Sunday, April 30, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 10:1-10

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says that “he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” There are many voices calling out to us every day. Do we recognize the clear voice of Jesus amid the cacophony of noise in the world? 

To hear Jesus’ voice, we must be tuned into the right frequency and channel number. Like radio communications, the Lord speaks to us through a certain ‘band’ or ‘spectrum.’ When we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, our reception antennas, our ‘receivers’  to hear things in this spiritual radio spectrum, are repaired and tuned in. But sometimes we choose to turn to a different channel. We tune Jesus out. Sometimes we don’t want to listen to His station because we want to hear the live feed from the City of Man. So, we change the channel. And what usually comes to us in this cacophony of voices is like a siren song of sin. It pulls us in and we become complacent, not deigning to move the dial. 

The thing with being rational creatures informed by sense experience is we cannot turn off incoming messages. Sure, we can place ourselves in a natural setting or ‘off the grid’, but this is very difficult to sustain for most people and comes with several of its own difficulties. Reading the Desert Fathers makes evident that ‘noise’ can come to us in every setting. Changing our surroundings can help, of course. Reducing our consumption of what is commonly now just called ‘content’ is a great blessing. But the spiritual noise and competition for our attention and focus will always be present. 

For most of us, we can only adjust the frequency and channel number of where we receive our broadcast. Sometimes, the Lord will break through the other stream we have tuned into and call us to change the channel. Turn back to the heavenly station so that we can hear His voice, for that is where we are nourished by the words and song of eternal life and where we are truly happy. Sometimes we will recall the happiness we had when hearing from the Lord and turn the dial back. The grace of God reaches through and prompts us to recalibrate. This shift back means we listen to His voice in prayer, Mass, reading Sacred Scripture, the Sacraments, singing spiritual songs, speaking of spiritual things, reading of heavenly things, joyful fellowship, acts of service, penance, almsgiving, viewing art that lifts the souls to God, listening to music that elevates the spirit to the Creator, and so forth. 

Let us ask the Lord to help us stay tuned into His channel. May we continually hear the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd calling out to us and leading us. May we follow the voice of truth and not become distracted or dismayed from our heavenly goal by the myriad noises vying for our attention. 

Friday, April 28, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 6:52-59

Today’s Gospel reading continues the Bread of Life Discourse. At the end of the passage today, St. John writes “These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.” The synagogue is where the rabbis taught Torah. From here the wisdom of the sages was dispensed. Holy writ proclaimed. For Jesus to teach in a synagogue that was not in his hometown, but an adopted, temporary home for an itinerant rabbi, is quite interesting. The local rabbis must have wanted to what more. Perhaps they heard about the signs. 

Indeed, there was a great deal of interest in what He had to say about Torah. Jesus taught a wide variety of people, spanning socio-economic class and education. There is something captivating about this combined with the loud thunderclaps wrought when Jesus says that His flesh must be eaten and his blood consumed for one to have eternal life. What could this possibly have to do with Torah and living as God’s Covenant people? Nothing and everything. 

If Jesus does not speak in the Person of God, if He does not have divine authority to speak as the author of the Torah itself, then His words must be dismissed, even despised, by His countrymen. On the other hand, if Jesus speaks in the very Person of God, then what He says opens up the heart of Torah and the very author of it is expounding upon its purpose and deepest meaning. 

C.S. Lewis famously argued that Jesus was either a liar, lunatic, or Lord. He cannot be merely a good moral teacher or wise sage. He claimed to be God. He claimed to speak as God. One could think He was lying or crazy. But one cannot make Jesus into anything one wants Him to be. Simplified, Jesus is nothing or everything. If He is not God, then He is nothing. If He is God, He is everything. If He is God, then we must receive His word and His flesh and blood in the Eucharist by faith. If He is not God, then all of these things can be dismissed. Most people in the audience hearing the words in today’s passage were in this latter category. But some of His disciples understood that He has the words of eternal life. In His grace and love, God always gives us the same choice. 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 6:44-51

Today’s Gospel reading continues the Bread of Life Discourse from John 6. Jesus says He is the bread of life and “...whoever eats this bread will live forever…” If Jesus is the bread of life, and whoever eats the bread of life will live forever, then it follows that whoever eats Jesus will live forever. There have been so many attempts to spiritualize these words away or to reduce them to mere metaphor just like other efforts to domesticate Jesus and make his teachings more palatable (no pun intended). I submit this simply cannot be done without doing violence to the text or presuming one knows more about what Jesus meant than He did. 

If Jesus only meant these words in a spiritualized way, where eating Him conveyed a sense of obedience, discipleship, being nourished by His words, and so forth, then there would have been no controversy at all. Yet St. John takes great pains to highlight the fact that nobody in the audience ‘got’ what Jesus was saying at first and when the Lord doubled down on His claims, as it were, most of the people became upset and left, writing Him off as insane. 

Of course, eating the Lord Jesus is insane. It’s crazy to think you can eat another person and live forever. On certain presuppositions, nothing in Sacred Scripture is even possible. But Jesus is in the business of taking our hard physical and metaphysical boundaries and blurring them a bit. He re-draws the lines around the borders of our life where nature and grace are firmly divided. This gerrymandering of the map of reality is deeply distressing. We can’t make sense of it. We want things back the way they were before Jesus came into our lives before these words hit our ears so that we can reattach to the sultry illusion of control. 

Jesus is not particularly interested in our remaining shackled to illusion. He makes plain that He is the Son of God, speaking in the Person of God. No mere man is telling us to eat Him. I think this is important to bear in mind as we place ourselves at His feet and listen. This is one reason why Jesus as the bread of life is no mere metaphor. 

It is true that we are nourished by the word of God. The teachings of Jesus and the Apostles present to us the way of eternal life. Faith in Jesus working through love. To leave things here, though, would be an incomplete picture. Bound up within the teachings of Jesus is the unequivocal claim that He is the bread of life and we must eat Him to live. 

Inquiring into the specific ‘how’ of this is to ask the wrong question because it presupposes the ability of finite intellects to penetrate the mind of God. I believe we are better prepared to receive this revelation from God if we do not think of God as ‘apart’ from the world.  If we do not place limitations on divine action. If we remember that the creative activity of God entails the continuous donation of being to all things that are not God. If we keep in mind that dividing the human and divine natures in Jesus Christ is the wrong course of action. This is just a sampling of apophatic moves and does not give us a demonstration of how we eat the flesh of Jesus. Rather, it can help shed the hubris clinging to us like Velcro so that we can take Jesus at His word and eat His flesh in faith. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 6:35-40

Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Eucharistic discourse in John 6. Jesus unequivocally says He is the bread of life. Those who come to Him, who “eat His flesh and drink His blood,” as we will soon read, will never hunger and also have eternal life. 

In these passages, Jesus has much to say about the will of the Father. Sometimes Christians make the will of God too mysterious or out of reach. Yet a great deal of God’s will is told very plainly to us. For example, in today's passages, just five short verses, the will of God is explicitly referenced three times. 

In most cases, people want to know if it is God’s will that they take a certain job or marry a certain person. Vocations are important. So is marrying the right person. What is more important is the bigger picture. The ‘macro’ will of God, as it pertains to the salvific mission of Christ and the Church, is the most important thing in this context. Put differently; there are many ways to make a living, many places to live, possibly many people you could marry, etc. But there is only one way of rightly ordering life. One Kingdom. One God. One Lord. If we lose our understanding of the big picture of God’s will, we surely will not get the (relatively) smaller things right. 

Today’s verses tell us the will of God is that the Son become Incarnate. The Son came down from heaven in perfect accordance with the Father’s will. We also learn the will of God is that Jesus should not lose any of those the Father gave to Him. We know the will of God is that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life. As we can see, the will of God is nothing but our good. To say God is love is most certainly not a platitude or any kind of new-age spirituality. We are willed (loved) into existence. Love keeps us in existence. And the love of God is continually reaching through every fiber of the created order to reach us and fix what ails us. The will of God is mysterious because God is mysterious. Yet we are able to understand enough of God's will, because of the perfect work of the Son, that the right response is evident: repentance and faith. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Gospel Reflection Mark 16:15-20

Today is the feast day of St Mark the Apostle. The Gospel reading comes to us from the sixteenth chapter, the very end of St. Mark’s Gospel. This is the so-called “longer ending” of this Gospel, as there is a scholarly dispute about whether the manuscripts containing these passages are early enough to be genuine and/or are authentic Markan authorship. The Church has traditionally received the long ending of Mark as inspired revelation. 

In these passages, we read a variation of the Great Commission. Jesus commands His disciples to go forth into the world, proclaiming the glad tidings. Mark 16:15 usually reads “...proclaim the Gospel to every creature…” This is of course not wrong per se, but the words in the original Greek are more literally rendered as “proclaim the Gospel to all the creation.” I think this latter translation is more powerful and evokes the cosmic redemptive work of Christ. 

St. Paul writes in Romans 8:19-22: 

“For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now…” 

The rebellion of rational creatures against God affects the entire created order. A great dislocation has occurred;  the world is out of joint. Things do not work as they should. Something has gone terribly wrong. The victory over sin and death won by the Lord Jesus through His death and resurrection means that not only will mankind be redeemed from the futility of sin, but that the entirety of creation is being put back into joint. Everything that is wracked by sin will be cleansed. The contagion is being cured. The healing balm of Christ’s blood was shed for the restoration of what God made so that it will be wholly good again. 

We can therefore see the powerful evocation in Mark 16:15; proclaiming the great victory of Christ to all of creation. Nothing is left unaffected by the outpouring of divine grace. In an eschatological motif, the prophet Isaiah tells us “the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.” (Is. 11:6) The glad tidings, the Christus Victor proclamation, is not only for mankind but for everything God made. 

Here I am led to think of St. Francis of Assisi and his animal friends. To many, this is a trite medieval fable. Yet, if we look closely, we should see a very direct connection to the wider implications of Christ’s mission and the words from today’s passage. Through special graces, St. Francis was given a taste of the cosmic order harmoniously restored. When God is our light and life and death and corruption are no more, the competition between creatures will cease. Everything will once again exist as a peaceful symphony displaying the glory of God. Until then, we must tell everyone - and everything! - about this great hope. Perhaps not necessarily by going to the nearest zoo and preaching to the bears, although some saints might find you a kindred spirit in this exercise (St. Anthony of Padua, perhaps). Rather, we look for opportunities to proclaim the breadth of Christ’s victory. We must expand our scope and our vision of the new heavens and new earth. We must look back to Genesis 1 and take up our mandate to be proper stewards of the earth. We must see that John 3:16 speaks of God’s love for the cosmos, for all of the created order, and we must extend that same love. Doing so will help us better understand how radical the Gospel is, and how radically Jesus calls us to reorient our thinking and the whole of our lives.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 6:22-29

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” We find teaching along these same lines in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6, Jesus says “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?  All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness,* and all these things will be given you besides.” 

In one sense, these teachings seem at best slightly analogous. One pertains to how we wrongly prioritize our lives and fritter about in needless anxiety. The other begins an extended discourse on the bread from heaven, the Lord Jesus. But there is an important connection. The food that endures for eternal life, the food that Jesus gives us, is Himself. We trust in God to provide it, knowing how limited our control is over our circumstances. Knowing that we cannot build or make it ourselves. We must look to God for it. Our daily anxieties can be addressed only by yielding our wills to God. 

How do we ‘work’ for Jesus, though? Wouldn’t such work go against faith? Only if we maintain a false dichotomy where nature and grace are at odds. We can look at our passage today in John 6 and make a connection to Matthew 6. We must seek the Kingdom of God. We must align our lives with Christ, becoming full participants in His Kingdom. The ‘work’ we do is not a work-based salvation whereby we do enough good things and come out on the right side of the scale. Rather, in submitting to the Lordship of Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we pattern our lives after Jesus. We love the things God loves, and do the things God loves to do. We seek to have the Lord Jesus in all ways possible, desiring God above all. The summit of this union in the temporal, earthly realm, is the Holy Eucharist. The imperishable food of Christ endures for eternal life because each time we partake of it we are in a very real way ‘divinized’ - made partakers of the divine life through the mystery of grace in the Sacrament. 

Jesus says "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent." The term ‘believe’ in this context does not merely entail mental assent to the truth of a proposition. It means a radical reorientation of life. It means repentance, turning away from, the things of the world. Turning away from world systems of money, power, lust, greed, and corruption. It means total trust in the provision and providence of God. Depending upon His guiding hand in every aspect of life. It is to look at the Son and see the Father. It is to live indwelled and sealed by the Holy Spirit, guided to eternal truth and life. It means to follow in the footsteps of the Son, which means hardship in this life. It means caring and loving when no care or love is reciprocated. We believe in Christ, the One sent by God, by faith working through love. In this, we accomplish the work God has for us in this life as we prepare for eternal life. 

Friday, April 21, 2023

Gospel (and Philosophical) Reflection John 6:1-15

The Gospel reading today gives us St. John the Evangelist’s account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Yesterday, we heard from the third chapter of John’s Gospel that God does not ration His gift of the Spirit. Whereas all creatures are limited, God is not. The limitless love and being of God are displayed in the miraculous feeding of 5,000 men from just five barley loaves and two fish. To dismiss this event, or other signs and wonders of Jesus, as merely symbolic is to admit a limitation in God and therefore reduces the Creator to the creaturely. Today’s Gospel provides an opportunity to reflect on the miraculous, as this is one of Jesus' most well-known signs. 

Of course, we cannot reproduce or comprehend the ‘how’ of multiplying food exponentially in a short period of time. Perhaps God acted here at the quantum level, and maybe if this is the basis of physical reality then that level is where divine action originates. The risk in trying to analyze the miraculous through an explanation rooted in the natural sciences is not necessarily that God is ushered out, although this is certainly a risk in some cases, but that the causal order is conflated or reduced. God is the primary cause of all that is. All physical (and spiritual) reality depends upon God at any moment that it exists. The substances or fundamental elements of the world do not persist inertially, despite the pressing desire of some to read their metaphysics exclusively from mathematical equations or abstractions in physics (or forego metaphysics altogether). It just does not work in the end to think things of the cosmos persist on their own when we consider what finite substances are and what it means for them to exist here and now or at any time. Only by artificial, analytical means, like creating examples with many qualifications and cafeteria-style, a la carte, unsystematic hypothesizing, can we reasonably think, in the end, that something in the world can be without God causing it to be at the most fundamental metaphysical level. 

With this said, we must also say that God delights in secondary causes bringing about effects. We would say that these secondary causes can be directed by God in certain ways to bring about effects that do not normally obtain. This is perhaps one way of thinking about divine signs and wonders.  When we zoom in on just the natural processes and neglect their primary cause, we can forget that secondary causes are unable to operate on their own. Secondary causes may achieve different ends, or follow different paths of manifestation when the primary cause so directs. Signs from God, what we call miracles, are instances where secondary causes are directed by God to more clearly and unambiguously draw people’s attention to Him. Signs are elements of divine grace penetrating through our recalcitrant intellects and wills bent away from our loving Creator. 

So we say that the way God acts is not in a contingent, finite manner. His action is of a different order than anything within the world. As mentioned above, each aspect of the cosmos is caused to exist by God at every moment it exists. God is not distant from the world, stepping in to intervene from time to time. Rather, the essence of God weaves through every strand of the cosmos, the causal and teleological basis of all that is, whenever and wherever it is. God remains utterly distinct yet not apart from His creation. When signs and wonders happen, what we call miracles, we see God causing things to be in a different way than we customarily experience them. We should not be surprised at this. After all, as Chesterton said, the sun rises each day because God says 'Do it again.” 

The laws of physics, as commonly understood, might be one way to help us understand how the world usually goes, what we can expect ceteris parabis. Yet, there are times and places when things are not ceteris parabis. The Son of God among us in the context of His salvific mission is a shining example of God getting the attention of those whom He loves so much. As we read later in today’s passage “When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world." The signs Jesus gave to demonstrate His divinity and Messiahship were unmistakable to anyone paying attention. Even those dozing off in class had to take notice. Eternal love was breaking into the world to defeat sin and death in the most decisive way. 

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 3:31-36

In today’s Gospel reading we hear that God does not ration His gift of the Spirit. In God there is no limitation, He is infinite being and infinite love. Sadly, we can easily forget this important truth about God.  Why? I suspect because it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking God and creation are in competition with each other. If this was the case, there would only be so much of God to go around at any time. However, any limited being is not God. 

Within the temporal world, if something, say my bookshelf, is in a certain place, I cannot be in that place. Finite things exist in a similar way, and so they can ‘compete’ with each other, as it were. My attention is limited, and my knowledge perhaps even more so. I can only think of so many things. So it is with all creatures to varying degrees. The finite and contingent world has intrinsic limitations. But God does not exist as creatures do. It is not even the most technically correct thing to say that God exists, but rather that He is existence itself. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, God is’ ipsum essse subsistens’, subistent being itself. God is not ‘a’ being, He is being

Thus God is in an utterly unique way. As such, He also is in an unchanging way. Said differently, it is impossible to predicate change in God. I think this is an important point as it relates to today’s passage “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.” When we disobey the Son, God does not suddenly become angry with us. In our sin and rebellion, we walk outside the divine life. We slowly die physically following our spiritual disconnection. These choices are our own and we must own the consequences. But if we obey the Son, if we believe in Him, we then step into the divine life. We plug into the very source of life itself.  

It is not God that changes in either our rebellion or our repentance, He is always loving. And it is always the case that we experience the wrath of God by choosing to disobey the Son. That God unchangingly loves and gives to us without limitation is one of the central truths of the Gospel. We can embrace this fact or turn away from it. The very essence of grace is the continuous reaching into every nook and cranny of the cosmos to bring it back into alignment. God loves His creation and His loving reach is part and parcel of our existence.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 3:7b-15

In today’s Gospel reflection, Jesus asks Nicodemus “If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” Here Jesus helps us understand the ascent of the mind to the articles of faith. 

Contrary to how it is frequently caricatured, by both Christians and non-Christians, faith is not subrational. It is not beneath or antithetical to reason. By ‘reason’, I mean those things that are known and understood through our interaction with the world and the logical ordering of what we understand via the human intellect. 

An article of faith is something we believe because God has told it to us. But the basis of our assent is antecedent truth about the world. We must first believe earthly things in order to believe heavenly things. I would submit these earthly things involve what have been called the preambles of faith. One example would be the existence of God. The entirety of special revelation presupposes, in a certain sense, that God exists. It is not an article of faith to believe in the existence of God. Surely, God is not ‘earthly’, but we can arrive at the conclusion that theism is true based on natural theology. Natural theology being the truths about God known through interrogation of the natural, physical world. We can know about the Creator through our study of creatures.

What would be an article of faith, on the other hand, is that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man. This is a conclusion we could not arrive at without God telling us. Another article of faith is that God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God in three divine Persons. Yet another example is what Jesus is telling Nicodemus in John 3. In order to enter the Kingdom of God, we must be born of the Spirit. Spiritual rebirth is not a conclusion man could ever arrive at on his own, no matter how deeply we could penetrate the intricacies of the natural world. No matter how insightful our natural theology, we could not know this profound truth about God and ourselves. We believe it because of the source of the information. The source of this information, we have good reason to believe, based on our knowledge of the world, is divine. Thus we assent despite the fact that we did not discover or deduce the proposition given. We receive the truths of the faith with gladness, for they elevate and perfect our minds. 

Returning to the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, if Nicodemus (or anyone else, for that matter), would not believe the commonalities and starting points of discourse on God, the earthly things, then the heavenly things would not be received. It would be like giving a pallet of shingles to a person who had not yet built the foundation of the house. Or, perhaps giving the same shingles to a person who had a completely different concept of house construction that did not involve roofing altogether. Without assent to the starting point, such as that God was acting decisively in the world in Christ and Christ was speaking in the very Person of God (the Son), Nicodemus would not be able to apprehend what Jesus was telling Him about being born again. The ‘earthly’ things were happening right in front of Nicodemus. He had plenty to go on, but he is somewhat reluctant to follow the evidence where it is leading. This is where the will comes into play in the act of faith. Assenting to the articles of faith is not merely an intellectual exercise. The will is involved in moving the person to assent to what God proposes to us for belief. Part of the work of God the Holy Spirit is prompting and moving our will to this assent in aid to the intellect. 

If we do not believe in earthly things, we will not believe in heavenly things. We do well to keep this in mind in our evangelization efforts. Sometimes people are not at the same starting point or do not acknowledge any common ground. We can work to build a dialogue around the preambles of faith, or at least articulate them, to help another person understand why we believe and what faith means. We can work toward common ground and sharpen our natural theology to better assist in these exchanges. 

Monday, April 17, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 3:1-8

In today’s Gospel reading, we read about Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees were likely more curious about Jesus than antagonistic to Him, as would be the case later. Yet, Nicodemus bucks the trend in several ways that are instructive. One is that Sacred Scripture strongly suggests he was a faithful follower of the Lord. Nicodemus provided a counterweight to the raucous group in John 7:50, and he comes to bury the Lord in John 19:30. 

What is equally compelling about Nicodemus is that he sought answers directly from the source. He was not content with hearsay or groupthink. It seems as though he wanted a private audience with Jesus, to “get down to brass tacks”, as it were. Nicodemus was interested in the truth. He comes with an open mind. He is not afraid to dig in, even though some of his most cherished assumptions were a bit off-base. He wants to sit at the feet of the Master and learn. 

The fruit of this exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus yields to us the proclamation of God’s love for the world in John 3:16. We also learn about the work of God the Holy Spirit in our salvation. Thus, the beauty of the Holy Trinity is disclosed to us. We see the Father sending the Son, in the love, power, and unity of the Holy Spirit. 

The mysterious and wonderful harmony of Persons acts in human history to redeem the world from brokenness. The new creation that results from our redemption can only be of divine origin because only God can create. We must be new creations to participate in the re-created cosmos; the world God is drawing to Himself will be of such an order that one must be born for it - and this is the work of the Spirit, made possible by the finished work of the Son, sent forth by the Father. All out of love. God’s willing the ultimate and highest good possible for us. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 20:11-18

Today’s Gospel reading tells us of St. Mary Magdalene meeting the Risen Lord. Here we see such a wonderful example of true devotion. Overcome with emotion, Mary weeps. Then she sees something amazing. Angels inside the empty tomb. It is interesting that they ask her why she weeps. Shouldn’t it be obvious? The syllogism could not be understood through her sorrow. If A, then B. A. Therefore, B. If Jesus died, He will rise again. Jesus died. Ergo…

So many times we can become deeply bogged down in sorrow, lost in the fog of pain, that we are not able to recall what the Lord says to us. He promises that He will never leave nor forsake us. And it is God Himself who makes this vow. Our reasoning process can quickly break down. In our frail condition, this is to be expected. God continues to bestow grace upon us. He continues to pursue us and draw us closer. 

When Mary Magdalene turns around, she sees the Lord Jesus. Just as the angels did, He asks her why she is weeping. Perhaps there is some significance in the same question being asked twice. Perhaps we can dive a little deeper and confront the true question: why do we weep? We weep for our loss. We weep because things are not as they ought to be and we are so frustrated at our inability to make them as they should be. Our physiology betrays our psychology.  But there is One who did make all things, and who will one day make them as they should be. We are powerless to do this, and ignorant of the means and timeframe by which it will come. This is also frustrating for us and causes us to express ourselves in various ways. 

In this passage, it is almost as if the angels and the Lord Jesus are asking Mary - and us - rhetorically why we are weeping. We have the promises of God and an empty tomb. We have the Passion of Christ, where the final and perfect sacrifice for sins was accomplished. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was slain for us. When we think through it, we have no reason to despair. The more fully we place our trust in the promises of God, the more fully we realize that death is not the end. Suffering will not have the last word. Pain will one day be no more. Surely, we will still mourn during times of loss or pain. But we must hold fast to the confidence that God will transform our weeping into joy as He does for Mary Magdalene. Our mourning will not be as those who have no hope. We may begin weeping in sorrow, but this will yield tears of joy.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 28:8-15

In today’s Gospel, we read about the early polemic that was circulated in and around Jerusalem concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Because He was publicly killed by crucifixion and visibly placed - and sealed - in a known location, Jesus’ opponents had no other option to explain the empty tomb and multiple eyewitness reports of the resurrection. 

Since Jesus had claimed He would rise again, the resurrection reports must have caused quite a panic in the chief priests. They knew that if Jesus had been raised from the dead, God had done this marvelous act. And if God had done something like this, the clear implication was Jesus was a true prophet and not a blasphemer. On one level, they had the knowledge of killing an innocent man. On a deeper level, Jesus being raised would have vindicated His teachings and self-understanding as the unique Son of God. 

What we see in Jesus’ opponents, then and now, is a desperate flailing about in order to escape the love and truth of God in Christ. Just like a drowning man repeatedly slapping away the shepherd's hook extended for his rescue, the impenitent heart casts about for anything but God. Claiming the disciples of Jesus stole his body out of the tomb and made up a resurrection story is, of course, the height of absurdity. One believes in such possibilities only through the acceptance of antecedent assumptions, none of which are ultimately sustainable. 

The disciples were just as surprised as anyone else that Jesus rose from the dead. The Gospels are clear on this point. Self-incriminating accounts permeate resurrection narratives that breathe the air of authenticity. The resurrection was shocking to literally everyone. But it could not be denied any more than the witnesses could have denied the rising of the sun. 

To think that a group of scared and scattered followers of a crucified rabbi would steal the body away from a known tomb (to where?) and make up a story (about something they didn’t have a conception of), and then not only they, but hundreds of people not in their immediate cohort, told the exact same story about the dead man’s appearing, strains credulity beyond the breaking point. 

There was no real basis for anyone to think the disciples stole the body, but the leaders had to tell people something in order to sweep their sins under the rug. I believe that is at least a large part of the reason St. Matthew includes this early polemic against the Christians in his Gospel. Not so much for apologetic reasons, but to show how hard the heart can be set against the loving hand of God. 

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 20:1-9

He is risen!


Truly, He is risen .

“But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came also through a human being. For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ; then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death, for “he subjected everything under his feet.” But when it says that everything has been subjected, it is clear that it excludes the one who subjected everything to him. When everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will [also] be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.”

--1 Corinthians 15:12-28



Manrantha, Jesus!

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 28:1-10

Today’s Gospel reading gives us St. Matthew’s account of the Resurrection. The reading is part of the Easter Vigil Mass. Vigil means to be awake or to be lively. The faithful stand vigil tonight as we anticipate the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a quiet time. One of reflection and remembrance. 

And so we wait.

Perhaps we think back on the Lenten season that began in the throes of winter. As we pray and fast, the weather begins to change. But not completely. Not yet. The dregs of cold cling with the last vestiges of their energy, reminding us where we’ve come from. Sun and warmth are nearly here. Renewal and restoration beckon just beyond the horizon. With the freshness of spring comes genesis; new life miraculously unfolds from invisible seedlings and buds. The life we see coming up before us was only just a fallen leaf, a withering stalk. Frozen, dry, and vapid. 

And so we wait. 

Thankfully, we have the wonderful subtlety of St. Matthew’s Gospel to occupy us in the waning hours until Jubilation. 

The emotions of St. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary perfectly capture what we feel; fearful, yet overjoyed. We can only look in awe, bowing our heads and prostrating ourselves before the infinite love of God that not only deigned to take on flesh but to suffer and be confined to a tomb. That tomb, like all others one day, is a great symbol of cosmic victory. The light shines into the darkness, overcomes, and all of creation rejoices as it is released from its bondage. As winter must yield to the power of the sun, death must yield to the Creator of life.

And so we wait. 

It’s almost here…

Friday, April 7, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 18:1—19:42

Today’s Gospel reading is St. John’s account of the Passion. The modern vernacular typically renders ‘passion’ as “a strong desire” or “barely controllable emotion.” We tend to think a person is passionate about something (or someone) if they think about it all the time, devote significant time to pursuing it, or cannot speak about it without sounding excited or anxious. Passion borders on obsession, or so the idea usually goes in common parlance. This is certainly a sad state of affairs, if for no other reason than it obscures the meaning behind the words describing - to the extent words are able - the suffering of Jesus Christ. 

Passion comes to us from the Latin passio, from pati, which means ‘to suffer’. To suffer is to be acted upon by an outside agent. Think for a moment about where we got our word ‘compassion’, one that is often used in the proper historical context, which to suffer alongside. It is a valued trait in our day, and we are indeed encouraged by some of the powers that be to have ‘compassion’ for various things or people. Sometimes this encouragement comes at the tip of the sword. Yet, the roots underlying passion remain safely obscured from any connection to Jesus. 

The great irony here is that without the passion of Christ, we would not have any true paradigm of compassion. It would remain an abstraction, like a geometry theorem with no numbers given to measure or quantify. The reason is that we see in Jesus a truly innocent man brutally killed and mocked, in front of His mother and friends. We see the gravest injustice. We are compassionate because we place ourselves in the sandals of Jesus, albeit for a microsecond, and shudder at the thought of being so treated. And for what? For loving people. For healing the sick. For bringing a message of salvation and God’s Kingdom. In the case of Jesus, we know that He deserved not even one cross look from a Roman soldier, let alone a gnarled fist driving into His jaw. 

Jesus brings suffering - passion - to the most brutally cold, concrete reality. It smacks us in the face, even as we read the account so many years after the fact. Most people cannot read about Christ’s Passion and not feel anything. Perhaps it is shock. Maybe revulsion. Maybe some feeling of historical triumphalism, where the smugness of ‘us moderns not being like those ancient barbarians’ creeps into the fold. Surely we are not as brutal as the Romans, are we? We can revisit that another day. Reading through St. John we place ourselves with and alongside Jesus and it feels...terrible. 

So, in a peculiar way, our reading of Christ’s Passion brings about compassion in us. As Christians, we should embrace this as much as we can. The reason Christ suffered was for us. That terribly uncomfortable feeling arises from our conscience, that aboriginal vicar of the soul, subtly reminding us that our sins placed Jesus on the whipping post and the Cross. We feel for the innocent victim that we are responsible for victimizing. Alas, the fruit of our transgressions has yielded the crown of thorns embedded into Jesus’ skull. The contradiction of our rebellion comes into the hazy field of vision. 

It was not merely the physical Passion that Christ endured for us. He suffers emotionally Abandoned by almost all of His friends and family members. Mocked and derided by His countrymen. Tormented by those to which He had done so much good. Killed as an enemy of Israel and Rome. Knowing that He could have stopped it any time and taken the swiftest vengeance on his torturers. 

The Cross was an instrument of torture invented by rational creatures that had no business doing so. The entire disordered scene inflicts nausea because we know that it need not have been so. Things should have been different. The world should not be such a place where crucifixions happen. It ought not to be a place where the innocent suffer. It should not be a place where children are sick, where people are murdered or slandered. Yet, all of these injustices have their root in rebellion. The innocent Passion of Christ lays a divine axe to that root. In His Passion, He hacks to pieces death and decay. He bears our iniquity, as the ancient prophet says. By His stripes - by His Passion - we are healed. Glory to God. 

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 13:1-15

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. It is fitting that we find this account in St. John’s Gospel, for it reflects the deep intimacy and spirituality of the overall narrative. Someone who loved Jesus deeply, who was having their own feet washed, wrote this for our benefit. How humbling it is to think that our Lord performed this act of service. 

Foot washing was done by slaves or the lowliest houseworkers. It was a profoundly servile task, for the feet are great collectors of filth. The grime builds up, layer upon layer. Cleaning them requires soaking, scrubbing, and vigorous washing. Try walking around barefoot for a whole day, perhaps in the summer, and then wash your feet. You will notice the build-up everywhere, on your heels and in between your toes. But when you clean your feet, something highly refreshing and therapeutic happens. It feels like your entire body and mind are restored.

Just like the filth that cakes itself upon our feet, our sins harden and crust upon our souls. Only through Jesus’ supreme act of the servile, dying as a slave on the Cross, can the dross of sin be removed. Jesus tells Simon Peter “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Likewise for us, unless we are washed by the blood of Christ, we have no inheritance with Him. 

As Jesus did in washing His disciples' feet before His Passion, He does for us every day as He offers up the perfect sacrifice of His body and blood. We partake of this beautiful sacrifice in the Holy Eucharist. We receive the grace infused by the other Sacraments, whereby we share in the inheritance of the Lord. In receiving these gifts, analogous to our feet being washed, we are refreshed. We feel clean. Our shoulders are no longer tense. The dull beating headache continually tapping itself against our temples ceases its cadence. The psychological and physiological effects reflect a deeper spiritual reality within us. When Jesus cleans us, we are drawn up into the divine life. 

Life on this side of eternity can be messy. We may get dirty again. Jesus is always there with the wash basin and towel. We may not think the towel dripping with His blood can purify us, but it does so at the deepest level. Like Simon Peter, let us ask Jesus to wash not only our feet but our head - indeed our entire selves - also. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 26:14-25

In today’s Gospel, we read about Judas’ deal with the chief priests. 30 pieces of silver. The value of a slave. The price paid for a modest convenience and political expediency. 

The striking thing about what Judas did is that he did not get much money for his trouble. Sacred Scripture does not tell exactly why Judas sold out Jesus. Taking a purely deterministic providential answer, as some are wont to do, is unhelpful. If we simply say “because God wanted him to”, that would of course be as true for this as anything else. We would then either be constrained to cease all inquiry or subsume such inquiry into the inescapable maze of the arbitrary. Since God is not in competition with creatures, and God wills that effects come about through secondary causes, among which rational agents with genuine choice are numbered, we might still reasonably ask the question. 

Perhaps Judas became disillusioned with Jesus’ Messiahship. It was time for a military conquerer and Judas was tired of waiting. There is some speculation that Judas was a zealot. Others hypothesize that Judas tried to broker a peace deal of sorts. But this theory seems very weak in light of the evidence. Judas had full knowledge of the priests’ intentions. After the cleansing of the Temple, there could not be any reasonable doubt they wanted Jesus dead. Merely banishing Him or putting Him in prison would not pacify them. It could be that Judas simply thought that he would get more for the betrayal, overestimating the worth of his services, and pressed forward with his plan anyway. Maybe Judas wanted to see if Jesus was really who He claimed to be, and therefore sought to orchestrate an extreme test. Judas might have grown to become jealous of Jesus, seeking to usurp the Lord from His place of leadership. 

Now, what fruit does the above conjecture bear? Only this. That all reasons for betraying Jesus are rooted in the indulgence of pride. Judas wanted things his way instead of God’s way. However God was acting in the world, but Judas saw differently. What we see in Judas is eerily reminiscent of what the great church tradition teaches about Satan. 

Satan was among the angels and near to God. He rebelled against God, seeking not only to be like the Most High, but to take His place. This great disorder in the creature led to a domino effect of cosmic disorder. What Jesus comes to do is restore order. To begin directing all things finally and fully back to God as their proper end. The bent stick is getting turned back in the opposite direction so that it can become straight again. The proud, like Satan and Judas, fight against this with all their might. In a certain sense, they do believe they can succeed. In another, deeper sense, their efforts will ultimately come to nothing. As an embodied soul and rational creature, Judas realizes this only too late. 

We should see a reflection of our own pride and sinfulness when we read about the betrayal of Jesus. We should recognize that only by God’s grace are we able to walk in humility and circumspection. The grace of each day is sufficient for itself and our ultimate happiness as God bends us into proper shape. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 13:21-33, 36-38

Today’s Gospel reading provides an account from the Farwell Discourse of Jesus (John 13-17). Jesus tells aloud of His betrayal. There is something deeply sinister about what would otherwise be a serene, even joyful, environment. As the Lord tells Cain in Genesis 4, “…sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it.” The specter of evil lurks. Even among the closest friends, the temptation to sin and betray is near. Such is the state of the post-Fall world we inhabit. 

What is especially vivid about this scene is how viscerally we know the pain of betrayal. All of us at some point have experienced it. Perhaps not to the extent that Jesus did, but we can still remember the taste it left in our mouths. It is bitter and rancid. The flavor of sin. How much more should we be horrified of our betraying the Lord when we sin? Have we not acted just like Judas when we choose money over God? Have we not done the same as Simon Peter when we had the opportunity to openly claim Jesus as our Lord? Woe to us if we place ourselves in a morally superior position to the disciples. Don’t buy into the fallacy that surely you would not have scattered and fled at Jesus’ arrest. Surely you would not have given in to the bribe. Without the grace and protection of God, Satan starts sifting us like wheat. 

Despite knowing what was in store for Him, in the face of nearly unspeakable treachery, the Lord Jesus continues to dine with the disciples. He reveals a great deal to them about the Father. He institutes the Holy Eucharist. He offers the High Priestly Prayer. All of this is done out of an incomprehensible purity of love. Jesus seeks only the will of the Father; He is undeterred by the distractions and roadblocks that are thrown down by the enemy. Nothing will stop the divine plan of redemption. When sin launched its attack upon Jesus, He pressed forward to the end so that we might come into communion with God. 

Monday, April 3, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 12:1-11

Today’s Gospel reading tells of how Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfumed oil. The Scripture calls this ‘aromatic nard’, which was likely an expensive imported oil. Judas Iscariot approximates this value at 300 days' wages, as he indignantly asks why the oil was not sold and the proceeds given to the poor. On the surface, this does not seem like a bad question. Perhaps Judas had a point, save for his desire to confiscate the money. Christians are commanded to have a preferential option for the poor. We are often asked why so much money and time are spent on things like church buildings when that money could have gone to the poor. This question takes on various forms but is motivated by the supposition of some underlying hypocrisy. 

I think inserting the either/or into this context is the wrong approach. We are told to bring our best to God, who deserves nothing less. We are also told to give generously to the poor. What should ‘give’ here is our hoarding and limited mindset. We should abandon thinking we cannot empty ourselves to God and our fellow man at the same time. Jesus promises that God will meet our needs. We read about the multiplying of loaves and fishes. We know God can do these things, and many others that far exceed our imaginations. The question is do we trust Him to do so? 

We should admit to ourselves that our efforts toward financial prudence sometimes evolve into building bigger barns. We should acknowledge that worry about the future creeps its way in and clamps our wallets closed. As hard as these things are to think about, the Lenten season is given to enable us to see that God is not limited. We can call out Judas’ false dichotomy. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can bring our best to God and give our best to our fellow man. 

Returning to the earlier example, holy places should show the glory and splendor of the Almighty, drawing our attention upward to heaven. Churches should be beautiful. Accomplishing this takes money, time, and resources. Done correctly, these efforts are not for human glory or honor, but so that we may worship God in the fullest sense possible on this side of eternity. However, we should not think that these efforts must necessarily be at the expense of something else. Yes, the world system of finance works within constraints and finitude. But God is not confined to these same restrictions. So, we can take a both/and mindset. We can give freely to the church building and give freely to the poor. This puts our minds in an anxious state, where only God can bring calm, peace, and assurance that everything will be ok. I think this is exactly where He wants us to be. 

If we look at salvation history, God is constantly pushing His people out of their comfort zone. This is the only way they can draw closer to Him. The divine life is one of infinite giving away. The Lover, the Beloved, and the Spirit of Love. The more we participate in the life of God, the abundant zoe of the Lord Jesus Christ, the more we are able to give away. Eschewing the false dichotomy yields something larger and deeply true; what we offer to God can be multiplied exponentially so that we will always be able to give our best to Him and our fellow man. 

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 26:14—27:66

Happy Palm Sunday! We remember today the triumphal entry of the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem, the city of the Great King. This event is memorialized for us in the first reading. Today’s Gospel reading takes us on a different journey,  from the betrayal of Jesus to His passion and death on the cross. So much has been said about these verses over the years, and by the greatest minds in history, that it is difficult to feel I can add anything of substantive value. I will simply offer a thought on one element of the story that has gripped me in recent years. 

The rabid crowd desired to have Barabbas released when given the choice by Pilate. Barabbas means ‘son of the father’ (bar = son, abba = father). So, the opponents of the Son of God hate Him so much they ultimately free a (failed) violent revolutionary instead. If Jesus had come with swords and spears, they would, I speculate, have welcomed Him. Or at least not sought his death, leaving it solely to the Romans. Instead, Jesus comes with signs, wonders, and powers. He comes with a radical self-understanding. He preaches about a Kingdom that is not of this world. 

Alas, what most people want is a worldly kingdom. They want violence, money, and power. They ultimately want these things more than God, if it could be said they want God at all. But wanting anything more than God is the chief sin. It is the sin of our first parents and the sin that leads to Jesus’ death.

As this lenten season draws to a close, our journey does not end at the cross. The grave is not the finale. We solemnly reflect upon the Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ this week, with a small ember of hope within us waiting to be fanned by the Holy Spirit. There is a kernel of beauty within the hideousness of the Crucifixion. 

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Gospel Reflection John 11:45-56

Today’s Gospel reading gives us a spiritual x-ray of Jesus’ opponents. Through these words, we see what causes their souls to become brittle and broken. To take one verse as an example, some of those who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead say “If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation." Sin fractures and divides, even the mind against itself. 

Jesus’ opponents somehow pass directly over the raising of a dead man to life after four days, and immediately turn the focus on themselves and their selfish ambitions. They are concerned about losing ‘their’ land, as if it were not God to whom it ultimately belonged. They refer to Israel in the posessisve sense as ‘their’ nation, when it was God’s people from the very beginning, a posession, at it were, of God. They would rather squabble for scraps off the Roman table then to receive with gladness the Lord acting among them in more powerful ways than ever before. They want to rule in the penurious city of man instead of dwelling in the City of God. 

One of the chief defects of the sin contangion is that man sees himself in competition with God. Either I do something or God does it. If God is acting, then I am not. If God is in control, then I have no control. Sin causes us to see God as a threat to our autonomy. He becomes a threat to our motivations and devices. These are all false dichotomies, brought about by an errant collapsing of the Creator/creature distinction. 

The Incarnate Son of God demonstrates in His very Person that God and man, God and creation itself, are not in competition with one another. But this idea is precisely what exacerbates the anxiety of Jesus’ adversaries. They see God progressively encroaching on their territory, now too close for comfort. The entire order by which they have directed their lives is demonstrably undermined and instead of yielding and cooperating with grace, they decide take up arms against it. They fail to see that, at bottom, grace and nature are never in real competition with one another. Conflicts are only superficial, and will eventually melt away in the light of the divine Son.