How do you draw the face of the most perfect man who ever lived, never having seen him? That was Rembrandt’s challenge, and he met it as he composed this serene, gentle and questioning countenance.
It is amazing how often, in discourse and conversation, our Lord asked questions. And these questions continue to contain answers a hearer can discover, the more he reflects upon them.
That was the way Socrates taught, realizing that a really good question should already contain its answer, if the question be truly understood.
That’s why the best teacher I ever had required us, in a final exam, not to answer his questions, but to ask ten questions that would prove how well we could synthesize his course. The questions, he’d say, should grow out of and toward one another, containing the answers as a seed contains the bud.
Here Jesus seems to be asking, “What can a man offer in exchange for his life?” (Mark 8:37) The answer is there, if we properly evaluate each word. It is implicit, too, in his question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15) Peter gave answer for us all, since to know Jesus is to have seen the Father also. (John 14:9)
A true answer is always the echo of a question. So it should be our ambition to echo, without distortion, the question he continues to ask us: “Will you also go away?” (John 6:67) Then everything we say or do will proclaim that Jesus has the words of eternal life, that there is no other way to truth that has not found life in him.
From Meditations on Some Art I Have Loved
By Fr. Hilary Sweeney, C.P.
In the Gospel (Lk1: 26-38) for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, Gabriel addresses the young Mary: “Hail, full of grace!” Hail Mary! Ave Maria.
Five years ago before any of us could imagine that Italy could become such a sad place, I would hear Romans greet each other “Bon Giorno!”, “Ciao”, and, catching my attention, “Ave”, “Hey, Ave!” I always thought that was a strictly religious word, but the Latin word “Ave” originally meant “Be well”. Over the years it became a salutation for emperors and monarchs, therefore “Hail” in English. In the Spanish version of the prayer, “Dios the salve Maria,” we are saying “God save you”, as in “God save the Queen”.
In prayer, I often imagine Our Lady wrapped in the glory and power of God, indeed a Queen, the Queen Mother. Her crown is the greatest crown: “Jesus Crown of Saints.” But at other times, the crown that I see on her brow is the crown of thorns that her Son wore. The Glorious Queen walks in quiet humility among the poor and stricken, a Lady of Sorrows, saying to us “Ave: Be well.” This is a definition of the virtue of Charity: “ Wishing or willing the good of the other.” Therefore, she can also be called Our Lady of Charity.
Last night I made the mistake of reading these two articles on the internet regarding the coronavirus pandemic. One article talked about the final stages for the critically ill, how suddenly the air passages are flooded with hard phlegm and the use of a respirator is immediately necessary. The other article talked about the lack of enough respirators in some Italian hospitals, how the weakest (oldest?) patients were allowed to quietly suffocate and die. These articles disturbed me and made me feel helpless, helpless, helpless. I know so many of us feel like that.
At 3:00 o’clock in the morning I could not sleep and started thinking about the hyperbolic graphs that describe the increasing growth of the epidemic in so many places, and of course, about those two articles. Suddenly I was remembering my father’s death from pulmonary edema, his struggle for breath until the end. He was in hospice care. He had so many other problems that a ventilator or some other drastic intervention would not have helped. I remembered how I held his hand at the bedside, feeling helpless, helpless, helpless.
This is what I was remembering in the darkness, in my bed. Strangely enough, I decided to pray, slowly and deliberately, a Hail Mary to try to relax and get out of this state. Even stranger, was the image that God put in my mind. Mary was my age, 70ish, perhaps living in ancient Ephesus. She often meets me in prayer under these conditions, a friend, like my own mother in her last years. But this night she appeared afflicted and disturbed. She was remembering her own helplessness at the foot of the Cross as her Son suffocated before her. I know she was the holiest of all of us. She experienced His Resurrection. She was anointed at Pentecost. But she was a human being like all of us! That sorrowful memory must have haunted her at the most unexpected times. That night, it was haunting the both of us.
So I prayed,” Be well Mary, you are full of grace. Our Lord is here with you!”, not so much for my sake, but for hers, foolish me, trying to console the Luminous Lady. But there I was. Suddenly we were praying together. She was praying for all of us. The peaceful effect grew gradually. I fell asleep and this morning I woke up remembering this moment.
I suppose the lesson was that one of the most powerful ways to combat grief is by trying to console someone else, by reaching out, by offering someone a cool glass of water, by practicing the virtue of Charity, which is another name for Love, which is another name for God, All-Powerful, All-Merciful, Eternal…..
Thank you kind sister, mother, friend. With you and your Son at our side we are never really helpless. Blessed Lady, may your example give us courage and confident generosity in these trying times.
On the Monday of Holy Week John’s gospel (John 12,1-11) calls us to a meal honoring Jesus in Bethany following the resurrection of Lazarus. It’s the last meal mentioned in the gospels before the Passover supper. The gift of life that Jesus gives his friend leads to a sentence of death.
Faithful Martha serves the meal; Lazarus newly alive, is at the table. But the one drawing most of our attention is Mary, their sister who, sensing what’s coming, 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 is an effusive sign of her love and gratitude; it also anoints Jesus for his burial. Only in passing does the gospel mention that evil is in play here. Judas, “the one who would betray him,” complains that the anointing is a waste, but his voice is silenced. Believers are honoring the one they love.
How fitting that Holy Week begins with this gospel when, like Mary, we kneel and pour out the precious oil of our love upon him who pours out his precious life for us.
This long, dialogue-filled Gospel (John 9: 1-41), can take the mind and soul into diverse directions. It is filled with so many different symbolic meanings and historical insights. So many theological reflections have been written about it (for example, the wonderful one by Fr. Victor Hoagland). I don’t have much to add except my own personal feelings.
Shortly after my conversion twelve years ago, what touched me the most, and still does today, was the statement by the cured blind man: “One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” (Jn10: 25b) I had recently discovered, to my delight, the lyrics to “Amazing Grace”, after so many years of regarding the song as mere background music, or a much-used symbol of American culture. Suddenly, this song was about ME: “I was once lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” This was exactly how the mercy of God had affected me. The eyes of my soul had been opened to a new spiritual reality that was impossible for me to deny. This is the supernatural gift of Faith. “How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed!”
This miracle had been personally done to me by Jesus Christ Himself. After months of going to Mass to “try it out,” one blessed Sunday, when I saw that shining white Host raised by the priest at Consecration,
I believed. The Host shimmered like a sun and I had to close my eyes. Within my head, it still glowed and I heard Him tell me : “I claim you. You are mine. I love you and I will never let you go.” And He has kept His word.
Which reminds me of my other favorite line in this Gospel: “I am the light of the world.” (Jn 9: 5) He certainly came as a bright, powerful light into my eyes. Even now, in the darkest moments, in the nights of insomnia, I look within my mind as through a bleak, black forest and I still discern in the distance, that light, calling me, giving me hope and strength. The Light is not an abstract “It” . It is a Person. It is my Beloved.
With the coronavirus crisis, we, the Body of Christ, find ourselves isolated from each other. My beloved prayer group, “The Cloud of Glory” has not been able to meet for Mass and prayers for the last two Sundays. We miss the Liturgy, the tangible Bread of Life, and each other, so much that it hurts. All we can do is communicate by text and phone conversations. We console each other . We share uplifting messages from all over the internet. We listen to our situations and anxieties. We decided for this past Sunday to try and remember each other at our usual Mass time, 11:00 a.m., and praise God , thank God, and pray for us and for our threatened Humanity. We did this. I had the image of small candles, glowing within each of our separate homes, all of us in our Church, shining with the Light of the World in His love and comfort. Luminous threads of light spread like a web over our planet, reminiscent of those pictures from outer space that show the surface of the Earth at night with all those shining cities connected in the darkness.
OK, in a way we are like the healed blind man after he was “thrown out” from the Temple. We might not be able to physically get back in for a while, but the Nazarene most certainly comes to find us, like He did for that man in Jerusalem. He fills our hearts with His Light and leads us to joyfully exclaim: “I do believe Lord.”
Dear Brethren, stay home safe and healthy in the hands of our shining, loving God. Reach out to each other. Share His Light.
March 23 Mon Lenten Weekday6 [Saint Turibius of Mogrovejo, Bishop] Is 65:17-21/Jn 4:43-54 (
24 Tue Lenten Weekday
Ez 47:1-9, 12/Jn 5:1-16
25 Wed THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE LORD Solemnity
Is 7:10-14; 8:10/Heb 10:4-10/Lk 1:26-38
26 Thu Lenten Weekday
Ex 32:7-14/Jn 5:31-47
27 Fri Lenten Weekday
Wis 2:1a, 12-22/Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
28 Sat Lenten Weekday
Jer 11:18-20/Jn 7:40-53
29 SUN FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT
Ez 37:12-14/Rom 8:8-11/Jn 11:1-45 or 11:3-7, 17, 20-27, 33b-45
In these days of social distancing we can still pray with the church by following the Mass readings, the feasts and prayers of the church day by day at home. Our churches may be closed, but God is still close.
“I rise before dawn and cry for your help. I hope in your word. My eyes watch through the night, I ponder your promise. You, O Lord, are close.” (Psalm 119, 145ff)
We need help. We need the hope God’s word gives. That word can be found in the readings, feasts and prayers of the church. They can help us through the night that’s now. They can give us the wisdom and strength we need
Our gospel readings this week and for most of the remainder of lent are from John’s gospel. Jesus leaves Galilee for Jerusalem where he teaches and works some significant miracles before being arrested and crucified.
Our Sunday gospels from St.John offer two important miracles Jesus performs in Jerusalem. : Jesus gives sight to the man born blind (last Sunday) and life to Lazarus who has died. (this coming Sunday)
The world itself needs help to see right now. We’re also facing the mystery of death. So let’s reflect carefully on these two signs before us. We also need to reflect on the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s the great book we need to read these days.
The Feast of the Annunciation, this Wednesday, is a feast of hope. “The Lord is with you,” the angel says to Mary, “Do not be afraid.” The angel announces to her that a Child will be born to her who will bring God’s kingdom to us. The Lord is with us, do not be afraid.
The readings for this week of lent and the feast of the Annunciation can be found at www.usccb.org . I’ ll offer some reflections at this site for each day.