Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.” Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”Mark 8:27-35
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”Matthew 16:13-23
Mark’s Gospel describes the growing numbers following Jesus in Galilee as he begins his ministry, listening to him and amazed at the works he does. But there are also growing numbers who find him hard to understand, the gospel says.
The scribes come from Jerusalem and say he has a demon, the Pharisees begin to plot with the Herodians, the followers of Herod Antipas about putting him to death. When they hear about him in Nazareth, his relatives say, “No, he doesn’t have a demon. He may be out of his mind,” and they come to bring him home.
Besides the leading elite and people from his hometown, ordinary people begin to distance themselves. They seem to be the people in Mark’s Gospel today who question him “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Mark 2, 18-22) Not only Jewish leaders and scholars, not only his own family and his hometown, but many ordinary people of Galilee found him too much for them.
Jesus brought change, radical change, and change can be hard to accept. Many who heard him weren’t ready for new wine, they preferred the old.
Commentators describe Mark’s gospel as a Passion Narrative with a prelude. In other words, the early stories in Mark’s gospel announce the last story of his Passion and Death and Resurrection. Jesus dies alone, forsaken by many ordinary people who flocked to him at first.
Commentators also see Mark’s gospel written to help the Christians of Rome who suffered a brutal, surprising persecution by Nero in the mid 60s. Rome usually singled out Christian leaders in times of persecution, but this persecution seemed to strike at ordinary Christians as well. The senseless, arbitrary persecution left Rome’s Christians confused and wondering what this all meant. Mark’s account reminds them that all who follow Jesus must follow him, without always understanding.
Confusion and lack of understanding are part of our world today, aren’t they? We are living in a time of rapid changes. For many, the old wine, the “old days” are better.
The Cross of Jesus may not come as hard wood and nails. As in Mark’s Gospel, it can come in the form confusion and lack of understanding. A Cross hard to bear.
Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent
Isaiah 40:25-31; Matthew 11:28-30
In a world of constant change and becoming, faith in an immutably good, true, beautiful and eternal God of Love is an anchor in the midst of crashing waves. The mind finds rest in the immutable Source of all that exists. Behind the ups and downs and changes in season, the One who is Three perpetually shines. The Blessed Trinity has never come into existence and will never go out of existence.
To whom can you liken me as an equal?Isaiah 40:25-27
says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high
and see who created these:
He leads out their army and numbers them,
calling them all by name.
By his great might and the strength of his power
not one of them is missing!
Why, O Jacob, do you say,
and declare, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Look to the stars “on high,” says the Lord through the prophet. In a world of warring tribes and nations, the host of heavenly bodies in the galaxies is compared to a well-ordered “army” under the care of a wise general. In contrast, the children of Jacob and Israel have little awareness of the divine presence and grow fainthearted in the midst of trials and adversity.
Do you not know?Isaiah 40:28
Have you not heard?
The Lord is God from of old,
creator of the ends of the earth.
A rhetorical question. Every Hebrew child grows up hearing, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Shema Yisrael from Deuteronomy 6:4) in the morning, evening, and at bedtime.
He does not faint or grow weary,Isaiah 40:28-29
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.
He gives power to the faint,
abundant strength to the weak.
The words of Isaiah were uniquely fulfilled in the person of the God-man, Jesus Christ. In his human nature Jesus hungered, thirsted, grew weary, and staggered under the weight of the Cross on his scourged and bloody shoulders. In his divine nature, he was impassible and perpetually of one will with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The human and divine wills were united by Jesus in his person so that he trod the dusty road of Calvary without fainting.
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,” suffering humanity implores. Grace renews human strength with the resolve, “yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39; Luke 22:42).
Though young men faint and grow weary,Isaiah 40:29-31
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength,
they will soar on eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.
The divine light of the Transfiguration shines from the body of the crucified Christ in the Russian icon of the Crucifixion by Dionysius. The Passion and Transfiguration meet at the axis of the God-man, Jesus Christ, in whom suffering is divinized.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”Matthew 11:28-30
25th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)
Ecclesiastes 11:9—12:8, Psalm 90, Luke 9:43b-45
Rejoice, O young man, while you are young
and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart,
the vision of your eyes;
Yet understand that as regards all this
God will bring you to judgment.
Ward off grief from your heart
and put away trouble from your presence,
though the dawn of youth is fleeting.
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,
before the evil days come
And the years approach of which you will say,
I have no pleasure in them;
Before the sun is darkened,
and the light, and the moon, and the stars,
while the clouds return after the rain; (Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:2)
The wiser, older Qoheleth took the young under his wings and exhorted them to enjoy their fleeting days of agility and health, conducting themselves well in the sight of God.
For all will vanish in the blink of an eye:
You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night. (Psalm 90:3-4)
With poetic imagination, a poignant image of the young person’s imminent future was depicted by Qoheleth. Common allegorical interpretations for the poetic figures are found in the footnotes of the New American Bible:
When the guardians (arms) of the house tremble,
and the strong men (legs) are bent,
And the grinders (teeth) are idle because they are few,
and they who look through the windows (eyes) grow blind;
When the doors (lips) to the street are shut,
and the sound of the mill (mastication) is low;
When one waits for the chirp of a bird, but all the daughters of song (voice) are suppressed;
And one fears heights, and perils in the street;
When the almond tree blooms, (white hair of old age)
and the locust grows sluggish (stiffness in movement of the aged)
and the caper berry (stimulant for appetite) is without effect,
Because man goes to his lasting home, and mourners go about the streets;
Before the silver cord is snapped and the golden bowl is broken,
(The golden bowl suspended by the silver cord was a symbol of life)
And the pitcher is shattered at the spring, (death)
and the broken pulley falls into the well, (death)
And the dust returns to the earth as it once was,
and the life breath returns to God who gave it.
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
all things are vanity! (Ecclesiastes 12:3-8)
In the face of the meaninglessness of aging and death, Qoheleth found solace in virtuous conduct and the enjoyment of the short life allotted to him: “I recognized that there is nothing better than to be glad and to do well during life. For every man, moreover, to eat and drink and enjoy the fruit of all his labor is a gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).
Life may be empty and futile—vanity of vanities!—but one can still rejoice and be glad in God’s gift of life. Cheers!
What a shock, then, to hear from the sage of sages, the Messianic Son of David, that he intended to embrace a violent death in the bloom of youth:
While they were all amazed at his every deed, Jesus said to his disciples, “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying (Luke 9:43b-45).
Miracles, healings, signs and wonders evoked the spring of youth, life, and vitality. Jesus himself was young and robust. The wintry blast of icy death in his prediction of his betrayal and passion made no sense. Nor did anyone wish to probe the matter with questions. Ignorance was bliss.
Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows
The hearts (kardia) of Jesus and Mary were so closely knit that they beat together as one. When the physical heart of the Virgin’s newborn was about the size of a walnut, the righteous and devout Simeon prophesied by the Holy Spirit that the mother’s soul would be pierced through by a long sword.
In the Magnificat following her Annunciation, Mary had soared to the very heavens in song: “My soul magnifies the Lord…” (Luke 1:46). Nine months and forty days later, her soul was plunged into a foretaste of the anguish to come as Mother of the Savior.
In the icon of the Theotokos of the Passion featured above, the Infant Emmanuel clutches his mother’s right hand in fear as he gazes out at two angels carrying the instruments of his Passion. That the messengers are angels is a sign of divine favor: Mother and Son will ultimately defeat the powers of evil, sin, and division by their union of hearts in accepting the Cross. The suffering will be excruciating (out of the cross, from crux), but “love is strong as death” and will destroy it (Song of Solomon 8:6).
The crucifying love of the Passion will uncover and reveal (apokaluptó) the thoughts (dialogismos) of many hearts twisted by millions of sound bites, images, and temptations swirling in inner space. Our Lady of Sorrows, pierced for us, will gather the hearts of her children, Jesus’ brethren, into oneness with their Sacred and Immaculate Hearts.
Jesus’ gift to us in the Eucharist, “This is my body which is given for you,” is also Mary’s gift to us as the Mother of God and our Mother.
As we walk along and lean more and more on God and less and less on human consolation we discover we are never alone.
When we truly give thanks to God for the human consolation that comes our way we discover just how many angels and saints God has placed along the path.
Everyone and everything is originally from God.
He is the only true creator, at the beginning, and at the end of the day.
If we love only Him we love everyone and everything.
Evil is the denial of such undeniable truth.
Evil is the denial of God’s supreme creativity.
Evil is the absence of good.
And shadows and darkness need spaces and voids in order to exist.
Jesus came to cast providential light.
For as the sun rises toward “straight above” the length of negativity surely disappears.
And at perfect high noon darkness does not stand a chance.
For Jesus was raised up upon the crisscrossed tree of life.
Good squelching evil for all the world to see.
The foot of that Cross still remains.
The closer we get the brighter the day.
Spaces and voids fill with pure light.
Evil is cast into hell.
For what God creates He intends for good.
Will we then live good lives?
Will we allow our absences to be filled with genuine goodness?
Will we speak life?
Will we help build the kingdom?
Let us do so.
One stone at a time.
One flickering light at a time.
One Eucharistic encounter at a time.
Let us live “on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.“
For when we do,
Stones become bread,
Water becomes wine,
And bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.
Lord Jesus, cover us with Your Blood.
Let us hug the foot of Your Cross.
Let us adore Your feet nailed to the trunk of the tree.
Let us get so close that not even a speck of darkness can get in between.
Let us truly ask this in Your Holy and Perfect Name.
Who is Paul of the Cross?
He’s a saint, canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1867.
He’s the founder of the Passionists , a religious community of priests, brothers, sisters, and laypeople.
He lived in northern and central Italy during most of the 18th century and was originally called Paul Francesco Danei.
There are books written about him. His letters have been collected and printed in large, thick volumes. And time on the internet will easily identify many short biographical sketches, prayers, and sayings. There is also much available about the Passionists, and their life after the death of Saint Paul of the Cross—their growth, history, struggles, saints, and their current configuration, focus, and works.
There are also the many individual members of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, living today and based all around the world, and they each have their own story to tell.
But there is also the man named Paul.
And somehow this kind, gentle, humble, and beautifully-flawed human being seems to get lost in all this.
His weaknesses greatly interest me.
Christ’s courage and strength in and through him inspire me.
If we prayerfully put aside the constitutions, the history, the legacy, and even his incredibly personal and guidance-filled letters (that he never intended anyone other than the recipients to read) we just may find a stripped-down saint whose essence and example we badly need in times such as these.
We just may find what we find in each and every great man and woman of God throughout Christian history—that same occurrence that appears again and again through the lives of our brothers and sisters who have truly renounced all their possessions in order to become true disciples of Christ.
In Saint Paul of the Cross we just may find…
…a cold, naked infant in a cradle, desperate for his mother’s breast…
…a frightened and insecure child running to keep pace with the visions of his father…
…a tired, distraught, beaten-down young man offering his life for the benefit of his brothers…
We just may find ourselves.
Or we may find someone that we used to know.
Or we may find someone that we should get to know.
But what really matters is that we find the Word made flesh.
And that is the heart of the matter. The fleshy heart that matters.
For while hearts of stone are hard to wound, they are not really hearts at all. They are the hearts of the walking dead, of those whom Jesus Himself says, “let the dead bury their dead.”
Jesus wants our hearts, our entire hearts. He wants undivided, tenderized hearts. Soft and fleshy hearts.
Yes, that type of heart is easily pierced, but in being wounded they are transformed, in being merciful they begin to bleed, and in forgiving they become His. They become sacred. Our hearts become His Most Sacred Heart.
The saints show us Jesus. They show us ourselves. They show us where we come from, where we currently need to stand, and where it is that we should go.
And the answer is always the same: With God.
Born of a virgin. Dying on a cross. Raised from the dead. Ascending into Heaven.
I am no expert on Saint Paul of the Cross. But I am his friend, and he has been very good to me. And I hope that you get to know him too.
As far as me telling you more about Paul Danei, you probably fall into one of three categories: you already know the details, you have never even heard of him, or you are about to meet a man with a striking resemblance.
For you see, the best thing I can say about Paul is that he is a lot like Jesus—a man in history but not met through it, a man who wore a robe but not defined by it, a man who submitted himself to the law but didn’t let that stop him from transcending it.
A man who at the end of the day, knows that it is all about love.
Francesca, like most 4-year-olds, is not particularly gentle when it comes to petting a cat. Well, let me put it another way, her gentleness as compared to her zeal when It comes to petting a cat is somewhat lacking. Hence, our cats spend most of their time in the attic of our apartment, hiding from the over-affectionate hand of Francesca.
One morning I was on the couch and Francesca was sitting at the coffee table working on a coloring book. From the door leading to the attic peaked the head of William. Francesca saw him and quickly looked at me, and for some reason this time she attempted to implement what she had been told many times before.
In a barely audible whisper, she looked for affirmation: “Daddy, I shouldn’t move, right?”
“No, Francesca, stay still…”, I whispered back, “…let him come to you. Just leave your hand down by your side.”
And lo and behold, William began to make his way toward us, and began to even approach Francesca’s still fingers. He sniffed. He balked. He approached again. Francesca went to move and stopped. William and Francesca courted each other, one filled with fright, the other excitement, both nearly shaking with emotion.
Francesca broke the tension and attempted to pet his head. William allowed it but could not hold together the nerve to stay put once Francesca’s hand moved past his neck. Off and up the stairs William went.
I realized something. Sometimes, when a person is filled with fear he can not be approached. No matter how kind, soft, sincere our intention, he just can not take the approach, any approach. He needs to make the first move. And we on our part need to simply stay still, patiently waiting for him to come closer, and then maybe, just maybe, we can make a kind gesture. But even if the person runs away at that point we need not take it personal. It is fear that is the cause. Neither the person giving nor the person receiving is to blame.
But unlike cats, who usually show fear just as it is, perhaps with an occasional threatening hiss, humans on the other hand show fear through a different type of tremble. They often preemptively throw insults, curses, mocks, pushes, and even outright physical strikes.
And just as it is hard to ignore the sharp claws of a frightened kitten digging into your arm—even when we fully understand that the kitten truly means no personal harm to us—it is hard to ignore such “attacks” from our fellow man. It is hard to strip them down to what they really are: pathetic attempts at self-preservation. But then again, was not Jesus striped down? And shouldn’t we always keep Christ’s Passion in our hearts? Well, then, as a sign of gratitude, we owe it to Jesus to see His Passion in all our interactions, especially the encounters that cause us pain, be it a superficial abrasion or a wound that pierces the core of our soul.
Let us then employ God’s grace in seeing all harshness, in any form, from any human being toward us, as fear. And by doing so we find ourselves very much in the actual footprints of Christ. For what nailed Him to the Cross was not jealousy nor anger nor even resentment, but fear, fear of the worst kind, fear of the truth. And in the case of Jesus, Truth had a very real face.
But we too are alive. We too have within us the divine presence, a presence that some find dreadfully frightening.
No, we can not like Jesus be sinless, but we can see our persecutors as he did: men to be pitied not punished, men that need mercy not condemnation, men who if we don’t offer forgiveness to are less likely to find it within themselves when they are at the other end of the sword—when it is their turn to be insulted, cursed, mocked, pushed, and even outright physically struck for simply wanting to love.
In the mean time, Francesca continues to color and William sleeps peacefully up in a tight nook of the attic. In the fullness of time, they’ll see eye to eye, as shall you and me.
by Howard Hain
To your eyes a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone, no more than a watch in the night.
.One good olive.
There are so many factors.
The altitude. The light. The soil. The temperature. The rainfall. The wind. The dew point and humidity. The age of the tree.
Then there are those factors that we can control: pruning, watering, fertilizing, fanning, netting, and wrapping chilly trees with burlap or fleece.
And of course there are those other factors, those that fall somewhere in-between, between our control and our complete lack thereof: most of these relate to the sneaky work of numerous little thieves—animals, birds, insects, and perhaps even fellow farmers or other hungry travelers who just happen to pass by.
But when all is said and done—when all the factors are poured into the olive equation, mixed-up well, and left to unify or settle out—the fruit that’s produced by the world’s most nostalgic, symbolic, and romantic of trees means very little (at least in digestive terms) if it’s simply left to shrivel up and fall to the ground.
Picking an olive is perhaps the highest part of the art.
When to do so? And toward what end?
If too early, great potential is squandered.
If too late, great taste is lost.
If indecisive, we might as well let nature enjoy it for the time being—for one way or another—God’s process will eventually return it to the earth.
And yet, we’re still not done, for even if the olive is picked at just the right time, from just the right tree—the one that has grown in all the right circumstances—when it comes to the culmination of olive production, all is moot if the precious fruit of the womb is never squeezed.
For no matter how good the olive, without applied pressure, there’s nothing left to be labeled “pure extra virgin”.
.But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a women…
* Gethsemane is the name of a garden on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It appears in the Greek of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark as Γεθσημανή (Gethsēmanē). The name is derived from the Aramaic ܓܕܣܡܢ (Gaḏ-Šmānê), meaning “oil press”.