Monthly Archives: April 2011

His Glorious Wounds

A reflection by Athanasius of Antioch in Wednesday’s Office of Readings speaks about the glory of Jesus. First, he had a glory before the world began. It was a glory far beyond the light of the sun, a light inaccessible to us. We could not even look at him.

None of the appearances of the Risen Jesus in the gospels reveal a glory like that. Becoming human, he relinquished that glory and experienced death on the cross

His glory now appears in the mystery of the cross, as he repeatedly shows his disciples the wounds in his hands and his side.

“ It was necessary for Christ to suffer: it was impossible for his passion not to have happened. He said so himself when he called his companions dull and slow to believe because they failed to recognise that he had to suffer and so enter into his glory.

“Leaving behind him the glory that had been his with the Father before the world was made, he had gone forth to save his people. This salvation, however, could be achieved only by the suffering of the author of our life, as Paul taught when he said that the author of life himself was made perfect through suffering.

“Because of us he was deprived of his glory for a little while, the glory that was his as the Father’s only-begotten Son, but through the cross this glory is seen to have been restored to him in a certain way in the body that he had assumed. `

“Explaining what water the Saviour referred to when he said: He that has faith in me shall have rivers of living water flowing from within him, John says in his gospel that he was speaking of the Holy Spirit which those who believed in him were to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified. The glorification he meant was his death upon the cross for which the Lord prayed to the Father before undergoing his passion, asking his Father to give him the glory that he had in his presence before the world began.”

For more on the wounds of Christ:

The Resurrection

Matthew’s account of the resurrection pays a lot of attention to the soldiers who guard the tomb of Jesus. I think most illustrations of the resurrection in our churches and our books, like the above, follow his account.

There are the soldiers surrounding the tomb, who “became like dead men,”  fearful after an earthquake shook the tomb open and he appeared “like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.” (Mt 28, 2-4)

Matthew wants to assure us that his disciples didn’t steal Jesus’ body away after his death. That was a story circulating in his day and it circulates today.  But Jesus really died, Matthew claims, and the soldiers are his proof.

When Joseph of Arimathea asks to take the body for burial, Pilate first called the Roman centurion to certify that Jesus was dead, according to Mark’s gospel. ( Mk 15,44-45) The Romans certify his death.

 The Jewish leaders are worried his body would be stolen and ask Pilate for a guard to watch the tomb for three days. Pilate tells them to put their own guard at the tomb, a further assurance the body wont be taken. Often in illustrations the guards are pictured as Roman soldiers, but they are really the same kind of guard who came to seize Jesus in the garden and take him to the Jewish leaders. (Mt 27,64-66) 

When the guards go to them to report the body of Jesus is missing, they are told to say his disciples stole the body while they were asleep. (Mt 28.11-15)  The evangelist extends his resurrection account to make sure we know this.

Jesus really died, and he really rose again.

A Child’s Question

The pope answered questions from around the world during Holy Week on Italian television. This one was from a seven year old Japanese girl, Elena, who asked why did the recent terrifying earthquake happen.  You can find the rest of the questions and answers  here.

Q. Holy Father, I want to thank you for your presence here, which fills us with joy and helps us remember that today is the day in which Jesus showed His love in the most radical way, that is, by dying on the cross as an innocent. It is precisely on this theme of innocent sorrow that is the first question that comes from a seven-year-old Japanese child who says: “My name is Elena. I am Japanese and I am seven years old. I am very frightened because the house where I felt safe really shook a lot and many children my age have died. I cannot go to play at the park. I want to know: why do I have to be so afraid? Why do children have to be so sad? I’m asking the Pope, who speaks with God, to explain it to me”.

A. Dear Elena, I send you my heartfelt greetings. I also have the same questions: why is it this way? Why do you have to suffer so much while others live in ease? And we do not have the answers but we know that Jesus suffered as you do, an innocent, and that the true God who is revealed in Jesus is by your side. This seems very important to me, even if we do not have answers, even if we are still sad; God is by your side and you can be certain that this will help you. One day we will even understand why it was so. At this moment it seems important to me that you know “God loves me” even if it seems like He doesn’t know me. No, He loves me, He is by my side, and you can be sure that in the world, in the universe, there are many who are with you, thinking of you, doing what they can for you, to help you. And be aware that, one day, I will understand that this suffering was not empty, it wasn’t in vain, but behind it was a good plan, a plan of love. It is not chance. Be assured, we are with you, with all the Japanese children who are suffering. We want to help you with our prayers, with our actions, and you can be sure that God will help you. In this sense we pray together so that light may come to you as soon as possible.

Good Friday

We call Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday the Easter triduum, the three days of the Easter feast that celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord. We remember those days through the scriptures we read and the simple signs associated with them.

Last night in our beautiful Holy Thursday celebration, we recalled the Lord kneeling before his disciples, his hands washing their feet, offering them his own body and blood in the bread and the wine. Through those signs he expressed his deep love for his own in the world then; through these same signs he expresses his love for us and all humanity now.

Today we take another symbol, a wooden cross. When Jesus carried it to Calvary after he was condemned and was nailed to it by the soldiers and hung from it outside the city, the cross was a symbol of death that struck fear and despair in those who saw it. Now it’s become a sign of hope.

It’s a sign of hope because Jesus destroyed death by his death. That’s what our faith tells us. “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life.” When Jesus came into the world, he came as our savior. He assumed our humanity, he took on himself our flesh in all its weakness, especially the weakness of death. He brought life as he cured the sick, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and hope to those without hope. But his greatest gift was the promise of life he gave in his death and resurrection .

Instead of a symbol of death and despair, he made the cross a sign of love and blessing. It’s a sign of life. So we reverence this sign today, we bless ourselves with it. We hope to share in the promise it represents.

Today, Good Friday, we read from the gospel of John.  Of the four gospels, John is most intent on revealing the power and the glory found in this tragic story. His gospel recalls what Jesus suffered and how he died, from the time he enters the garden, to his trial before the Jewish leaders and Pontius Pilate, to his crucifixion and death and burial.  But his gospel takes that story so raw and unexplained and subtly points out the power of God in Jesus Christ. He helps us see the light that conquers darkness, the love that overcomes evil.

We call this Friday good. We don’t understand it all, but we come to join Mary, the Mother of Jesus and those who followed him. This is a day we know God is good. We remember how he loves us; we listen to his story; we reverence the cross; we take his body and blood. God hears ours prayers this day, and so with the confidence this day brings us we ask God to bless us and our world so in need of the graces poured out through the passion of Jesus Christ.

Besides the liturgical celebration, the Stations of the Cross is a a favorite devotion for today.

Holy Thursday

On Holy Thursday morning in my community, we would gather at prayer and one by one say, “My brothers, I ask pardon for all the scandal and bad example I have given and beg you to pray that I may make a worthy Easter communion.”

It was a simple request that originated from what Jesus called his disciples to do. After he washed their feet, he told his disciples to “wash one another’s feet.” Besides the forgiveness of God, we need the forgiveness of others.

God is the ultimate source of forgiveness. So, on that great night when this mystery is celebrated, Jesus “fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.”

No one can wash away our sinfulness but God. Sin is so complex in us; we are so unaware of it. Only God knows it completely.

Yet,  Jesus calls us to join in forgiving.

“Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

We need to join God in forgiving. Poor Peter, so unaware of himself. Yet Jesus washed his feet, so patiently. Shouldn’t I bear with those around me?  Shouldn’t I ask that they bear with me?

Wednesday Night at the Mission

The last two evenings we began our mission with a short catechesis. On Monday, we spoke of our need to deepen our faith; we are lifelong- learners. I mentioned the US Catechism for Adults as a good basic catechism, but we need to deepen knowledge of the bible and the liturgy. As the number of Catholic schools decline, the home must take more responsibility for catechesis.

On Tuesday, we spoke of prayer. It’s a gift we all have and we need to pray today more than ever. The prayers we learned are good teachers of prayer. Simple prayers like the Sign of the Cross, the Our Father, the Hail Mary. Keep listening to the prayers of the liturgy and the bible readings. They not only tell us who God is, but they tell us who we are.

Monday evening, I read from the first part of Matthew’s Passion narrative. Jesus faced death in the Garden of Gethsemane. He experienced death in all its harshness to take away the darkness of death from us. The two greatest moments we have in life are mentioned in the Hail Mary, when we say, “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

Tuesday evening, I read the second part of Matthew’s Passion: Jesus was  judged by Caiaphas and Pilate, scourged and crowned with thorns; he carried his cross and was crucified and died, crying our “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

His silence in his Passion indicates how deeply he experienced death. His final words, as they are recorded in Matthew were more than a question, or a cry of desperation.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  was a prayer. Jesus threw himself into the hands of God, his Father, who knows all and receives us all. There he was safe and his soul found peace.

That’s what we can do when we meet the inevitable crosses in our life. When we reach the end of our resources, when we can say or do nothing more, when we reach silence, we can put ourselves in God’s hands as Jesus did.

Tonight, Wednesday night, we  read from the Last Supper discourses of Jesus from the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John. Here Jesus, the Risen Lord, speaks to us.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.Where (I) am going you know the way.” Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth 5 and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.If you know me, then you will also know my Father. 6 From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, 7 and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.

And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate 8 to be with you always,the Spirit of truth, 9 which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.

I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.

Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

Judas, not the Iscariot, 11 said to him, “Master, (then) what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.

“I have told you this while I am with you.The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name–he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.

And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.

Tuesday Night: Matthew’s Passion

Notice in Matthew’s account of the Passion that Jesus gradually becomes silent. As the hours before his death go by, his words become fewer and fewer. He works no wonders, no cures. His power seems to slip away and he becomes more and more helpless.

In the garden, he prays a short troubled prayer, over and over: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not my will, but your will be done.”

He looks for the comfort of friends but finds none. They fall asleep and seem to not notice.  “Pray that you don’t enter temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” Jesus tells them.

When he’s brought before Caiaphas, the high priest, he doesn’t dispute the false witnesses that bring charges against him. Through his public ministry he’s quick to answer what’s false, but now he’s silent.  Only when Caiaphas directly asks him if he is the Messiah, the Son of God,  does Jesus answer: “ You have said so. I tell you from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Similarly, when Jesus is brought before Pilate, he is mostly silent. “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks him. “You say so,” Jesus answers. Then, he says no more.

He’s silent when the crowd calls for Barrabas; he’s silent when the soldiers scourge him with whips and crown him with thorns. He’s silent when they mock him and lead him away to be crucified.

The only words he says in Matthew’s gospel, as well as in the gospel of Mark, are the final words from psalm 22, which the evangelists quote in Aramaic, as well as Greek:  “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.?”

It’s not that Jesus is unaware of what’s happening to him, or that he has steeled himself and turned away from it all. He’s not retreated into his divinity. “He humbled himself, accepting death, even death on a cross,” St. Paul, the Apostle says.

His silence is his humble acceptance of death and all it entails.

Yet, his trust in God never fails, even when God seems absent.

What kind of cross do we carry? We know it when words and human solutions fail and we can accomplish nothing on our own. Think of the silence that followed the earthquake in Japan. People could hardly take it in. It’s not just  physical pain, it’s more than that.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It was more than a question, Jesus was asking. It was a prayer. As he did in the garden, he threw himself into the hands of God, his Father, who knows all and receives us all. There he was safe and his soul found peace.

As he said to his disciples in the garden, he says to us, “Pray when the cross comes, put yourself in God’s presence our safety when the storm comes.”

Tuesday Night at the Mission

Last night at the mission we thought about death as Jesus faced it and accepted it in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life,” we say at Mass. He accepted death and changed it forever. He will  be with us as our Savior at the moment of our death.

The two most important moments of our life are “now and at the hour of death.”

Tuesday evening our reflections will be on prayer. We need to pray, especially today. Is it possible to pray? How do we pray?

There are some reflections on prayer on Bread on the Waters, and some explanations of the common prayers we say as Christians.

You can learn to help your children pray at that site too.

The important days of Holy Week are coming up this week. Find out about them at this same site. It’s for adults and children.

Here’s a sample for introducing a child to Good Friday:

On Friday,

(We call it “Good”)

Jesus was nailed

to hard, hard wood.

Beneath his cross,

his mother stood

and cried for what they had done.

“Oh, if I could hold him,” she said,

“Hold my only Son!”

“Father, take me,” Jesus said,

“Take me in your hands.”

And God reached down

and took him,

and held his only Son.

“I am God who raises up,

your life has just begun.

I am God of the living,

no grave can hold my Son.”

Parish Mission: New Brunswick, NJ

This afternoon I begin a parish mission at St. Mary of Mount Virgin Church in New Brunswick, NJ, preaching at the Palm Sunday Masses  and conducting mission services till next Wednesday evening.

These days of Holy Week speak with “a well-trained tongue;”  We celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, remembering the days when Jesus was arrested, judged unjustly, scourged and crowned with thorns, led to a cross and was crucified.

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again,”

We take into our hands palm branches this Sunday, as those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem did long ago. We listen to the story of his passion and death; they witnessed what happened to him long ago. They heard his call to faith as we do now. They promised to follow him, but the next days came. How many followed him then?

These are precious days when God’s graces are given and God calls again. The graces are given through Jesus Christ and his life-giving Cross; the call is made through his bruises and wounds and through his empty tomb.

Let us follow him, like those whom he invited into the supper room and received him in bread and wine. Like Simon of Cyrene, let us carry someone’s cross. Like the women who met him on the way, let us have compassion on those who are hurting or are in trouble. Let our hearts be open to the needs of our neighbor and the misery and hopes of our world. Like the thief, who called from his nearby cross, let us ask him for forgiveness. Like Joseph of Arimithea let us tend his body, like Mary his mother, let us hold him in our arms.  Like Mary Magdalen let us see him risen from the death; like Peter and James and John let us be enflamed with new dreams for our world.

From Monday to Wednesday, at 7 PM I will conduct of service of preaching and Benediction, followed by confessions.

The Passionists provide an excellent commentary on the gospel accounts of the Passion of Jesus and the devotions that arise from this mystery at Bread on the Waters. The commentary is by Fr.Donald Senior, CP. and can be found here.

We Have Signs

In today’s lenten reading at Mass from John’s gospel (John 10,31-42), Jesus goes to Jerusalem for another feast, the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple. It’s a feast celebrated sometime in late November to late December, recalling the rededication of the temple after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd century BC.

The Jewish feasts are signs in John’s gospel that reveal who Jesus is; they inspire his words and the miracles he does. In fact, he replaces them. On the Sabbath, (chapter 5) he heals the paralyzed man at the pool at Bethsaida. The Son will not rest from giving life as the Father never rests from giving life. On the Passover (Chapter 6), he is the true Bread from heaven, the manna that feeds multitudes. On the Feast of Tabernacles (chapter 7-9)  he calls himself the light of the world and living water. On the Feast of the Dedication, he reveals himself as the true temple, the One who dwells among us and makes God’s glory known.

Once more, Jesus proclaims in today’s gospel his relationship to the Father, “the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Yet, once more hostile listeners do not see the signs and accuse him of blasphemy, trying to stone him or have him arrested. But Jesus evades them and goes back across the Jordan to the place where John baptized and “many there began to believe in him.”

So many signs are given to us. We have the scriptures, the sacraments, the witness of the saints. How tragic not to follow them to the Word made flesh!

“To maintain this divine friendship, frequent the sacraments, namely confession and holy Communion. When you approach the altar do so for this one reason alone, to let your soul be melted more and more in the fire of divine love. Remember that you are dealing with the holiest action that we can perform. How could our dear Jesus have done more than to give himself to be our food! Therefore let us love him who loves us. Let us be deeply devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. In church we should tremble with reverential awe.” ( Letter 8)

Lead me on, O Lord,

Through your holy signs,

through them, let me come to you.