Building up the people of God and forming community are important tasks that face the Church in the 21st century. Many times we dismiss these tasks as we see them as the job of the ordained minister or religious. But we all are sent to preach the good news. It is not only an opportunity but a responsibility.
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?
Brennan Manning tells the following story which he calls “The Signature of Jesus”: An elderly man meditated each morning on the bank of the Ganges River. One morning as he finished his prayers and opened his eyes, he saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the water.
It was the last week of Jesus’ life. Some Greek Gentiles, sincere folks who had been attracted by the faith and practices of Judaism, had witnessed Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem and wanted to hear more. They approached Philip, one of the few apostles who spoke Greek, and said: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus!”
If we could travel in time, I would take us back 2000 years to the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus. What we would find would be that coins were minted by hand. Each coin started off as a round slug of a precious metal like bronze, silver or gold.
Today, we are presented with two mysteries. The first mystery is the Lord transfigured: Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, the culmination of salvation history, the apex of God’s plan to draw all things to Himself, shining forth in glory as much as earthly light allows and human eye can accept.
The second mystery involves the apostles.
No sooner was the glory of the hour of the Baptism over than there came the battle of the temptations. It was the Spirit who thrust Jesus out into the wilderness for the testing time. The very Spirit who came upon him at his Baptism now drove him out for the test.
Palm Sunday is, in a most profound way, a study in contrasts! It mirrors well, therefore, the sometimes conflicting, puzzling condition we find within ourselves, of which both Saint Paul and Saint Augustine speak so openly regarding their personal experience.
Stones are good things. They lend themselves to sturdy construction. They keep foundations secure amidst the storms. They hold back the torrent of water that may cause flood and destruction. Stones can be life savers. Bread, too, is good. It nourishes, it delights, it satiates. Our lives consist of both stones and bread...
“Do not judge by appearance….not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.” [1 Sam. 16]
We often hear the word “grace” used in religious conversation and may wonder what grace really is.
Drawing water from the well was a commonplace task for women in the time of Jesus, a daily, almost tedious repetition of going to the well, bringing water home, and doing the household chores, day after day after day. And would she be given any recognition for this, any approbation, or involved in a meaningful conversation about her opinion?
Every year, on the second Sunday of Lent, we recount the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop. We hear that Jesus “takes leave of” the busy and demanding activity of his ministry and steps away to devote time to prayer.
One of my Augustinian brothers had a favorite saying. I’m not sure of the origin nor the author of this statement but it is certainly appropriate for the beginning of the Lenten season. The saying is: “O God of new beginnings and second chances, here I am again.” So here we are again in the Lenten season, engaging ourselves with the challenge of the gospel.
A good question to ask ourselves this morning is, Where will these palms be in a month? Where will they be in two months? Will we find them three months from now as we pack for vacation, stuffed under the car seat, dry and cracked? Will we find them four months from now, perhaps carefully folded into the shape of a cross, tucked into the junk drawer or fallen behind a bedroom bureau?
On this 5th Sunday of Lent, we hear a very familiar story in the gospel of John, known to us as “the woman caught in adultery.” The first thing that comes to mind might be that Jesus is the victim of a trap by the religious leaders. They think they have him right where they want him – in a quandary from which he cannot escape.