I remember an early morning this spring when I was awoken from a deep sleep by the severe sounds of an approaching storm. There was a tremendous clap of thunder followed by a bright flash of lighting, the intensity of which drew me from my bed instantly and to the window. My immediate reaction was to quickly bless myself, making the sign of the cross, followed expediently by an act of contrition. The violence of the storm combined with the strange light of the morning in these moments just before dawn to frighten me and to wonder if this might be the end of the world! My response to the storm triggered a spontaneous spiritual reaction, readying myself for what might be the end.
I imagine the words of Jesus today may seem a bit heavy – especially at this time of year, when the summer heat tends to make many of us feel a little sluggish and lazy. Yet Jesus calls us to vigilance and readiness. Perhaps it’s precisely because it may be more difficult for us to hear this message now that the Church places this Gospel before us today as a reminder of what never fails to be important, namely, that we always be prepared for the Lord’s coming.
In my family, there are two organized religions: Roman Catholicism, and the Pennsylvania State Lottery. (Some interfaith family members also attend the Church of Powerball.) I recall the first time the jackpot went over one hundred million dollars. It was in the late 80s, and although I was living in Washington at the time, my brother, Matt, was giving me regular updates on the effects of this huge prize. There were long lines to buy tickets; people taking trains from New York, Baltimore, and Washington, others flying in from California and Europe and even Japan; and a level of general excitement that continued to rise every time there was a drawing without a winner. He assured me that he had purchased a fair number of tickets himself, and asked me if I would pray for one of them to win. I dodged the question by asking him what he would do if he won, and he revealed to me a very detailed plan of action. He had obviously given the matter a great deal of thought.
“When you pray, say, ‘Father, hallowed be your name’” (Luke 11:2).
Atop a mountain called Olivet, outside Jerusalem, there stands today a church with a strange name. It is called the Church of the Our Father. It stands over the spot where tradition holds that Jesus taught His prayer to the apostles.
In the sixth century, St. Benedict founded a dozen monasteries in Italy that would shape Europe for centuries to come. Carved over the entrance of the first Benedictine monastery at Subiaco is the famous motto, Ora et Labora: “Pray and Work.” In the death throes of the classical world, in the decay of ancient institutions and customs, St. Benedict located the foundation of spiritual growth and endurance in the balance of contemplation and activity.
“It is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
“Let me just answer one more email.”
“I’ll be right with you. I just have to return one more phone call.”
“Hold on, my cell phone is ringing.”
“Sorry, this won’t take long…”
Sound familiar? All of us at one time or another has said this to a family member or friend who is waiting for us. Some of us make our companions wait quite a long time – the movie has already started, the specials at the restaurant have long run dry, the train has already left the station! Some of us never get out of the office, turn off the computer, or hang up the phone. All of us have been players in this “make ‘em wait’ game;” some of us have even made a career of it!
“Receive what you are, become what you receive, for this is the Body of Christ. Happy are we who are called to this banquet.”
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.”