you will do loving things for God and others. 

Now, by modest tollens, we can render the verse:

If you do not do loving things for God and others, you are not right with God. 

It seems clear that our being right with God is dependent upon our actions. This does not negate grace, for that would mean God was speaking in a contradictory way to us in Sacred Scripture. No Christians holding a high view of Scripture would agree this is the case. Faith and works are mutually reinforcing, as St. James tells us (James 2). I think we can say that, normatively, works are necessarily conjoined with saving faith. 

Saving faith and justification are synonymous. Saving faith is an ongoing disposition or habit. Obeying the commandments of Jesus would likewise be part of this continual habit. Obeying the commandments of Jesus includes doing things for other people. This would involve helping them when they are in need, almsgiving, and so forth. What Catholics refer to as spiritual and corporal works of mercy. 

Being right with God is therefore conditional upon what we do for others. One cannot claim to be right with God, to be in a loving relationship with Him, and do nothing for one’s neighbor. Works in this sense are part and parcel of our standing with God because they evince our true disposition. Saving faith can therefore never be alone in a normative sense. Our standing with God cannot be severed from our habits and actions toward others. 

Further, it makes little sense to say that works merely follow faith, where faith can be alone at any time. This is an artificial construct or abstraction, possible only by rearranging words and cutting away what can never be severed in reality. I can conceive a headless man because I know the concepts of head, man, and so forth. But there can never in reality be a headless man. There could only be what were a human head and a human body. Situating faith as only following and not normatively concurrent with works is like a headless man, not possible in reality. 

The move of claiming faith alone would render vacuous what Jesus said in John 14. If I am right with God, then in the present tense I am in a penitential state of grace, wherein no hatred or malice infects my heart. If I am loving the Lord, it includes a present tense disposition and action toward others. This does not nullify the primary originating move of grace, nor do I mean to say that anything we do merits divine grace. Rather, grace moves toward us. We respond. Grace continues to move in us, and we continue to respond. Our continued response to divine grace represents our faith, which in turn, implies our being right with God. This state is necessarily conjoined to a love for God and creation. 

In this context, the principle of grace building upon and elevating nature, versus grace doing violence to nature is evident. Much has been said on this subject, and it is perhaps an underappreciated discussion point between Catholics and Protestants on matters of justification and works. 

Leaving this larger discussion aside for the time being, it seems to me that John 14, buttressed by 1 John, helps us see that justification cannot be by faith alone. Holding such a position would contravene what Jesus says to us in the form of the conditional of loving Him and keeping His commandments. 

Gospel Reflection John 8:21-30

Today’s Gospel reading continues an extended dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees. I believe one of the reasons the Gospel writers, especially St. John, highlight these exchanges is they draw to our attention competing conceptions of God. The Pharisees were in many ways similar to their ancestors, who, although fed by God as they journeyed through the desert to the promised land, nonetheless sought other gods and the first opportunity to usurp Moses. 

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time - most of them, anyway - gestured toward Mosaic fidelity. Yet their zeal for fencing off the Torah led them to fence off their hearts and blockade their minds. They became blind to God acting in their midst, to the Lord Most High coming among them. The inward turn caused in them a conception of God that could be fully contained in their minds and held fast by their words and deductive casuistry. It caused them to grumble against God when the very God they spoke about dwelt in their midst, as He did in the desert of the Exodus. 

Jesus calls their attention to the plague of serpents in Numbers 21:4-9. To be saved, the Israelites had to look up to the bronze serpent. They had to gaze upon the source of their condemnation - their own rebellion -  and thereby recognize that divine grace was their only hope. The act of looking upon the serpent was an act of contrition and acknowledgment that only the mercy of God could save them. 

Jesus says “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM…” The continued self-identification with the I AM revealed to Moses is unmistakable. When Moses' ancestors lift up Jesus on the Cross, they will realize, as did their fathers, that God has come among them. They will look upon the source of their condemnation, the wretched injustice of sin, and know that divine grace is their only hope. 

Despite the grumbling of man as he stumbles around kicking rocks like a defiant child, God offers grace to His own people, and to the whole world. The Son of Man was indeed lifted up, and whoever looks upon Him, whoever believes in Him, will have eternal life. The effects of the serpent bite and the infection of sin is healed. 


Monday, March 27, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 8:1-11

In today’s Gospel, we read about how Jesus addresses the woman caught in adultery. Some scholars argue this story is apocryphal, coming in later New Testament manuscript traditions, and was therefore not part of the inspired writing of St. John. Others think it belongs in a different Gospel, perhaps in St. Luke. There are good reasons to leave it at this juncture in St. John. One of them being the story seems to fit, given the escalating tensions between Jesus and the Pharisees and the thematic connections to the fifth chapter. 

I believe part of what is happening in this situation is a gross miscarriage of justice, which foreshadows the unjust trial of Christ. St. John does not tell us much of the backstory of the incident. But knowing what we do about Jesus’ opponents, we can ask certain questions. For example, how was it that these men caught the woman in the act of sin? Seems like a trap. Where was her male counterpart? Why did they circumvent the normal process of a trial, presenting witnesses, and so forth? The death penalty under the Mosaic Law was not to be arbitrarily meted out. There was a system of justice and it was being completely ignored for the sake of trying to ensnare and bring disrepute upon Jesus. 

Of course, the Lord knew these things. Perhaps He was writing down precepts of the Law on the ground. Or, maybe He was writing down the sins of the woman’s accusers. His words then cut to the heart “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The accusers slowly melt away. There is a powerful lesson here. Before we start seeking out sin and fault in others, before we start finding that speck in our brother’s eye, we must remove the large beam in our own eye. Our sense of justice is perverted by sin. We are quick to accuse and point the finger at others, and very slow to admit our own faults. We run at full speed to the well of divine mercy and then seek to trip our brother when he runs to it. 

In this passage, we witness the tender compassion of the Lord Jesus. This hearkens back to the reading before today’s Gospel. Ezekiel 33:11 says “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather in his conversion, that he may live.” The first move of the Pharisees in the John 8 reading was to condemn. Mercy was not on the radar screen. They believe they are vigilant in upholding the Law (or at least are presenting outwardly under that guise).  But Jesus shows them they are missing the heart of it, the very meaning where God desires us to be merciful as He is merciful. Where He desires us to love and repent. A quick thumb through the book of Exodus confirms this in spades, the Lord continually pardons the Israelites despite wanton rebellion. 

We also see a foreshadowing of our final judgment one day, where it will be us and the Lord. We will come face to face with our maker, the perfectly just One who knows everything we ever did. There will not be anywhere else we can look to place blame for our transgressions. Only Him. This may seem like a dreadful thought. Let us not shrink back from thinking about it, though. We have a very plain reading today about the heart of Jesus that is tender and merciful. He does not stand eager to condemn. Far from it. He takes pleasure in our conversion. This mercy is constantly on free offer to us. He pours it upon us like rainfall. We cannot run or hide from it. Each day His mercies are new. We need only say yes to Him. Divine love wants to swallow us up. We can feel and experience the exactly same thing as the woman in the passage today. Completely forgiven. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 11:1-45

Today’s Gospel reading tells of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. In one exchange, Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha responds in the affirmative. As the Evangelist tells us earlier in his Gospel, in Jesus is life. He possesses life in itself. Being the source of it, He can freely give. We confess our belief in union with Martha and all Christians up and down the ages when we celebrate the Mass today. We demonstrate this belief throughout our life, completely giving ourselves over to God. 

The raising of Lazarus is like a movie trailer. It is an exciting preview of what is to come. A hint of Easter as we round the final corner toward the end of our penitential season. 

Jesus came to bring an end to death. First, the spiritual death that is caused by sin. Secondly, the physical death and decay that spiritual death entails. We live in eager anticipation of the Lord bringing the full consummation of the Kingdom, where death, disease, pain, and suffering are no more. We proclaim Jesus’ death and resurrection until He comes again. We hope in Christ. One day all the tombs of the earth will open like the tomb of Lazarus. Today’s passage helps us think more about our hope. 

To the skeptic, this sounds more than absurd. Foolish to say the least. Yet, the apologetic discourse is upstream from the virtue of Christian hope. The hope we have in Christ is predicated on antecedent conditions, most of which are frequently ignored when someone just takes certain passages in isolation.  Hope is not something that arises out of a vacuum or a spontaneous brute act of will. We do not simply think or will ourselves hopeful, in the context of theological virtue. It is a special grace of God that builds upon and works in conjunction with other graces. 

The virtue of hope is a stable disposition in this regard, looking forward in assurance to what God has promised us, because of Him who promised it. We do not ‘hope’ in a vain sense. Although we cannot physically see or touch what God has said will come to pass, nonetheless, we base our lives upon it. 

Hope builds upon faith, whereby we fully trust and believe in God. We completely orient our lives around the Lord, laying down our rebellious arms,, as C.S. Lewis says, and taking up our crosses. We eagerly receive the grace given to us, trusting that God will do for us what He said, even though we do not know how we will even get through the day. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Sufficient for the day, then, is its own grace. 

Tomorrow is not promised to us, yet heaven is promised to those who love and serve the Lord. The former we cannot count upon, the latter we absolutely can. 

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Gospel Reflection Luke 1:26-38 - The Annunciation

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. The Gospel reading from St. Luke chapter one gives us the wonderful dialogue between the Blessed Mother and the angel Gabriel. We are told nothing less than that the Word has taken on flesh and has come to dwell among us. The Incarnation happens at the conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

The passage today contains many important details that are easy to overlook. Many books by great people of faith have been dedicated to these subjects. Not to mention the lives of the saints and their testimonies and biographies. I hope to share just a few brief thoughts on this profound passage. 

For many years as a Protestant, I struggled with the Marian dogmas taught by the Church. Of course, the Virgin birth was unproblematic. But Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos), her immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, bodily assumption, and coronation as Queen of Heaven were, to my mind, unbiblical. Yet, reading the first chapter of Luke without a high view of Mary is ultimately a very difficult task. The more we read and are attentive to the text, the more we see something profound unfold before our eyes. The Annunciation and the Magnificat present solid biblical grounds for what the Catholic Church teaches about Mary. 

The angel Gabriel greets Mary as being full of grace. The only plausible meaning of these words is that Mary already possesses God's special grace. It is not a random thing that happens or is subsequent to the angel’s appearance. The grace did not fill her at only that moment. It was something Mary had. She likewise maintains her state of grace in perfect obedience to God throughout her entire life. We see her at the first miracle in Cana, at the foot of the Cross, and in the upper room after the Ascension. As she was cared for by St. John the Evangelist, we can surmise a reasonably strong influence on the writing of John's Gospel in addition to many details provided to St. Luke. Mary's influence on the Church can be overlooked if we are not attentive. 

We read that Mary is to be the bearer of God, thus becoming the Ark of the New Covenant. How does she react to this news? With faith and reverence. Her ready ‘yes’ is evident to even the most casual reader. We also read a tremendous sense of awe and wonder in the Blessed Mother, the same way we should view this amazing news each time we are reminded.  It is utterly beyond comprehension, but we must give our ‘yes’, our assent, to God unflinchingly. Mary shows us by example the essence of true obedience to our heavenly Father. She shows us what faith means.

The translation of her response to being the bearer of a child is best rendered as ‘having no relations with a man’, meaning she lives a consecrated life to God. Of course, she knew how children came into the world. Her response acknowledges the deep regard she has for the mission God has given to her. Gabriel tells her that the child is not from a natural conception, but a supernatural one. The child will thus have a divine nature and a human nature. The child is from both God by origination. His human nature will be fully and truly human, coming (as it were) from the Blessed Mother. The Son of God joins to Himself a human nature. There exists in the womb of Mary one Person with a human nature and a divine nature. Since Mary gives birth to a Person, and this Person is God (by communication of idioms), Mary is the Mother of God. Even the most ardent Protestants should not object to this title. 

From these passages, we can see the powerful (high) Christological implications of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, in which no doubt is left about the human nature of Jesus being void of Original Sin. Again, Mary is said by the angel to be “full of grace”. What are we left without because of the sin of Adam? Grace. And how can one be full of grace without some special gift of God? The fact that Mary is full of grace makes evident how distinct she is. Where Eve failed, Mary succeeds. Each was born in a state of grace, only the latter - the New Eve - continually ratifies the grace by perfect obedience. 

Mary’s closing words to Gabriel echo through the ages. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” She accepts the will of God with gladness, despite the sure knowledge she has about what it will mean for her life to be the Mother of God. 

May we look to the Blessed Mother as the supreme example of loving God above all things. 

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us. 

Friday, March 24, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

In today’s Gospel reading, we learn that some inhabitants of Jerusalem sought to have Jesus arrested. They failed this time. Jesus’ opponents claim that the Messiah (Christ, “Anointed One”) will come from an unknown or previously undisclosed location. Such a callous response to Jesus seems to ignore passages from the prophets, such as Isaiah, which tell of a great light coming from Galilee. Perhaps these people were not aware of or learned in the Hebrew Scriptures, but I suspect that not to be the case given their concern about the Messiah. 

The response from the crowd ignores what Jesus had already done and said. The Lord cries out “You know me…” Scripture does not indicate the tone in which these words were said. We do however read, by implication, that those people knew the Lord. There is a sense of familiarity, even intimate familiarity. Perhaps some of them were present when Jesus performed a sign. Perhaps they had heard Him speaking and preaching in other settings. Bottom line: it was made clear and plain to them who Jesus was. The cycle of rejection continues. Hard-heartedness makes it progressively easier to rationalize away the presence and work of God in the world. 

We see the same thing happen today as in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. God answers a prayer, lifts a person up from the depths of sin and depravity to newness of eternal life, and many other things and yet the response is not to give glory to God but glory to man. To be hard-hearted is to close oneself off from the activity of God in the world. It is to turn in on the self by setting up an arbitrary set of rules by which everything, and God, must conform to be valid. It is like a fruit being progressively petrified by the sun. St. John’s Gospel shows us in vivid detail how being hard of heart ultimately results in the utter rejection of divine love. It results in cutting ourselves off from the very source of life. 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 5:31-47

Today’s Gospel reading continues the extended discourse of Jesus following the healing at Bethesda. Yesterday’s passage disclosed to us important eternal truths about the relationship between the Father and the Son. These teachings continue in today’s reading, where we learn about the works that the Father gave for the Son to perform, and the testimony made explicit in the miraculous works and accompanying proclamation of the Kingdom. 

One gets the feeling that when the Incarnate Lord walked among us, it was too much for most people to bear. Being in the presence of God is frightening. Isaiah 6 and most of the book of Exodus, among numerous other passages, should put any doubts about this aside. Yet the fear of God should beget awe, reverence, humility, falling down in worship. Or just simply falling down on our faces if nothing else. When Jesus performed powerful signs and wonders, it was plain that people were experiencing the presence of God. The Almighty had come among us in the flesh. The realization of this in Jesus' opponents, those set against God in their hearts, brought about a fearful reaction. But it was one that was often received with resentment. God was too close and they wanted Him to go away. God was invading their turf. 

Jesus knows all of this and still compassionately explains to his opponents that the living God coming into the world was spoken about, and was the very purpose of, the revelation the Lord gave to Moses. The Law was not an end in and of itself. The Covenant was formed with the Israelites for a universally salvific and eschatological purpose. Now the Light of Israel was shining bright, illuminating the truth of God and the deeds of man, and was also drawing in the lost and wayward. 

Jesus asks in the rhetorical sense why they believe Moses’ words but not what those words teach. What good is it to profess the keeping of the Covenant when one ignores the very purpose and meaning of it? After all, the flashpoint for the John 5 discourse was the healing of a man on the Sabbath and the man being told (and obeying) to carry his mat. God made the Sabbath for man. It was a sign of the Covenant. It was a day of rest to remind the Israelites of their complete dependence upon God. It was an element of grace so that a hint of being free of all sin and worldly burdens could be experienced. A taste of heaven, where there is no longer illness or malice. A taste of what true freedom to love and worship the living God means. 

The healing on the Sabbath, the walking with the mat, and the admonition to sin no longer all point toward the rest God will one day give to those who love Him. Freedom of movement for selfish purposes, where we walk in joy and harmony with God and creation. The profound implications of the Sabbath itself should have made evident its teleology.  The signs wrought by Christ on the Sabbath, and the words He spoke, made the connection point obvious. Moses had clearly spoken about the Lord Jesus, explicitly (e.g. Deut. 18) and implicitly. It was accepted that Moses spoke words from God. Jesus was doing greater things than had ever been done, performing in person (in full public view) what had heretofore only been read about in the Scriptures. The question was whether Jesus' interlocutors were truly listening to Moses or simply paying lip service. Indeed, God had now gotten too close for comfort. The light was shining brightly and the darkness was trying to respond in kind. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 5:17-30

Today’s Gospel reading continues from the healing of the paralytic at Bethesda. What follows is one of the extended Johannine discourses that help us understand more about the nature, person, and work of the Lord Jesus. 

As he frequently does, St. John provides a helpful narration “For this reason they tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.” The rest of the passage tells us about the essentially connected nature, the harmony of action, between the Son and the Father. 

In the divine mystery of the Blessed Trinity, there is no competition between Father and Son. The interplay of divine love pouring into the world does not upend creation but raises it up. Nature and grace are not ultimately at odds. Grace does not destroy nature. 

Both the Son and the Father have life in themselves. This could only be possible if they were consubstantial, as we say in the creed (“of the same substance”). The Father gives all judgment to the Son, which can only be if the Son shares the same perfect, omniscient, nature as the Father. Failure to honor the Son is equivalent to dishonoring the Father. Such a connotation goes deeper than merely dishonoring a representative or emissary. The Son does the will of the Father perfectly, an impossible task for any creature no matter how great. Whoever believes in the Son receives a share in the life of the Father and Son. 

When the Church professes her belief in the Holy Trinity, she follows the very words of the Lord Jesus. We take Jesus at His word. We take the teachings of the Holy Apostles and their successor at their word. We maintain our belief and articulate it to an increasingly skeptical world. St. John’s Gospel is perhaps the most explicit in terms of how this wonderful revelation of God was given to us. May we receive these words of life and their attending teachings with reverence and humility. Fides quaerens intellectum.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Gospel and Philosophical Reflection John 5:1-16

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus heals the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda. The healing here is much like what we read in Mark 2, where Jesus tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven, and then to rise, take up his mat, and walk. In a similar manner, Jesus later tells the healed man to no longer sin, lest something worse happen. I believe what the Lord is telling us on this point is that the wages of sin are far worse than any physical ailment. Better to enter heaven with one arm, than to find oneself in hell with both arms intact. The imagery is powerful. Again, the Lord Jesus asks whether it is worthwhile to gain the world, but lose one’s soul. Of course, nothing is better than God. The world and everything it has to offer is nothing compared to Heaven. 

An important thing to note about today’s passage, related to the John 9 reading from this past Sunday, is that a person’s sin and physical ailment or disease are not necessarily connected. An inattentive reading of Jesus' admonition to the healed paralytic might give rise to the thought that there is such a necessary connection. This would represent a very low view of God, one akin to pagan deities that are said to lash out in anger if they do not get their way or reward and punish capriciously. 

There are indeed temporal consequences for all choices we make, whether for virtue or vice. If we choose to drink and drive, we risk our lives and the lives of others. Likewise, if we go skydiving (as safe as that might statistically be), we take certain risks. Choosing to eat well, rest, and exercise also has consequences (usually an improvement in health). 

From a Christian perspective, natural evils (i.e. diseases, etc.) are, in a manner of speaking, the result of cosmic rebellion. Any type of rebellion against the divine order by creaturely agents, whether, angelic or human, causes disorder. Man is afflicted in these instances as a result of Original Sin. I mean this insofar as we no longer live in the protection and tranquility of paradise in harmony with God and the surrounding creation. The disorder that ensues from rebellion spills over into the terrestrial sphere we occupy. When our first parents were cast out, they made themselves and their offspring subject to corruption and death. It was a supernatural gift from God whereby man was contingently corruptible. Our first parents forfeited this gift, along with the moral rectitude necessary to rightly order all actions. This resulted in their progeny being susceptible, and a party to spreading, disease, decay, and corruption (body/soul separation). 

Given the post-Fall world we occupy,  we cannot presume that any person suffers affliction because of sins they or their parents committed. This is a bridge too far. Ezekiel chapter 18 also teaches very clearly the principle that God does not hold sons guilty for the sins of their fathers. The guilt of sin is borne by the one who sins. Sons may indeed inherit the consequences of their father’s sin, much like all of us inherit the consequences of sin committed by our first parents. But the son is not punished by God for the sins of the father. 

Along these lines, someone might say that God may punish an individual person for their own sins by allowing them to be afflicted with a disease. Punishment in this case not in the retributive way as we commonly think of it, but with an end toward reform. One may argue that providential direction moves in these circumstances so the person’s soul will be eventually saved. For example, a very wild and rambunctious person is injured in an auto accident and must use a wheelchair. Their mobility limitations become an integral part of their departure from a life of vice to seek answers from God. In turn, this leads them to salvation. 

Such possibilities are instructive in the type of humility and circumspection the Lord desires of us. Determinations about exactly what God is doing in particular situations are not our purview. The antidote for any inclination in this direction is to do what Jesus says in terms of loving and caring for our fellow man. A material part of such an effort would be to avoid presuming we have some glimpse into the providential workings of their lives. In our prophetic office given in baptism, we are of course called to show people the straight and narrow path, to warn them of all the dangers of sin. Yet no part of this involves presumption or haughtiness. 

Thus, we can find a great consistency in the words Jesus says to the paralytic in today’s passage (“ not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you…”) and what the Lord says to His disciples at the beginning of John 9. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a

Today’s Gospel reading tells a great deal about St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin and adoptive father of the Lord Jesus Christ. What a marvelous man and example for all Christians, especially fathers. The Church often speaks of the virtues, both cardinal and theological. The cardinal virtues are justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence. They are called ‘cardinal’ because they are the ‘hinge’ on which the well-lived life turns. Theological virtues are of a higher order, given to us by divine grace. These are faith, hope, and love. On all virtues, St. Joseph shows the way. 

We are told that St. Joseph was a righteous man. In previous reflections, we have explored the concept of righteousness from a biblical perspective. Justice is central to righteousness, which carries with it a sense of rendering what is due to each. Righteousness is conformity to the divine will. St. Joseph thus exemplifies what it means to be a virtuous man, showing the habitual disposition of deference to God and devotion of the self to Him. 

When he finds the Blessed Virgin Mary with child, St. Joseph remains temperate. Before he knew of God’s plan, he resolved initially to divorce her quietly. Less holy men would have reacted differently, seeking to make a spectacle or at the very least showing outward displeasure. Though he surely felt something akin to sorrow, St. Joseph shows that his reason is in control of his emotions. 

St. Joseph exemplifies fortitude in many ways. For example, persisting through difficulties in moving Mary into his home sooner than expected, making the journey to Bethlehem, to the Temple, the flight to Egypt, the return home, and then maintaining a holy home for the Lord Jesus and Blessed Mother. We can be certain that life threw serious challenges at St. Joseph, yet he remained steadfast. 

St. Joseph demonstrates the highest form of prudence when he immediately does as the Angel of the Lord commanded him. There was no second thought or equivocation. He immediately recognized the right path of action, marshaling and aligning the other virtues toward the good shown to him by God. 

Of course, the cardinal virtues order us to human flourishing which is well and good. The theological virtues have God as their end and on these St. Joseph shines forth to all who seek to find an example. 

On the virtue of faith, St. Joseph shows his belief in God and all God has revealed in all actions taken. He fully trusts in divine providence, living by faith. It would not otherwise be possible for St. Joseph to undertake the mission God gave him, which included relocating, providing for, and being a paradigm example of holiness for the Holy Family. 

St. Joseph shows us the proper way to hope, whereby we desire the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life as our happiness. In choosing to follow the divine will, he willingly gives up all claim to lasting joy in temporal pleasures. In his faithfulness to God and the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph remains a chaste man, rightly supporting the Blessed Mary’s loving ministry to humankind as set apart, the pure bearer of God and the Ark of the New Covenant. In all these, St. Joseph shows us that his hope is in God and eternal rest in Heaven. 

We also see love (charity) most exemplified in St. Joseph. To love is the will the good of the other, as other. It is to love God above all things and to love the things that God has made because He made them. St. Joseph so loves God that He happily gives away His entire life as an offering. He makes himself clay in the hands of the Great Potter. St. Joseph loved the Blessed Mother and the Lord Jesus, protecting and providing for them. He led the Holy Family through trial and tribulation, not for his own sake, but for the sake of love. St. Joseph dedicates his life to loving his fellow man by helping to raise the Savior of the world. We also know that St. Joseph continually intercedes for us, thereby showing a perpetual love for God and creation. 

Much more could be said about the wonderful St. Joseph. Perhaps another day. Thank you, Lord, for St Joseph. 

St. Joseph, pray for us! 


Sunday, March 19, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 9:1-41

 Today’s Gospel reading recounts Jesus’ healing of a blind man. Near the end of the exchange, Jesus says “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind." What is so striking about this is that, as Bishop Barron often says, Jesus refuses our efforts to domesticate Him. The polarizing totality of the Incarnate Lord will not be made into the image of sinful man. If we make Jesus simply a good moral teacher or a wise sage, then a completely incoherent portrait results wherein nothing of meaning can be said. We cannot simply make Jesus into what we want Him to be, such a move being the height of idolatry. He is the One who comes to us. We re-orient our lives around Him, not the other way around. He comes to give us life, being the very source of it. 

The light of Christ, the Word made flesh, comes into the world. From today’s passage, we see the polarizing effect that divine illumination has. Those who think they see, fumbling around in the darkness, are made to realize they do not really see anything. Those who realize they cannot see anything yearn for even a glint of light. So, some respond to Jesus eager to see and bask in His light, while others want to shut the light off as quickly as possible. 

Imagine a group of people sitting in a dark room. Some of the people there are doing things they do not want anyone else to know about. If the darkness persists, they can continue their deeds without being seen by others. They pray nothing will ever light up the room. When the room is lit, they scramble to shut it off - on themselves and on everyone else. When the light of Christ shows itself to us, in the myriad ways He does so, we can easily respond to turn away from it. But if we take a moment to realize the light is only ultimately a threat to what enslaves us, we turn toward it. 

I would argue the Pharisees in today’s passage knew that God was at work. It was simply that God was working in a way they did not want. He was working in a way that was beyond their control and power structure. God was doing things that broke through barriers they had erected in their minds. It is painful to realize that we may have built up strong ramparts under the guise of piety only to realize we have actually walled ourselves off from the work of God. When God shows this to us, when He lights up this truth, we can either pull the walls in on top of ourselves so as to remain in the dark or allow Him to rescue us from our own prison. We can allow the light to come into our lives and warm us from the cold bitterness of sin and resentment. 


Saturday, March 18, 2023

Gospel Reflection Luke 18:9-14

Today’s Gospel reading gives us the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (i.e. publican). Tax collectors were of course among the most hated people in ancient Israel. Think about how glad we are to hear from the IRS! In many cases, Jewish tax collectors were party to extorting the people as part of the Roman occupation. They were seen as collaborating with the enemy. Sometimes they were corrupt, double-dealing, skimmed money, etc. There would not be any favorable adjectives attributable to them, perhaps even from their mother. Still, Jesus says that the tax collector is justified in this case while the pious Pharisee is not. Why is this the case? 

Jesus says that whoever exalts himself, as the Pharisee implicitly does, will be humbled. This man will be brought down to a lower state because he is presumed to have a high spiritual stature in virtue of himself. He has become a little god, looking down upon the rest of creation from his lofty state and passing quick and easy judgment. He thinks the mere outward act of his pious deeds is more than sufficient to place him above everyone else. He forgets that it is by God’s grace alone that he even takes a breath. I would even argue that forgetting is probably long buried under his ride. He does not even deign to consider his own shortcomings. Sometimes this can even happen to us. 

Maybe we do a good deed. We help an old lady get her cat down from a tree branch. We feel good about ourselves! Then we walk down the street and think we are better than the person we see sitting on their porch with a cigarette and beer. We think we are better than the dad screaming at his kids or the teenager transfixed before a video game console. Woe to us! It is quite easy to get puffed up. I am not saying we should never feel good about ourselves. Nor is rebuking others in the right circumstance an inherently bad thing. Quite the contrary. But the genuine, lasting good and happiness we get is from having humility before God. There but for the grace of God go we. We are warned by the Lord Jesus from taking a haughty look down our noses at other people. We need to fight this move if it comes upon us. Let us continually keep at top of mind the grace God gives to each of us. Absolutely unmerited favor. That is what grace is. Getting what we do not in any way deserve. 

Jesus says that if we humble ourselves, we will be exalted. It is the Lord Himself who will exalt us and lift us up, drawing us nearer to Him. On the contrary, if we lift ourselves up, it is the Lord who will humble us. Each of these moves is ultimately an act of love from God. God still loves the Pharisee as much as the tax collector. Each is called to repentance. Each has the opportunity to respond. God’s mercies are new each day. So, each day He gives to us, we can choose to respond and receive the grace given, and in turn, give it way to others. 


Friday, March 17, 2023

Gospel Reflection Mark 12:28-34

In today’s Gospel, Jesus dialogues with a scribe about the greatest commandment of the Law. The Scribe rightly recognizes that obeying this commandment is greater than any burnt offering or sacrifice that could be made. However, we should not think that sacrifice is done away with. Far from it, because the very essence of love is sacrifice. To love God is to love the things God loves. So, we must will and act for the good of those things which God wills the good for. 

Sometimes Christians lose sight of the fact that the sacrificial aspect of the Jewish faith was central and paramount. As Christ came to bring the New Covenant, the blood sacrifices of the Temple yielded a higher and better order of sacrifice. We have in Holy Mass the presenting again of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. But we are also called to make sacrifices. To sacrifice means to offer something to God. Because He is the God of the universe and Lord of all creation, He is rightly due whatever the very best is we can bring to Him. Not because He needs anything, but because we do. 

In offering something of importance to God, whether a very valuable unit of livestock in the Old Covenant or the very shirt off our back in the New Covenant, we demonstrate proper moral rectitude. We humbly recognize our place in the order of creation. We acknowledge our absolute dependence upon God by showing Him that we can give up that which might otherwise be most dear to us. Sacrifice is giving away, believing that God will provide for whatever we think might be lacking in the giving. 

To love God and our neighbor means to ultimately give ourselves away. It means to spend our mental and physical energy in pursuits that show the glory of God and make His graces evident to our fellow man. Loving God is not just a good feeling. Because we are so frail and fallible, our feelings change more often than the weather. Rather, to love God with our entire self is to give our entire self to Him. Clay in the hands of the Potter. He will then mold us into vessels that carry His grace to others who need it. This is how the entirety of the Law and Prophets can be so concisely summarized. 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Gospel Reflection Luke 11:14-23

In today’s Gospel reading, we learn about how our enemy, the prince of demons (and lord of flies) operates. Satan’s imperative is to scatter and divide. Jesus is accused of being in league with Satan. But Jesus shows the absurdity of this accusation. Satan and his minions would not be able to accomplish much at all if they were not working in concert with one another. Satan would have no reason to cast one of his own out of a person. By definition, exorcisms are counterproductive to Satanic ends. So, Jesus reasons, if it is by being on the side of Satan that demons are cast out, then other Jewish exorcists must also be on that side. They cannot have it both ways. 

One is either on the side of God or on the side of Satan. The occasion of the exorcism is just one means of demonstrating this fact. If you want to see the demon expelled, you are on the side of God; Satan wants the demon to stay. You cannot invoke Satan against himself. The demon comes out unwillingly by the power of God, so any genuine exorcism is as Jesus says “by the finger of God.” Note that by “being on the side of Satan”, I do not mean being “Satanic’ necessarily in the sense we usually think of in ritual or deed. Yet Jesus is very clear that there is a kingdom of darkness, an order or way of doing things that are ordered against the divine will. The Kingdom of God is a broad term that contemplates an order toward the ultimate good and happiness, a way of doing things, conduct, worship, and life, that has union with God as its end. 

Returning to the passage, we see there is an order of power at work in the exorcism. The weak are overtaken by the strong. Given the creaturely state we occupy, we are quite powerless by our own nature against any spiritual being, like a demon. This is principally why, in spiritual battle, we must put on the armor of God (per Ephesians 6). We do not stand a chance any other way. Jesus tells even St. Peter that Satan would sift him like wheat were it not for the Lord’s intercession. In the absence of divine help, in the form of angelic intervention, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and so forth, the stronger will bind the weaker. We cannot but receive the grace and mercy of God, looking to diving strength to drive back the powers of darkness that assail us. 

The primary focus of Satan’s activity is to scatter and divide. This is why he is called ‘diabolical’ from the Greek word diabolos, which is to accuse or slander. When we are accused and slandered, we are divided from others and God. The accusations cut us off from ourselves (causing doubt, insecurity, rationalization, and defensiveness, among other things). Satan seeks to ultimately cut us off from God, the source of life. It is more than fair to say Satan wants us dead. 

Jesus, the Incarnate Word, God among us, came to give life abundantly. To restore creation. To take away the sin of the world and any basis for accusation or slander from the evil one. Jesus gathers us, like the Good Shepherd. He grafts us onto the vine of life. This is why the Spirit of Christ is one of peace, harmony, and unity. The divisions we erect among and between ourselves, the radical individualism of ‘my way’ is the way of Satan. The enemy scatters and destroys; Jesus collects and puts back together. Demon possession cuts people off from themselves and from their people, it puts the poor soul on an island with no food or water. Jesus rescues from that island of death, restoring the person to community with others, and God. Jesus' earthly ministry involved many exorcisms, and we should see these as a profound sign of His divine sonship and a powerful move of the inbreaking Kingdom of God. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 5:17-19

Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Sermon on the Mount. These passages typically do not get as much airplay as the beatitudes and other notables from Matthew chapters 5-7, such as forgiveness, the Lord’s prayer, not worrying about tomorrow, and so on. Yet, they are obviously quite significant, since nothing is in Holy Scripture by accident. The reason I believe today’s passages get short shrift is that Jesus talks about the Law and keeping commandments. Sometimes Christians have a difficult time thinking about the commandments of God, because of the New Covenant, the grace given to us in Christ, and especially the writings of St. Paul and disputations between Catholics and Protestants. 

Despite some of the complexities in these conversations, it is quite clear that no matter where one reads in the New Testament, we are still commanded by God to do - and not do - certain things. St. Paul is definitely giving us a moral imperative to take care of those who are sick and poor, and that there is right conduct with our bodies. St. James is absolutely telling us to pray for one another and not imbibe favoritism. St. Peter is unequivocal that we must love one another intensely. Jesus commands us to be merciful to our fellow man, to quickly and freely offer forgiveness 

Commandments often get cast in a negative light. They seem restrictive. We want “freedom” and we cannot be free if we have all these constraints. Or so the oppositional logic goes. When it comes to the notion of freedom, we must ask “free from what?” Freedom is a relative term, one state juxtaposed against another state. Yet, freedom is often misunderstood to mean “doing whatever I want.” Such a definition, this spontaneity of the will, is nothing more than slavery to the passions and very close to the life of brute animals. 

Being unattached to temporal passions and irrational desires, unfettering the chains that bind us to death and destruction is what it means to be free. When Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy and burden-light, it means the Christian life is not without any action, quite the contrary. It is the yoke of sin that will crush us. The burdens of following our own passions and desires - these are destructive. So, God gives us explicit guardrails for not making a wreck of our lives. He shows us clearly what it means to take upon the light burden. So, the Lord Jesus speaks about the importance of divine commandments. This is now way competes with grace, for God does not compete with Himself. It is the grace of God that provides the imperative and the grace of God that continually calls us to the commandments thereby cutting through the heavy, rusty chains of sin and freeing us for the life we were meant to live. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Gospel Reflection Mathew 18:21-35

In the Lord’s Prayer we say “..forgives our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…’ Today’s Gospel reading gives us a glimpse of how seriously God takes these words we say. The parable of the unforgiving servant is meant to show that we must forgive others if we hope to have forgiveness. That is, a lack of forgiveness on our part is sinful and takes us away from God.

The unforgiving servant received mercy beyond measure. Further, he received mercy simply by the good graces of the king. There was nothing to be gained by the king in such an action. There was nothing good about the servant that merited his debts to be forgiven. The king gave the servant his entire life back when it was duly owed. 

So, what does the servant do in return? He exhibits extreme ingratitude, hubris, and a complete lack of moral fiber. He shows that he is completely unchanged by the grace he has received, now acting as if he was entitled to have his debts forgiven by the king and is in the position of now collecting. He ignores the pattern of merciful action installed by the king. Thus, the unforgiving servant effectively puts himself in the place of the king. 

Whenever we try to put ourselves in the place of the King, we commit a profound error. This error is immeasurably compounded when we purpose within ourselves to spite the King and storm the throne. The consequences are disastrous. 

The command of Jesus to forgive others as God forgives is only possible through the grace of God. This is especially the case when we are grievously wounded by our fellow man. Some people suffer such hurt and pain that only God can understand it, and only God can help them through the process, aided by our prayers and love. May we always stand ready to love others who are hurt, never presuming nor putting ourselves in the place of God. 

Now, let us think for a moment about those smaller debts others incur to us, the insults, slights, agitations, petty thefts, and so forth. These are much closer to the tiny debt owed to the unforgiving servant. What is our attitude toward others in these cases? Do we try to take the place of God and decide they are not worth forgiving? What if they did not apologize to us? What if they will not admit wronging us? For each of these thoughts we harbor, I am willing to bet we have wronged others twice as many times. We are very biased moral scorekeepers. I think this is one reason why the Lord Jesus is so firm in His warning us away from the activity. “Opt out of the unwinnable game altogether,” He says to us. When it comes to how…we need to ask Him. We need to look to the examples He has given us through His own life and the lives of the saints. God does ask us for the impossible if we rely on and trust completely in ourselves. But nothing is impossible for Him and with Him. 

Lord Jesus, please forgive us for the times we have not forgiven others. Give us a heart like yours to offer forgiveness to others, no matter how badly we are hurt by them. Give us the discernment and strength to seek forgiveness when we hurt others. 

Monday, March 13, 2023

Gospel Reflection Luke 4:24-30

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says “ prophet is accepted in his native place.” Some translations read “no prophet is without honor, save in his own country.” Jesus says these words after He read from the prophet Isaiah in the Nazareth synagogue. No doubt people would have been surprised. This was the same boy they say grow up into a man, the [adopted] son of Joseph and son of Mary. Most of the people there probably knew Mary and Joseph well. And now here was Jesus attributing a great prophetic verse to Himself! Sometimes it is hard to change our minds. How often do we readily accept information that goes against the narrative we hold dear? 

We do not know exactly how much time transpired, but the people in the Nazareth synagogue that day seemed to steel their minds, reject, and turn negative to Jesus’ message as He then goes on to quote from the book of Kings about the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. Famously, both of these prophets were not particularly well-liked by the people in their time. Elijah was constantly on the run, and Elisha faced staunch opposition as well. Jesus touches on a tender nerve for the Israelite people that stings the Nazareth audience, which is the strong tendency to only realize after the fact that a prophet of God was in their midst and was ignored and treated poorly. 

One particularly instructive theme in this passage is that we must be constantly open to God’s work in our lives. We can and should expect God to work in and through us if we are obedient. However, we should not set up false expectations or create our own narratives about exactly how this should be. The childlike faith Jesus speaks about is helpful here. Children are often filled with wonder. Each day for them is like a blank slate upon which something will be drawn. There’s a certain openness to what will come. We might ask ourselves if we are truly open to God working this way in our own lives. You know, the whole “thy will be done” aspect of Christianity. If we start to close off our minds to the infinite ways God can bring things about, then we start to fall into the trap of many ancient Israelites. We start to “put God in a box”, as it were. Jesus wants to free us from that trap. The very mind-boggling fact of the Incarnation is a constant reminder of how God flips our expectations upside down and turns our paradigms inside out. Let us pray that our hearts and minds remain open to the Lord’s work in our lives and the world. The one thing we can expect is amazement and joy. 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 4:5-42

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus speaks with the Samarian woman at Jacob’s well. I remember my grandfather teaching me about this story when I was very little. I do not remember much about my reaction to it at the time. However, in the past few years, I have been very taken by how much we are able to learn. 

First, we cannot quickly gloss over the fact that Jesus purposed Himself to minister in Samaria. We glean from other passages, like the Good Samaritan, that relations between Jews and Samaritans were not good at the time of Christ. That might even be putting it lightly. Some might say that Jews and Samaritans harbored a smoldering hatred for each other. Nonetheless, Jesus (a Jew) ventures into Samaria for the purpose of spreading the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Salvation is from the Jews, but it was not to be for the Jews alone. The light came from them to spread over the whole earth, fulfilling what God promised to Abram in Genesis 12.  

In Samaria, many people come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. To Jewish people reading this account or hearing of it, the reaction was likely scandal (as with many other things Jesus said and did). But God does not care much for our being scandalized by His love. We must admit that God loves our enemies. We unjustifiably bristle that He could cause it to rain on their crops and bless them with increase. It might do us well to pray for an increase in the virtue of charity, so that we may step beyond our natural capacities to see other people, even our enemies, as God sees them. 

An exercise to help in this regard. Ask yourself a question, “if I were on my deathbed right now, what would I care most about?” Or, “if I were given six months to live, how much of it would be spent on despising other people?” To the first question, I think God wants us to care most about Him, and our relationship with Him. He wants us to think about eternity. In our right minds, we would not spend any of the precious breaths we had left cursing our enemies. To the second question, most people would want to spend time with their loved ones, see the beautiful things of the world, and hopefully think a great deal about their eternal state. As in the shorter timeframe, there would not be much mental room or time to wish or bring ill upon our enemies. 

The truth is we do not know if we will be on our deathbeds later today. We do not know if tomorrow will be the day we are told by doctors that we have six months to live. The thought experiment above can be applied to us right here and now. What do we give up by dropping bitterness? What do we lose by praying for those we think of as our enemies? What can we discern from Jesus ministering to the Samarians, showing us that reaching out to those who most dislike us, whom we most despise, is how He wants us to act? 

Something else we see in today’s Gospel is that the Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist. No one can encounter the Lord Jesus and remain the same. The woman chooses the right path and proclaims the presence of the Messiah to her fellow countrymen. She is not concerned any longer about the reasons she had to get water in the heat of the day. She simply responds to the Lord, telling others about Him. 

The other Samaritans who hear about Jesus also respond in a commendable way. They listen to the woman from the well, they are intrigued, and then they go and investigate the matter for themselves. They then come to have faith in Christ after having been introduced to Him. Here we see a microcosm of the process of evangelization. A person encounters the Lord, they are transformed, bears the fruit of this transformation, and then tells others about the source of it. The grace we receive from God is shared with others gladly. 

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Gospel Reflection Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

In today’s Gospel reading, we learn about the prodigal son. This evergreen story tells us the good news in a condensed and emotionally charged way. Our heavenly Father loves us immeasurably. He is grieved when we sin and fall away, individually and collectively. Sin effectively does as the prodigal son did; we walk away from our true home and the very source of our life, nourishment, and sustenance. Cut off from the source of life, we cannot live very long. We soon begin to rummage around in the garbage. Removed from the safety barriers of the Father’s protection and guidance,, we quickly injure ourselves and others. Yet, our Father never stops loving us, desiring our return, and calling to us from a distance. The distance is never so great that the Father’s call is unheard. 

When we come to ourselves, the Father illuminates a path for us to travel and gives us the Holy Spirit as a guide and comforter along the way. It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking we are too far gone. That we have sinned so much, been away from church so long, and done too many bad things that God cannot possibly want anything to do with us. Satan is the father of these lies. The Heavenly Father that loves us is the same One that forgave St. Peter’s denials, wrested St. Paul from his hatred of the Way, and converted some of the most violent kings and rulers across the world.

The story of the prodigal son tells us that no one is ever too far gone. God’s love is infinite and everlasting. It is inexhaustible. We are finite and limited. We are quickly exhausted. We therefore cannot comprehend God’s love for us. This is perfectly ok. We do not need to comprehend it to respond. We can simply respond. Our sins can be forgiven, wiped away, and completely absolved. We cannot comprehend this, either. Our conceptions of justice and mercy are limited. We may not understand at all how God can forgive a person for heinous sin, apostasy, and so forth. But that is exactly why Jesus teaches us; He gives to us what we could never get on our own. This in itself is an element of grace. May we receive it with gratitude as we meditate on today’s reading.