In my years as a priest, I have witnessed many amazing things. I have heard the sorrow of men and women who have come back to confession for the first time in a quarter of a century. I have watched Catholics rally around parishioners in need, go out of their way to comfort the mourning, struggle and sacrifice to raise their children in the faith. I have seen people’s lives turned around by prayer, watched people come out from under addiction, and witnessed remarkable acts of forgiveness. I have even seen people break years of a bad habit, and start to come to Mass on time.
Pentecost was the second of the three great Pilgrimage Festivals celebrated by Israel, feasts which imposed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem upon Israelites. The other two were the Feast of Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. The Passover commemorated the sparing of the Israelites when God’s avenging angel passed by their homes and slew the first-born of the Egyptians (Exodus 11:1-10). The Feast of Tabernacles (also called the Feast of Booths) was a harvest festival, celebrated in the fall. Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, was also a harvest feast, but it marked the spring harvest, and was called the day of the first fruits (Numbers 28:26-31). It was a day of Sabbath observance, marked by prayer and sacrifice. This was the feast, the harvest feast, which Christ’s followers were celebrating, when “suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2:1-4).
If anyone has ever worked with a group or committee that had a special project, you would know that success was dependent on the commitment of the members of the group, that the group shared the same ideas and principles and that they had the same goal. In other words they were united in their work for success of the project. Although the members of the group may have had different gifts and talents, they came from different backgrounds, and may have differed in other parts of their lives; it did not matter as long as there was a common goal and unity.
The final wishes or words of a loved one nearing death have a way of remaining with us. As a priest, I can think of various occasions where I have had the privilege of being with parishioners and/or family members as they saw a loved one prepare to go home to God.
This passage in John’s gospel is often referred to as Jesus’ farewell discourse. Jesus has an appreciation of the end of his earthly life approaching, and with a sense of urgency is offering some parting words about what He thinks is most important for us to remember.
Frank – the little story goes – was worried that the lady he married forty years ago was growing deaf. So one day when she was working in the garden, he went out, stood on the other side of the yard, about thirty feet behind her, and called out, “Mary!”
Jesus is famous for telling his disciples, “Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 18:3). But what does that mean? How does a person become like a child again? Surely, Jesus does not mean we must become physically small and chronologically young, since that’s impossible. In John’s gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus that we must be born again, but he doesn’t mean that we must come forth from our mother’s womb once more.
Easter is a time of year in which each of us has the opportunity for an “extreme makeover.” So many of the reality TV shows available to us are about such makeovers, but they all have to do with a transformation that is superficial. A Christian Easter makeover is about an in-depth transformation – one in which the Risen One living within us as Light of our lives, illuminates us deeply within our core, opening up the dark spaces in our existence, so that the image and likeness of God in which we were created can once again shine.
Good Friday was the end of the journey for the Pilgrim God, Jesus Christ. After 33 years of walking and talking with human beings he ended his pilgrimage on earth by dying on the cross. Easter Sunday was the beginning of his life as God Triumphant, his life beyond death.
Every Christmas we display the Nativity set which reminds us of the cast of characters that form part of that story about the joy of birth. In today’s Passion account about suffering and death there are many parallels to the narrative of Jesus’ birth. The wooden contraption that holds the Savior is not a manger but a cross. The swaddling clothes of the newborn are replaced by the seamless tunic for which soldiers throw dice. There is no star of Bethlehem to illuminate the darkness; rather, there is only the darkness of Golgotha to cover the light of day. The lowing cattle are not there, but vultures of both the winged and human kind hover about. The shepherds and their sheep are replaced by the soldiers and their lances. The Kings from the East are gone with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; in their place stand the poor and empty-handed peasant friends of Jesus and two thieves. Mary is there again but this time she is not the young girl of eighteen filled with the joy of a newborn child. She is instead the fifty-something mother watching the death of her middle-aged son. Joseph her husband is gone; replaced by another Joseph, her son’s friend.
Today’s gospel finds Christ writing in the dust. This is the only time that Christ writes.
Perhaps it was a “love letter in the sand” that Christ wrote, because in his very gentle way he forced the accusers to look at themselves first and ask themselves that all-important question, “Am I without sin myself so that I should throw the first stone?”
Imagine a couple on their 25th wedding anniversary. They have been together in good times and bad, raised children, stuck with it through arguments, sickness, and troubles at work and home. They built a home, supported each other when their parents died, celebrated together when their children married. and joyfully welcomed beautiful grandchildren. On the day of their silver anniversary, the husband comes home from work with a bouquet of roses and a bottle of champagne. He kisses his wife, hands her the flowers, pours the champagne, and offers a toast, saying that he couldn’t have wished for a better twenty-five years. His wife sips the champagne and responds, “Thanks, honey. But looking back, I think I definitely could have found someone better than you.”
In the fifth century Saint Augustine gave the following warning to his people: “We know that the day of eternity is coming and it is good for us to know this. It is also good not to know exactly when it will come. This forces us to prepare for eternity by living a good life now. It is in our power now to decide whether our eternity will be in heaven or in hell. Right now is the time when we can determine what our eternity will be. God mercifully hides the moment when our earthly life will end but he even more mercifully delays its ending so that we can have more time now to prepare” (Commentary on Psalm 36/1, # 1).
On Good Friday, April 5, 1520, the great artist Raphael died. During the obsequies of this thirty-seven-year-old artist, his last painting, The Transfiguration, stood as a testimony to his genius. This painting, later finished by Raphael’s pupils, now stands in the Vatican museum. Copies can be found throughout the world.
Have you ever been to a secluded place, by yourself, just to think about things and be quiet, be still? This would be somewhat like going on a retreat. How would you spend your time alone? When I go to a secluded place, I like to walk and think things over. Sometimes I’ll stop and sit down to keep on thinking, appreciating, thanking and just to marvel at the sights and sounds. But wouldn’t this time alone also be a good time to evaluate our lives? Wouldn’t this be a perfect time to reflect on our sins, our mistakes and shortcomings and consider how we can do better next time? Wouldn’t it be a great time to pray and find God; to praise and thank him for the many blessings he has given us in our lives?
What do you think God is asking of you today? What are you willing to give to God? Are there limits to your response? Can you name them? In what ways do you hold back, ignore, or even say no? Why?
What must it have been like to be in the physical presence of Jesus? What we know for certain is that there was something very attractive about his insight and about his presence that drew large numbers of people towards him. Of course, he was also a great healer. His ability to cut right to the heart of an individual’s experience, empathize with their fragility and see their fear was the first step in bringing about their healing. His Divine Wisdom cut through the conventional teaching of the law in order to reveal a deeply human common sense. This mercy-filled common sense expelled demons, healed diseases of the skin, opened the eyes of the blind and even awakened the dead.
A few years back, on a warm Sunday in August, I was sitting in my sister’s backyard following a family barbecue. (It’s good to think of such things in the midst of a harsh winter, and be reminded that the fine weather will come again.) The rest of the family had gone, leaving me, my sister and her husband, and a young couple from next door. During a pause in the conversation, my four-year-old nephew, Matthew, who was sitting on my lap, slowly leaned over to the neighbor - who was very pretty and, let us say, dressed for summer - looked up into her face, and said in the voice of a twenty-year-old, “You have the prettiest blue eyes.” We all laughed, and the young woman said, “Well, thank you, Matthew! But my eyes aren’t blue. They’re green.” And without missing a beat, and in the same adult voice, Matthew replied, “Green is my faaavorite color!”
Happy Dependence Day! That’s right, it’s Dependence day, not Independence Day. Let me explain.
It seems easy to judge and target James and John, as well as the other apostles upset at them, for they all wanted the same thing: to stand out and be “on top” with a sense of success and superiority. After all, hadn’t they learned anything about discipleship and self-giving? Jesus journeyed at length with them and had just told them for the third time that in his mission, he was going up to Jerusalem where he would suffer, die and be raised on the third day. But the apostles never seemed to get it! Their energy was taken up-as it can be for any of us-in the business of comparison and climbing.