“I pray for them,” Jesus says in Tuesday’s gospel as he looks to his disciples in the supper room and also to us who are his own today.
We who are so conscious of how poorly we pray need to remember Jesus praying for us and in us. Is it possible to speak to God, we ask ourselves? We’re so easily distracted, so weak in faith, so bound to life as it is. How can we to go to God in prayer?
“Let the Son who lives in our hearts, be also on our lips,” St. Cyprian says in his commentary on the Our Father. Jesus joins our weak and stumbling prayers to his own. He prays in and for us and gives us the assurance we will be welcomed and heard.
“I pray for them,” Jesus said in the supper room. Then, he prayed for his disciples when they left the supper room and entered the Garden of Gethsemani. They fell asleep, forgetful of everything. A stone’s throw away, Jesus prayed and his prayer was not only for himself but to strengthen them as well.
“I pray for them,’ Jesus says in our liturgical prayers. We speak to God the Father “through Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.”
Whenever we pray, whether with others in public prayer or praying alone, he enters our prayer. “Let us pray with confidence to the Father in the words our Savior gave us,” we say as we begin the Our Father at Mass.
Our confidence in prayer comes, not from our own wisdom, or holiness or faith, but from Jesus who says “I pray for them.”
We celebrate a feast of the apostles each month. Why? Every family wants to find out how it began. Our church began with the apostles. Today, May 3rd, we remember two apostles together, Philip and James.They’re celebrated together because their relics were placed side by side in the Church of the Twelve Apostles when it was built in Rome in the 6th century.
Philip was called by Jesus to follow him the day after he called Andrew and Peter. (John 1:43-45) James, who is also called James the Less to distinguish him from James, the brother of John, was the son of Alpheus and a cousin of Jesus. He later became head of the church in Jerusalem. His mother Mary, stood with Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalen beneath the cross of Jesus. (John 19: 25) He was martyred in Jerusalem in the year 62.
On a feast of an apostle you expect to hear one or more heroic act or wise saying, but in today’s reading from St. John’s gospel we hear an apostle’s clumsy question instead. During his Farewell Discourse, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.”
“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Philip says to Jesus, who responds:
“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.”
Can we hear exasperation in Jesus’s words? Some commentators think so. Jesus’ apostles are slow to understand him, uncertain, fearful–even ready to betray him. Philip isn’t the only one who can’t fathom Jesus and his message.
Called by Jesus, they’re human. Their humanness and slowness makes us realize where our power comes from. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us be the glory!” The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ.
But before we dismiss Philip, let’s remember he pointed Jesus out to Nathaniel at the Jordan River and he brought Greek visitors to Jesus as he was entering Jerusalem to die on a cross. ( John 12: 20-23) He never stopped pointing to the One whom he tried to understand. It’s an apostle’s gift.
The apostles make us realize the patience of Jesus, which is the patience of God. They reveal the different gifts and weaknesses found in the followers of Jesus.
All four gospels say that Jesus fed a great crowd near the Sea of Galilee by multiplying a few loaves of bread and some fish. It’s an important miracle.
John’s account (John 6), read at Mass on weekdays from the Friday of the 2nd week of Easter until Saturday of the 3rd week of Easter, indicates the miracle takes place during the feast of Passover. Like the Passover feast, the miracle and the teaching that follows occur over a number of days.
The Passover feast commemorated the Manna God sent from heaven to sustain the Jews on their journey to the promised land. Jesus claims to be the “true bread,” the “living bread” that comes down from heaven.
Jesus is a commanding presence during the miracle and the days that follow in John’s account. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” he asks Philip as crowds come to him. He then directs the crowd to sit down, feeds them with the bread and fish, and says what should be done with the fragments left over. Unlike the other gospel accounts that give the disciples a active role in the miracle John’s account gives them a small role. Philip and the other disciples are tested during the miracle and the teaching that follows it.
As they embark on the Sea of Galilee to return to Capernaum after the miracle, a sudden storm occurs and Jesus’ rebukes the wind and the sea, the forces of nature, so that the disciples reach the other shore. All four gospels have some version of Jesus’s power over the sea and therefore the natural world. He has divine power.
The crowds to whom Jesus speaks at Capernaum after the miracle are also tested as well as his disciples. They want to make him king after a plentiful meal and only look for a steady hand out instead of “the true bread come down from heaven.” Their faith is limited and imperfect after the miracle. They miss the meaning of the sign.
The disciples also are tested; some walk with him no more.
The miracle of the loaves and the fish remind us that Jesus is Lord and we are people of limited faith. We only see so far. The Risen Lord leads us to the other shore. He is the Bread of Life. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life,” Peter says to Jesus at the end of John’s account. And so do we.
In St. John’s gospel, read these final days of Lent and into Easter, Jesus regularly celebrates the Jewish feasts in Jerusalem. The Jewish feasts are signs telling us who Jesus is and what he does.
In Jerusalem on a Sabbath feast, for example, Jesus heals a paralyzed man at the pool at Bethsaida. (Chapter 5); The Son does not rest, as the Father does not rest, from bringing life to a paralyzed world. . At a Passover Feast (Chapter 6), Jesus calls himself the true Bread from heaven, the manna that feeds multitudes. On the Feast of Tabernacles (chapter 7-9) he reveals himself as the light of the world and living water. On the Feast of the Dedication (Chapter 10) which celebrates the rededication of the temple after its desecration, Jesus claims to be the true temple, dwelling among us and making God’s glory known. The Feast of Passover is introduced in Chapter 11 with Lazarus raised from the dead.
The feasts are signs that what Jesus says and does are from God. “The Father is in me and I am in the Father,” he claims on all these feasts.
For the most part his listeners are blind to the signs and accuse him of blasphemy, John’s Gospel says. They try to stone him and have him arrested. Instead of accepting him, Jerusalem rejects him. In today’s gospel, Jesus leaves Jerusalem and goes to a place across the Jordan where John baptized.
He will come back as a new sign. First, he raises Lazarus from the dead; then, he dies himself and rises from the dead. He bring life to the world, not death. Jesus is a sign himself, God’s great sign. John’s gospel, more than the others, find glorious signs in the passion of Jesus. We read his gospel on Good Friday.
The soldiers arresting Jesus in the garden fall to the ground before him. Pilate shrinks before him on the judgment seat, Jesus speaks calmly, majestically from the cross. Realists that we are, we find it hard to find suffering revealing God’s glory and power. It’s hard to see glory in someone suffering and dying on a cross..
We find it hard to see anything but absurdity in the times we’re experiencing now. That’s why John’s Gospel may be an important guide today. “Look for the signs,” it says. If we believe God is with us, there are signs of glory and a promise of resurrection, even in suffering and death.
The world is caught in a storm, like the disciples caught in their boat at sea. We need to know God is not asleep.
Jesus meets a woman accused of adultery in the temple area during the Feast of Tabernacles, according to John’s Gospel. He claims to be the light of the world and living water, two symbols of this feast. His enemies, fiercely disputing his claims, likely brought the woman before him to discredit him. He said, “As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just…” (John 5:30) Here was a test.
Moses, the woman’s accusers say, commanded she be stoned. What is your judgment?
Adultery, though, is not the great issue here. Gender injustice is also on the table. Jewish religious law said if a woman were caught in the act of adultery and two men witnessed it, she could be stoned to death or strangled. The system obviously led to abuse; two witnesses paid by a vengeful husband might give false testimony and have her stoned to death. The woman becomes a victim and the man avoids blame.
Jesus, who brings a lens of justice and mercy to every age, brought life and light to the woman in the temple that day. Her accusers met his judgment.
The story of Suzanna from the Book of Daniel, like the gospel story, is also about injustice and abuse of power. Two old men, judges with lots of power, think they can do anything they want. Abuse of power, combined with lust, is still behind many of our sexual crimes today. It’s found in the workplace, in politics, in the celebrity and sports world, and also unfortunately in the world of religion.
Suzannah refuses to give in to their advances, and she finds a champion in Daniel who faces up to the powerful men. Her story calls for standing up for truth and fighting against abuse of power wherever we find it.
Lord, let me judge others fairly with your eyes, your heart and your mind. Help me work for a world that is right and just. Give me the grace to know myself.
Readings Jesus went from Galilee up to Jerusalem for the feast of the Tabernacles where “the Jews were trying to kill him” , says John’s Gospel, our reading for today. (John 7, 1-39) Tabernacles was a popular Autumn feast, one of three Jewish feasts drawing crowds of visitors to the city. The “inhabitants of the city” notice him, John notes. Who are they?
They’re not the leaders who will later put him to death. They’re the ordinary people who watch the leaders, who know what’s happening in the city, who follow the trends and pass the gossip. They watch Jesus with curiosity as he enters the temple area and begins to teach.
“Do our leaders now believe he’s the Messiah?” “How can he be, because he’s from Galilee and no one will know where the Messiah is from?” They go back and forth– they’re the undecided who wait to see who wins before they take sides.
Jesus cried out against them, because they think they know what’s going on but know nothing. They are a far cry from the crowds in Capernaum that lined up around the door of Peter’s house when Jesus began his ministry. They stay at a distance and watch.
When we think about those responsible for the death of Jesus, we shouldn’t leave out “the inhabitants of the city.” Terrible things happen because the undecided choose to stay on the sidelines and watch.
The reading from the Book of Wisdom for today talks about people like that–the people who wait and see. “Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him.” (Wisdom 2,12-24)
Prayer helps us to see what is real, the spiritual masters teach. To see what is real we have to put aside the ordinary ways we see and judge and act. The way we think often blinds us to the truth. Then, we have to act. Whether we’re learned theologians, practiced priests, informed church-goers, or “inhabitants of Jerusalem” we need to humble ourselves before God.
We are the inhabitants of the city,
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
“Each year Jesus’ parents went up to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, and when he was twelve years old they went up according to festival custom.” Luke 2,41
At twelve, Jesus entered a new stage in life – his “Bar Mitzvah,” when he took on the responsibilities of the law, which later he summarized as: “Love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart…Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Who led him to that new stage? It had to be Joseph and Mary. Matthew’s Gospel gives Joseph a major role in Jesus’ birth. He provides Jesus with a genealogy going back to Abraham. He’s told by the angel not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife; he shouldn’t divorce her as Jewish law called for, and he should name the child, Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”
After the visit of the Magi, Joseph was directed to take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Then, the angel tells him to return to Israel with them after Herod’s death. Finally, he makes a home in Nazareth in Galilee, where his family would be safer away from Herod’s heir, Archelaus, who ruled in Judea.
Clearly, according to Matthew’s gospel, Joseph is an important figure in the birth and early life of Jesus Christ. Then, he silently disappears from the gospels. There’s no record of his role at Nazareth or his death.
The gospel calls Joseph an “upright” man. He was upright because, like his neighbors at Nazareth, he observed all the Jewish laws. But not from lip service. Joseph firmly believed in his heart in the God of Israel, who loved all things great and small, yes, even Nazareth and a humble carpenter.
An inward man, Joseph saw in the simple, ordinary world about him more than others saw. His neighbor casting seed on the family field he loved – wasn’t God’s passionate love for the land of Israel like that? Even as he built a village house or a table, his thoughts sometimes turned to another world: was not God building a kingdom for his people?
An inward man, Joseph saw beyond the fields and mountains and the small town of Nazareth, but he said little about his inmost dreams to others. A quiet man, he kept his own counsel.
Jesus, the Son of God, was known through his earthly life as Jesus, the son of Joseph, “the carpenter’s son.” As children do, he naturally would acquire some of Joseph’s traits, perhaps the way he walked and spoke.
From Joseph, Jesus first learned about the people of the village, their sorrows and their joys. He saw his love for Mary and the people of his village. Jesus learned from him how to use a carpenter’s tools and worked at his side. The rabbis said: A father who does not teach his son a trade teaches him to steal.
The two were constant companions at the synagogue in Nazareth. Together they celebrated regularly the great Jewish feasts, listened to the Scriptures, and journeyed as pilgrims to Jerusalem.
Jesus must have seen in Joseph a simple, holy man who trusted God with all his heart. Someone like Joseph, so unassuming, so steady, so quietly attentive to God, was like a treasure hidden in a field. He could go unrecognized.
Later, would Jesus remember lessons and tell stories he learned earlier at Nazareth from Joseph, the carpenter?
The opening prayer for today’s feast describes Joseph’s spirituality. He intercedes for the church that it may be aware of “the unfolding mysteries of human salvation.” Joseph was there when “the unfolding mysteries of salvation” began. Joseph listened to angels and prophets and followed them.
In the first reading for his feast God promises King David he would have an God-given heir. Joseph, a son of David, saw that promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans presents Abraham as the father of many nations. Joseph saw that promise also fulfilled in Jesus. “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,” the angel says to Joseph. He was not afraid, but believed in the “unfolding mysteries of salvation.”
Two Passionist brothers remembered St. Joseph in a painting and a sculpture, which I’ve added to this blog: Brother Paul Morgan and Brother Michael Stomber.
St. Joseph and the Boy Jesus by Brother Michael Stomber, CP
Readings In Luke’s gospel Jesus often sides with people living in complicated situations they find hard, almost impossible to get out of – tax collectors, prostitutes, widows, sinners like the prodigal son. They call out for God’s mercy, and Jesus shows them mercy.
A number of tax collectors appear in the gospels. There’s the tax collector in Luke’s account today, there’s Zachaeus the chief tax collector in Jericho. There’s also Mathew, the tax collector in Caphernaum, whom Jesus asked to follow him. There’s no evidence that Jesus asked all Matthew’s friends– also tax collectors– to leave their posts and give up the dirty profession they’re engaged in.
The chief tax collector Zachaeus promised a substantial gift to the poor after receiving Jesus into his house, but again there is no evidence he gave up his job as chief tax collector in Jericho. Nor did any of the tax collectors under him.
There’s no evidence the tax collector in the parable today did so either. Still, God’s mercy was at work in them.
We’re reading from Hosea these last two days, the prophet whose wife left him. If I read him right, as Hosea calls out to Israel to come back to God, he’s also calling out to his wife to come back. He seems aware she may not think it possible to come back, so he keeps inviting her. Come back to me. It’s mercy calling out.
We’re reading the parable about the tax collector praying in the back of the temple from Luke’s Gospel. (Luke 18, 9-14) Staying at a distance, eyes down, the tax collector says only a few words:“O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” He recognizes his distance from God and calls for mercy.
The Pharisee’s prayer is so different, so full of himself. He sees no need for mercy. There’s nothing in him that needs redemption. He seems to ask only for applause and approval.
The tax collector asks only for mercy. His prayer is heard so shouldn’t we make it our own? Tax-collectors, widows and sinners stand closest to where all humanity stands. We all need God’s mercy. We come to God empty-handed. “O God come to my assistance. O Lord make haste to help me.”
Call for God’s mercy, St. Paul of the Cross often counseled: “I wish you to remain in your horrible nothingness, knowing that you have nothing, can do nothing and know nothing. God doesn’t do anything for those who wish to be something; but one who is aware of his nothingness in truth, is ready. ‘If anyone thinks himself to be something, he deceives himself,’ said the Apostle, whose name I bear unworthily. (St. Paul of the Cross, Letter 1033)
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386), whose feast is celebrated March 18th, was bishop of Jerusalem when the Holy Land was a center for Christian pilgrims. Scholars, like St. Jerome and St. Paula, came to pray and study at the places where Jesus was born and died and rose again. After centuries of persecution, ordinary Christians flocked to the place and an age of pilgrimage began. “The whole world is going to an empty tomb,” St. John Chrysostom said.
From then till our time, the church in Jerusalem powerfully influenced the liturgical, catechetical and devotional life in churches throughout the world. The Stations of the Cross originated here. Cyril was an important catechist of the Jerusalem church, honored today by Christian churches of the east and west for his masterful lenten sermons, preparing catechumens for baptism.
Cyril preached and celebrated the liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, recently built by the Emperor Constantine over the tomb of Jesus where he rose from the dead and calvary where he died. The church still stands today. Here’s an excerpt from one of his catechetical sermons, preached in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, near where the relic of the cross and the tomb of Jesus were honored. See how he uses places and events remembered close by, Siloam and the man born blind, Lazarus from Bethany, the relic of the Cross.
“The Catholic Church glories in every deed of Christ. Her supreme glory, however, is the cross. Well aware of this, Paul says: God forbid that I glory in anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!
“At Siloam, there was a sense of wonder, and rightly so: a man born blind recovered his sight. But of what importance is this, when there are so many blind people in the world? Lazarus rose from the dead, but even this affected only Lazarus: what of those countless numbers who have died because of their sins? Those miraculous loaves fed five thousand people; yet this is a small number compared to those all over the world who were starved by ignorance. After eighteen years a woman was freed from the bondage of Satan; but are we not all shackled by the chains of our own sins?
“For us all, however, the cross is the crown of victory. It has brought light to those blinded by ignorance. It has released those enslaved by sin. Indeed, it has redeemed the whole of mankind!”
The relic of the cross, rescued from the refuse of Calvary, honored by Cyril in the Jerusalem church. was not just a grim reminder of the suffering of Jesus; it was bathed in the glorious memory of Jesus’ resurrection celebrated close by in his empty tomb.
Love is the message Jesus offers in our gospel reading today. Love God and love your neighbor, he says to the scribe asking about the greatest commandment . (Mark 12, 28-34) We expect to hear about love on a lenten Friday, since every Friday is associated with the Friday called Good. Lenten Fridays especially prepare us for that great day of love.
The gospels dwell on what took place that day in great detail. Historians, scholars, artists approach the mystery of Jesus’ passion and death in different ways. What political or religious factors were behind it? Who were the people involved? What was crucifixion like? The day is a fascinating conclusion to a fascinating life.
But, above all, it’s a day about love. Hosea, the prophet we hear from in our first reading today was a man in love with a woman who betrayed him for another, but he never forgot her. She was the love of his life, and he saw everything else in the light of that experience. In an instance, he would take her back.
Why did Jesus suffer such a death, we ask? As God’s Son, no one could take his life from him. The only answer we can give is that Jesus gave himself up to death and accepted death on the Cross out of love for his Father and out of love for us. Love caused him to say in the Garden, “Your will be done.” Love called words of forgiveness from the cross: ”Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The cross was not something Jesus endured; he embraced it with his whole heart, his whole mind and all his strength. Before his cross, we stand before Love.
We should not avoid praying before the cross. All the saints recommend this prayer:
“When you experience dryness in your prayer, gently stir your spirit with loving acts then rest in God. Softly say to him, ‘How bruised your face, how swollen, how disfigured with spit. I see your bones laid bare. What suffering, what blows, what grief. Love is one great wound. Sweet are your wounds, sweet is your suffering. I want to keep you always close to my heart.” (Paul of the Cross:Letter 23)
Lord Jesus Christ,
the scribe in today’s gospel repeated the command to love
and you praised him for it.
May I keep before me the great commandment
to love God and my neighbor
and live it as you did.
Give me that grace. Amen.