Monthly Archives: April 2021

My Father’s House

Duccio, The Last Supper, Maestá altarpiece (1311)

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 14:1-6

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.

John 14:1

One of the disciples was about to betray Jesus (John 13:21-30). Another was forewarned that he would deny him thrice before cockcrow (John 13:38). The disciples had reasons to feel uneasy. Yet immediately after these predictions, Jesus exhorted them to stand firm in faith. 

“Believe in God; believe also in me,” an alternative translation reads. Pisteuete (believe) can be read in either the indicative or imperative moods.

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? 

John 14:2

“My Father’s house” evoked a world of images and ideas that shaped the character of Israel from ancient times. Psalm 122 celebrates a pilgrim’s journey to “the house of the LORD,” Jerusalem, which means “foundation of peace (shalom).”  

I rejoiced when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”

Psalm 122:1; LXX

The same word for house, oikia, is used in John’s Gospel and in the Greek translation of the Psalm. Shalom, shalom, shalom—the Psalm resounds thrice (verses 6-8). The house of the LORD is a city of peace, an assembly of praise, and a citadel of justice.

There are many mansions or dwelling places (moné) in the house of the LORD, room enough for all. The Son of Man who had “nowhere to lay his head” on earth, poorer than foxes and birds, threw open the doors to his Father’s house of plenty.

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.

John 14:3

Jesus will ultimately triumph over death; the grave cannot hold him prisoner. Christ will “come again” and live forever with his disciples. A little later, Jesus locates the Father’s dwelling (moné) in the hearts of believers:

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.

John 14:23

Dwelling in the Father’s house, and being indwelt by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are expressions of supreme union between God and his children.

“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?”

John 14:4-5

Why did Jesus expect his disciples to “know the way”? Perhaps the tradition of the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets should have clued them in.

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.

Psalm 86:11; LXX

Way (Hebrew derek and Greek hodos) is a central idea in Mosaic law and liturgy. “Walking” (halak) in the way of the LORD is an idiom for living righteously in the sight of God.

Be careful, therefore, to do as the LORD, your God, has commanded you, not turning aside to the right or to the left, but following exactly the way that the LORD, your God, commanded you that you may live and prosper, and may have long life in the land which you are to possess.

Deuteronomy 5:32-33; LXX

If Thomas’ question had been directed to Moses, he would have been guided in the word, law, life, and truth handed down from Mount Sinai (Psalm 119).

The new Moses responded:

I am the way and the truth and the life.

John 14:6

The way, the truth, and the life of the Mosaic law has become flesh in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Way, the Truth, and the Life is a person revealing the face of God the Father.

No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

-GMC

The Greatest Gift

Lord Jesus,
once in the wilderness
your people ate heavenly manna
and they were filled.
And once in a desert place
you fed the hungry 
with blessed bread.

A simple thing, we say,
costing our mighty God
little effort.

But what if bread is
a body offered for all,
and a cup of wine
your own life-blood
given to those who hardly care?

A costly thing, we say,
Is there anything more
God could have done?
Anything more
Love could do
than lay down his life 
for his friends?

From Lent-Easter Meditations and Prayers 
by Fr. Victor Hoagland, C.P.

For the Love of the Church

Byzantine mosaic, Jesus Washing the Feet of the Disciples, Monreale Cathedral, Italy (1180s)

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 13:16-20

In the foot washing scene at the Last Supper, a beautiful image of apostolic communion in Christ toward the Father is given to the Church. 

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.

John 13:20

An apostle (apostolos) is a “messenger,” one sent out by Jesus Christ to represent him. Sender and sent are so closely united that Paul reached for an organic metaphor to express it:

He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.

Colossians 1:18; cf. Ephesians 1:22; 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:4-8

Jesus’ vision of the Church soars far beyond this earth, yet deep within its heart, into the glory of the Blessed Trinity who dwells in creation as in a temple. Apostles are sent by Christ to lead God’s children into the very heart of the Father, sender of his only-begotten Son.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

John 13:16-17

Jesus’ standard of greatness was demonstrated on the floor with a basin of water and a towel around his waist. His actions and words mirrored the very character of the Father: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Apostles are called to be icons of Christ, mirrors of the Father’s heart, in the Spirit of truth.

Even if one out of twelve betray him, Jesus showed by his free acceptance of the Cross that the Church is worth dying for.

I am not speaking of all of you. I know those whom I have chosen. But so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me. ’From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM.

John 13:18-19

Love is worth the price of betrayal. With only one disciple at the foot of the Cross, one hanged, and ten in hiding, Jesus looked beyond his scars, thorns, nails, and wounds to the Father and pleaded on behalf of the Church and world: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

When Jesus expired to the Father, he commended all of humanity to the Father: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows and Mother of the Church, pray for us.

-GMC

Catherine of Siena, (1347-80)

St. Catherine of Siena is a doctor of the church and Italy’s patron saint along with St. Francis.

The 24th child in a family of 25 children, Catherine of Siena was a saintly teacher and church reformer.  As a young girl, she clashed with her father, who worked dying wool, and her mother, a hardy determined housewife, after she told them she wasn’t going to get married, but was giving herself totally to God.

She cut her hair and began to fast and pray.  She joined a group of women who helped the poor in Siena, mostly widows associated with the Dominican order. They  were suspicious of the pious young girl who kept to herself and at odds with her mother and father.

At 21 years old, Catherine went beyond the mission of the women’s group and reached out further to the church and society.  Men and women, priests and laypeople, from Siena and its surroundings gathered around her. They cared for the poor– famine struck Siena in 1370 and a plague in 1374– but also they sought to reform the church and the society of their day.

At the time, Italian cities like Siena, Florence, Pisa and Padua were fighting among themselves as rival families clashed continuously over political power and economic advantages. In 1309 the popes fled the violence and factional riots in Rome for the safety of Avignon in France, where the papacy remained for almost 70 years. They call it “the Babylonian Captivity.”

Catherine and her companions pleaded with the feuding Italian cities for peace and urged the popes to return to Rome to exercise their mission as bishops of the city where Peter and Paul once led the Christian church. Catherine cajoled, warned and scolded the absent popes to do their duty as shepherds of their sheep and get back to where they belonged.

Without any formal education, Catherine learned to read and write only later in life, which made her an unlikely public figure. She was also a woman teaching and preaching– unusual for that day : “Being a woman, I need not tell you, puts many obstacles in my way. The world has no use for women in a work such as that and propriety forbids a woman to mix so freely with men.” (Letter) Despite those obstacles, Catherine traveled to the warring cities of Italy urging peace and to Avignon to plead with the pope to return to Rome.

Catherine had a deep experience of God in prayer, as the “Dialogue,” her mystical exchange with God, attests. God spoke with her and she shared those words. Her prayerfulness drew others to join her in her mission of peace-making and reform.

Jesus was her “Gentle Truth,” her guide and strength. “This is a sign that you trust in me and not in yourself: that you have no cowardly fear. Those who trust in themselves are afraid of their own shadow; they think heaven and earth are letting  them down. Fear and a twisted trust in their own small wisdom makes them pitifully concerned about getting and holding on to everything on earth and throwing away everything spiritual…The only ones afraid are those who think they are alone…They are afraid of every little thing because they are alone–without me.” (Dialogue)

As a lay-woman in the church, she was not afraid to speak to power, once correcting a bishop for “ordaining little boys instead of mature men… idiots who can scarcely read and say the prayers.  They consider it beneath them to visit the poor, they stand by and let people die of hunger.”

Tell the truth, God told her. Tell the truth because love impels you. “You must love others with the same love with which I love you. But you cannot repay my love. Love other people, loving them without being loved by them. Love them without concern for spiritual and material gain, but only for the glory of my name, because I love them.” ( Dialogue )  Loving God inevitably means loving others.

She died in Rome in 1378 and is buried there in the Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Her heart is in Siena.

Word and Eternal Life

Andrei Rublev, Icon of the Most Holy Trinity

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 12:44-50

Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.

John 12:44-45

Jesus is not a one person mission. Again and again, he deferred all of his actions and words to the Father. Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Most Holy Trinity depicts the Son and the Spirit looking toward the Father, the unbegotten origin of the Son and the Spirit. God is, of course, beyond spacetime; thus words like “unbegotten” and “origin,” derived from sensible experience, must be understood as pointers to an ineffable reality.

I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.

John 12:46

John’s Prologue introduces the Word of God who was “in the beginning with God” as Life and Light itself (John 1:1-5). 

And if anyone hears my words and does not observe them, I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.

John 12:47

Earlier in the Gospel, all judgment is given to the Son (John 5:22). Passages about judgment expose the core of the human heart. The voice of God in every heart provokes a search for flourishing. Fear of external judgment corresponds to an inner compass groping for Light, Life, Love, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. 

Jesus forgave his enemies from the Cross for they did not recognize him as the Son of God (Luke 23:34). But failure to recognize the Spirit of God, Jesus says, is inexcusable (Matthew 12:31-32). These puzzling Scriptures seem to point to the fundamental orientation of our heart toward the voice and Spirit of God—receptivity or rejection?1

Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day, because I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak.

John 12:48-49

The “word” (dabar) in Hebrew culture is loaded with significance. In Genesis, the word of God has the power to create, bringing light and life into being. A word of blessing, once given, could not be revoked (Genesis 27:1-46). Words have power to heal; they issue forth from the mouth of God to accomplish his purposes (Psalm 107:20; 147:15; Isaiah 55:11). God’s word is a living fire—a hammer that breaks rock into pieces (Jeremiah 23:29). 

In the Mosaic world, word and life (also law and life) are so closely intertwined that they are virtually indistinguishable:

When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, Take to heart all the words that I am giving in witness against you today, words you should command your children, that they may observe carefully every word of this law. For this is no trivial matter for you, but rather your very life; by this word you will enjoy a long life on the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

Deuteronomy 32:45-47

Jesus, the Word of God, offered himself to the world as Light and Life. A heart shriveled, closed to love, and sunk in darkness is a heart condemned. 

The words of Christ proceed from the Father, for “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

And I know that his commandment is eternal life. So what I say, I say as the Father told me.”

John 12:50

The new Moses elevated the equivalence of word and life to Word and Eternal Life. Jesus is the Word sent forth from the Father to heal and give life to a broken and dying world.

-GMC

1 More than conscience, the Spirit of God produces the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22).

God So Loved the World

In the readings from the Gospel of John for the weeks of Easter the Risen Jesus says he is the “living bread come down from heaven”, “the Good Shepherd”, the “vine” that gives life to the branches. These are important images of the Easter season. 

The images apply not only to him, Jesus says;  they belong also to God, his Father. “I and the Father are one.” 

God, the Father– who’s also our Father–  is the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. We pray to him for our daily bread. He’s the Shepherd who guides us, the vine that brings us flourishing life. Yet, God feeds and cares for more than the human family.

You are the “hope of all the earth and of far distant isles”, Psalm 65 says. You uphold the mountains with your strength, you still the roaring of the seas.”The ends of the earth stand in awe at the sight of your wonders. The lands of sunrise and sunset you fill with your joy.

“You care for the earth, give it water, you fill it with riches. Your river in heaven brims over to provide its grain. And thus you provide for the earth; you drench its furrows; you level it, soften it with showers; you bless its growth. You crown the year with your goodness. Abundance flows in your steps, in the pastures of the wilderness it flows. The hills are girded with joy, the meadows covered with flocks, the valleys are decked with wheat. They shout for joy, yes they sing.” (Psalm 65, Tuesday. Morning Prayer, week 2)

The earth praises God, its creator, the psalms often say. The natural world is a vital part of God’s creation. Along with the human world, it shouts for joy and sings. There’s even surprise in the psalms that God, the Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, could have a special care for the human family. “When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him?”  ( Psalm 8, Saturday Morning, week 2, 4 )

The view of God’s close engagement with the natural world proclaimed by the psalms and the scriptures fell into disfavor when science became the primary way of looking at the natural world with the age of the Enlightenment. Science became our guide and the human world became the center of everything. God’s engagement with the natural world and the human world came into question. The scriptural accounts were just poetry.

But poetry can also be true.  

As we hear the Risen Jesus in the Easter season using these great images of bread from heaven, the shepherd, the vine, we shouldn’t miss their cosmic import. Images point out many things. Certainly “bread from heaven” points to the sacrament of the Eucharist; the shepherd and vine point to the life of the church and the intimacy we enjoy as branches grafted into the vine that is Jesus Christ.

But let’s not forget God’s rule over the whole world. We know so much more about it now. We also know how endangered it has become because of human neglect. More than ever, we need to acknowledge its dignity before God. He still covers the meadows with flocks, “the valleys are decked with wheat.” The natural world shouts for joy and sings during the Easter season. Its Shepherd guides it; it receives daily bread.  It shares in the promise of the Risen Christ.  

The Father’s Hand

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

John 10:22-30

The feast of the Dedication was then taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter. And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

John 10:22-24

A wintry chill descended upon the temple in Jerusalem as Jesus’ enemies encircled the shepherd like wolves. The Light of the World outshone all the candles of the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah, Feast of Dedication), but his enemies preferred darkness. 

“How long will you take away our life?” they asked the one who is Life itself (see NABRE footnote to John 10:24).

Hearts and ears were closed to Jesus, though his opponents seemed to seek a straight answer about his messiahship. 

Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.

John 10:25-26

Believing is not automatic. Signs and wonders, teaching, and fulfillment of prophecies do not necessarily awaken faith. The human heart has an unfathomable capacity to resist whatever it wants to resist. Every argument has a counter-argument. Faith is not ultimately a matter of debate, but of trust in a divine person. Faith is friendship.

Signs and wonders have limited efficacy. Stories in the Torah abound with signs and wonders that failed to produce lasting change. The ten plagues of Egypt rolled off the hardened heart of Pharaoh. The parting of the Red Sea, water from the rock, and “bread from heaven” (manna) did not prevent grumbling or craving for the “fleshpots of Egypt.” 

“You do not believe,” Jesus said, because you have no relationship with me. My sheep seek green pastures, still waters, healing, rest, and life from me (Psalm 23).

My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.

John 10:27-28

No one can snatch the sheep of the divine shepherd. Not even death, the last enemy in this world (1 Corinthians 15:26), can destroy the Good Shepherd and his sheep.

My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

John 29:30

The buck stops with the Father. Jesus can be mocked, scourged, and crucified for a time, but “the Father and I are one.” The Good Shepherd will return to the Father with the sheep given to him. The Father is better than a surety or guarantee. His Word is not just a promise or an oath, but a person—his only-begotten Son.

-GMC