Monthly Archives: March 2010

Is It I?

Mt 26:14-25
One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
the disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Where do you want us to prepare
for you to eat the Passover?”
He said,
“Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,
‘The teacher says, ‘My appointed time draws near;
in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”‘“
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,
and prepared the Passover.

When it was evening,
he reclined at table with the Twelve.
And while they were eating, he said,
“Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
Deeply distressed at this,
they began to say to him one after another,
“Surely it is not I, Lord?”
He said in reply,
“He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me
is the one who will betray me.
The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”
Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply,
“Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”
He answered, “You have said so.

Wednesday of Holy Week

The gospels offer little information about the disciples of Jesus. Peter is best known, because Jesus gave him a special role among them and also made his home in Peter’s house in Caphernaum.

Then, there’s Judas. Matthew’s gospel gives more information about him than  any other New Testament source and so it’s read on “Spy Wednesday,”  the day in Holy Week that recalls Judas’ offer to the rulers to hand Jesus over to them for thirty pieces of silver.

“Surely it is not I,” the disciples say to Jesus one after the other when he announces someone will betray him. And we say so too, as we watch Judas being pointed out. With Peter also we say we will not deny him. But the readings for these days caution us that there’s a communion of sinners as well as a communion of saints. We’re also sinful disciples.

We’re not unlike the disciples who once sat at table with Jesus.

We come as sinners to the Easter triduum, which begins the evening of Holy Thursday and ends on Easter Sunday. It’s a time of God’s great mercy, and we  hope for the same forgiveness and new life that Jesus gave his disciples who left him the night before he died.


Jn 13:21-33, 36-38
Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant.
One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus loved,
was reclining at Jesus’ side.
So Simon Peter nodded to him to find out whom he meant.
He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him,
“Master, who is it?”
Jesus answered,
“It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.”
So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas,
son of Simon the Iscariot.
After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him.
So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.
Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him,
“Buy what we need for the feast,”
or to give something to the poor.
So Judas took the morsel and left at once. And it was night.

When he had left, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself,
and he will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
You will look for me, and as I told the Jews,
‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?”
Jesus answered him,
“Where I am going, you cannot follow me now,
though you will follow later.”
Peter said to him,
“Master, why can I not follow you now?
I will lay down my life for you.”
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me?
Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow
before you deny me three times.”

Tuesday, Holy Week

The gospels from Monday to Thursday in Holy Week take us away from the crowded temple area in Jerusalem where Jesus spoke to the crowds and his avowed enemies and bring us into homes where “his own” join him to eat a meal. In Bethany six days before Passover he eats with those he loved: Martha, Mary and Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead. In Jerusalem on the night before he dies he eats with the twelve who followed him.

During the meal in Bethany, Mary anoints his feet with precious oil in a beautiful outpouring of her love. But the gospels for Tuesday and Wednesday point out, not love, but betrayal. Friends that followed him abandon him. Judas betrays him for thirty pieces of silver and walks into the night; Peter will deny him three times; the others flee. Jesus must face suffering and death alone.

Are we unlike them?

Does a troubled Jesus face us too, “his own,” to whom he gave new life in the waters of baptism and Bread at his table. Will we not betray or deny?  Will we not go away?

Surely the gospels are not just about long ago; they’re also about now.

Love Poured Out

Jn 12:1-11
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.

Monday, Holy Week

A gift of life leads to a sentence of death. We’re called to a meal in Bethany by these verses of John’s gospel. It follows the resurrection of Lazarus and is given to honor Jesus by his friends. It will be the last meal the gospel records before the Passover supper he will eat with his disciples.

Faithful Martha serves it; Lazarus newly alive, is at the table. But the one who draws our attention most is Mary, their sister. Sensing what is to come, she kneels before Jesus to anoint his feet with precious oil and dry them with her hair. “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”

The precious oil that fills the house is an effusive sign of her love and gratitude; it also signifies an anointing of Jesus for his burial.

Only in passing does the gospel mention the evil in play that will bring Jesus to his death. Judas, one of his own disciples, “the one who would betray him” complains that the anointing is a waste, but his voice is silenced. This is a time for believers to pay tribute to the one they love.

How fitting to begin Holy Week with this gospel! This week we recall the events that lead to the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. These events are surrounded by mysteries too many to name. But we don’t have to name them all.

Like Mary, we kneel and pour out the precious oil of our love on him who brings us life by giving up his own life.

A Mission in Maryland

From March 20th to the 24th I was in Bowie, Maryland, at Ascension Parish preaching a parish mission. The parish has its roots in colonial Catholicism, a “priestless, popeless, sisterless” church, according to historian James O’Toole, in his book “The Faithful: A History of the American Catholic Church.

Some who attended the mission were descendants of those early Catholics who settled in Maryland, and I expressed my admiration for the fidelity of their ancestors who kept the faith alive in their homes when few priests and hardly any sisters were there to minister to them. Anti-Catholic laws in the colony also penalized Catholics. Through much of that time, the popes were tied by European politics and could pay little attention to the New World.

Those early Catholic Marylanders were faithful to prayer and to the basic truths handed down to them through their catechisms.

I’m interested in that early church because it may be a model of our church in the future, with fewer priests and sisters and a growing secularism that will reduce the number of churchgoers in our country and the western world.

Seems to me, Catholics need to strengthen their prayer lives and learn their catechisms to survive in the future. Nearby Ascension Parish is the old church of the Sacred Heart from 1741 (picture above) and there were catechism classes going on there when I visited on Tuesday afternoon. Keep it up.

I based my mission on the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, which is a nice blend of doctrine and biographies of people of faith who have influenced the growth of the church in America and I spoke about St. Elizabeth Seton, Peter, Mary the Mother of Jesus, and St. Paul of the Cross during the mission. The catechism is a good one and I wish it were used more in our church.

After the mission, I went to Baltimore to visit the beautiful little house on Paca Street where Mother Seton lived and made her first religious vows after her arrival from New York City.

So important to know our ancestors in the faith as we go into the future.

The Man Nobody Helps

Jn 5:1-16

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate

a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.

In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.

One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.

When Jesus saw him lying there

and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,

“Do you want to be well?”

The sick man answered him,

“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool

when the water is stirred up;

while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”

Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

Now that day was a sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.’“
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a sabbath.

Tuesday, 4th week of lent

It’s interesting to compare the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethesda with the official in the previous story from John’s gospel who came from Capernaum to Cana in Galilee seeking a cure for his son. Obviously, the official had standing in the community where he lived. He knew how to get things done and came intent on getting Jesus to do something for him. He’s a resourceful man.

The paralytic at Bethesda, on the other hand, seems utterly resourceless. For 38 years he’s come to a healing pool– archeologists identify its location near the present church of St.Anne in the city– and he can’t find a way to get into the water when it’s stirring. He’s paralyzed; too slow, and he doesn’t know how to get anybody to help him. He doesn’t approach Jesus, but Jesus approaches him.

“Do you want to be well?”

Instead of lowering him into the water, Jesus cures the paralyzed man directly and tells him to take up the mat he was lying on and walk.

Through it all, the man has no idea who cured him until Jesus makes himself known later in the temple area. He’s slow in more ways than one.

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in this world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God,” St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

Here’s one of the weak, the lowly, the nobodies God chooses, and he wont be the only one..

The Loving Father

Jn 4:43-54

At that time Jesus left [Samaria] for Galilee.
For Jesus himself testified
that a prophet has no honor in his native place.
When he came into Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him,
since they had seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the feast;
for they themselves had gone to the feast.

Then he returned to Cana in Galilee,
where he had made the water wine.
Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum.
When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea,
he went to him and asked him to come down
and heal his son, who was near death.
Jesus said to him,
“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
The royal official said to him,
“Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.
While the man was on his way back,
his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live.
He asked them when he began to recover.
They told him,
“The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.”
The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him,
“Your son will live,”
and he and his whole household came to believe.
Now this was the second sign Jesus did
when he came to Galilee from Judea.

Monday, 4th week in lent

From earliest times, the church has chosen the Gospel of John to tell the story of the passion and death of Jesus on Good Friday. It also reads from this gospel on the days leading up to this great mystery, beginning Monday of the 4th week of lent and continuing till Holy Week.

John’s stories, and the people and places they recall,  cast a subtle light on his final story that reveals the Word made flesh. His account of the government official, a loving father who begs Jesus to come and heal his son, is not an isolated miracle unconnected to anything else. It’s a sign, the gospel says. Here in Cana in Galilee, water was changed into wine. The loving father seeking his son’s life is a sign of the Father whose love will change his Son’s death into life.

Jesus proclaims his relationship to his Father in lively encounters with his enemies throughout John’s gospel, but we will hear him express it often in the readings for these final days of lent.  They are  inseparable: “The Father and I are one.”  “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.”

The father at Cana in Galilee is an image the Father of Jesus. He is no heartless father, nor is the Father of Jesus, whose love for his Son never wavers, but brings him to life.

Praying Like The Tax Collector

Lk 18:9-14

Jesus addressed this parable

to those who were convinced of their own righteousness

and despised everyone else.

“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;

one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.

The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,

‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity

greedy, dishonest, adulterous  or even like this tax collector.

I fast twice a week,

and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

But the tax collector stood off at a distance

and would not even raise his eyes to heaven

but beat his breast and prayed,

‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;

for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,

and the one who humbles himself shall be exalted.

Saturday, 3rd week of lent

In Luke’s gospel Jesus often takes the side of tax collectors, widows, and sinners like the prodigal son who are so beaten down by their own situation that they can hardly dream of anything better. He is criticized frequently for associating with people like that, so he must have done it often enough.

In the parable, the tax collector who goes into the temple area to pray is one of them. Early in his gospel, Luke recalls that Jesus sat down at table with a number of tax collectors who were Matthew’s friends. Is he typical of them?

Staying at a distance, eyes down, the tax collector only utters a couple of words:

“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

The Pharisee’s prayer is so different, so full of himself; he seems to ask for applause. The tax collector asks only for mercy.

His prayer was heard, Jesus says, so should we not make it our own? Tax-collectors,  widows and sinners are heard because their situation is closest to where all humanity stands. God hears their prayers and calls them into his Kingdom. We all stand in need of God’s mercy.

“O God come to my assistance. O Lord make haste to help me.”

Love on a Friday

Mk 12:28-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

We  should expect to hear about love on a lenten friday. Believers, of course, recall the passion of Jesus on all the fridays of the year, but the lenten fridays are special days to prepare for the Friday called Good. That was a day of love.

On that day the great commandment Jesus preached was fulfilled in a striking way. Historians, scholars, artists approach the mystery of his passion and death from so many perspectives. The gospels and Christian tradition dwell on it in great detail. It is a fascinating conclusion to a fascinating life.

But the question Why did Jesus suffer such a death? can only be answered by  recognizing it as his response to the command of love. Jesus accepted the cross with love for his heavenly Father and love for us, who were there when he was crucified.

The cross was not something Jesus endured, he embraced  it with his whole heart, his whole mind and all his strength. At his cross, we stand before Love.

The Finger of God

Lk 11:14-23

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute,

and when the demon had gone out,

the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.
Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself,
how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

(thursday, 3rd week of lent)

Talk of devils and demons and the miracles of God, so common in the bible, sounds strange to people today, especially in the western world. We prefer seeing other forces at work when something remarkable happens, as it did to the man who couldn’t speak. Some natural cause was at work–maybe the power of suggestion; whatever it was, we’ll discover it. We find it hard to see “the finger of God” causing miracles today.

Miracles of healing were among the signs that established the identity of Jesus among his early hearers, but they were not the only signs.

‘Listen to what I have to say to you about Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonder and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know,” Peter says to the crowds in Jerusalem after Pentecost. But the apostle goes on from these signs of Jesus’ ministry to the culminating sign of his death and resurrection.

“You crucified and killed him by the hands of those outside the law, but God raised him up…”(Acts 2.22-23)

No human power can explain this mystery, surpassing all others. Bearing  all human sorrows– the sorrow of the mute, the deaf, the paralyzed, the possessed, the dead, the sinner far from God– Jesus gave himself into the hands of his heavenly Father on the altar of the cross. And he was raised up, to give his life-giving Spirit to the world.

Some deny this sign too. but it’s great sign that we celebrate this holy season.

The Least of the Commandments

Mt 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

In chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s gospel,  Jesus speaks to his disciples from a mountain where, like Moses, he proclaims God’s revelation to the world. By grouping many of the teachings of Jesus in this setting, the evangelist clearly indicates that Jesus upholds Jewish tradition and does not abolish it.

Like the prophets before him who critiqued the tradition into which they were born by the great commandment of love, Jesus does the same. He does not destroy what God has done; he renews it by means of love.

And so, lent is our time for renewing life at hand, from its highest expressions to its least, in love.

Yes, lent calls us to think great thoughts and to embrace great visions of faith, and we try to do that. But it’s a season–our reading today reminds us– for remembering small things too. “A cup of cold water,” a prisoner, someone sick visited, someone naked clothed, someone hungry fed, “a word to the weary to rouse them.”

The law of God often comes down to small things, and the greatest in the kingdom of God are the best at that.