Friday, March 31, 2017


April 1st, 2017: John 7:40-53.

          “A division occurred in the crowd because of him,” we heard in the gospel. Some said, “This is truly the Prophet.” Others, who were already believers, confessed openly: “This is the Christ.” At which still others scoffed, saying that was absurd. Everyone knew that the Messiah would be descended from David and come from David’s city, Bethlehem, only six miles from Jerusalem.

Jesus was known as the rabbi from Nazareth in Galilee, a little hick village up north – in the boondocks, we would say. The Jewish authorities held this snobbish view. They scoff superciliously: “Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.”

To think of a modern equivalent we might imagine the mayor of a small town in our deep South, or in the Nevada desert, with a population of less than 500, appearing in Washington to offer a solution to one of our major problems – immigration, say, or health care. No one in the White House or in Congress would take him seriously.

When the authorities send the police to stop all this unrest and controversy by arresting Jesus, they come back empty handed. Asked why they have not accomplished their mission, the cops defend themselves by saying: “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”

One member of the ruling class, Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, the governing body of Israel, protests against his colleagues’ contemptuous dismissal of Jesus. Readers of John’s gospel have met him before, when he came to Jesus by night, so that his visit would remain secret. Jesus told him then that he must be “born again.” Nicodemus didn’t understand that. But he clearly remained fascinated by this unusual rabbi from Nazareth. Now he protests: “Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him?”

Nicodemus has been called “a tentative disciple”: drawn to Jesus, but unable to make the total commitment that Jesus asks. There are many like him. We pray in this Mass that we may move beyond tentative discipleship and give ourselves totally to the Lord, who surrendered himself totally for us, even unto the shedding of his life’s blood.    

Thursday, March 30, 2017


March 31st, 2017: Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22; John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30.

          “They tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him because his hour had not come.” This closing sentence from today’s gospel reading repeats Jesus’ words to his mother, when she told him that there was no more wine at the wedding feast in Galilee: “My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4). When it did come, Jesus laid down his life voluntarily. He remained in charge. The shortest of our Eucharistic prayers, the one we use most often on weekdays reminds us of this: “At the time he was betrayed, and entered willingly into his Passion.”

          Why did Jesus’ enemies kill him? For two reasons. First, because he healed on the Sabbath day. Second, because he made himself equal with God. When he spoke, in the Sermon on the Mount, about God’s law, he did not speak (like other rabbis) as an interpreter of the law. He spoke as the law-giver. ‘You have heard that it was said of old . . . But I say unto you …’ Like God, he forgave sins. And he acted as only God can act: in his miracles of healing, the stilling of the storm on the lake, the feeding of a vast crowd in the wilderness. Those were the things that enraged his critics.

          The Church gives us today, in our first reading, the thoughts which motivated Jesus’ enemies: “His life is not like that of others … He judges us debased; he holds himself from our paths as from things impure … He boasts that God is his Father.”

As we move, on our Lenten pilgrimage, closer to Easter, we should be reflecting on all this, recalling that Jesus laid down his life for us of his own free will. Why? Jesus answered this question himself when he said: “Greater love has no one than this, that a man should lay down his life for a friend.” 

Sit, or kneel, in these late Lenten days, beneath the cross of Jesus Christ, your brother, your lover, your best friend; but also your Savior, your redeemer, your Lord. Contemplate the One who hangs there –for you.

Do that, and you will make a great discovery: all the great lessons of life are learned at the foot of the cross.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A.  John 11:1-45.
AIM: To proclaim Jesus as totally human and totally divine, giver of eternal life here and now.
           Why was Jesus crucified? Luke’s gospel suggests that it was the result of the resentment felt by the leaders of Jesus’ people at the enthusiasm of the common people “for all the great things they had seen” Jesus do. (Lk 19:37, Jerus. Bible) In John’s gospel the raising of Lazarus is the climax of these “great things” which provoked enthusiasm in some, resentment in others. It is the last and greatest of the seven “signs”, as John calls them, which show us who Jesus is. Last Sunday’s gospel, in which Jesus healed the man born blind, showed us Jesus as light of the world, and the giver of light. What does the sign in today’s gospel tell us? Three things.
1.       Jesus Christ is our brother and our best friend.
          “Master, the one you love is ill” was the message Lazarus’ sisters sent to Jesus. No specific request was necessary. Jesus would know what to do. Nor did  Mary and Martha need to name their brother. “The one you love” was all the identification Jesus required. The gospel writer, in recording these words, means us to understand that Lazarus stands for all those Jesus loves — ourselves included.
          “See how he loved him,” the friends of Mary and Martha say. It is their response to the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.” We call Jesus the God-Man. Does that mean that he is partly God and partly man? No! Jesus is completely divine, and completely human. What better example of his humanity than his tears at the grave of his dear friend Lazarus?
          Jesus was no Superman immune to human suffering. However deeply we suffer, Jesus has suffered more. When we think that no one can possibly understand what we are going through, we are wrong. There is One who always understands, who is always close to us. He is Jesus Christ: our brother, our lover, our best friend. But he is more.
2.       Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God.
          This gospel according to John begins by saying of Christ: “In him was life and the life was the light of the human race” (1:4). Last Sunday, in the healing of the man born blind, we saw Jesus as the giver of light. Today we see him as the giver of life. Perhaps you’re wondering what that means. Don’t we have life already? How, then, can Jesus give us what we already have?
          The life we possess already, which we received from our parents, is passing away. Every hour, every minute, every tick of the clock, brings us closer to the end of this life. Jesus Christ is the giver of a new and higher life, one that is not passing away. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he says in our gospel reading.  “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” 
          To believe in Jesus Christ means to trust him. For those who trust Jesus physical death will not be the snuffing out of a candle. It will be the gateway to a new and higher life; a form of existence which, unlike earthly life, is not passing away: where there is no more suffering, no more sickness, no more death; where — as we read twice over in the last book of the Bible -- “God will wipe away all tears from [our] eyes.” (Rev. 7:17 & 21:4). Before he went to his own physical death on Calvary, Jesus showed himself to his friends as the giver of life, the one with power even over death.
          Between the raising of Lazarus, however, and the resurrection of Jesus there was a crucial difference. Lazarus returned to his former life. Jesus went ahead to new life. We see that even in the details. Lazarus came forth from the tomb still wearing his burial clothes. He would need them again. Jesus left his burial garments behind (cf. Jn 20:6f). He needed them no more. He had passed beyond death to a new and higher life.
          Jesus’ tears for his dead friend Lazarus are a sign of Jesus’ humanity. His tears show that Jesus is our brother, our lover, our best friend. The raising of Lazarus shows us Jesus as the giver of life, divine Son of God. But Jesus is the giver of life not only to Lazarus — and this is the third thing this sign shows us:
3.       Jesus Christ gives eternal life to believers here and now.
          We friends of Jesus live on two levels. We live, first, on the level of physical life, growing shorter every day and terminated by death. And second, we live on the spiritual level, on which we have an eternal and indestructible relationship with our heavenly Father. Eternal life is not something far away, pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die. No, the eternal life which Jesus gives to those who trust him and believe in him begins right now. 
          The principal means Jesus uses us to give us his gift of eternal life is the sacraments. The sacraments, however, are not merely infusions of some kind of spiritual power called “grace.” Every sacrament is a personal encounter with Jesus, our brother and our best friend; with Christ the eternal Son of God; with the One who loves us more than we can ever imagine.
          These three lessons of today’s gospel are beautifully summed up in the introduction to the Eucharistic prayer which we shall hear in a moment:
C        As a man like us Jesus wept for Lazarus his friend;
C        As the eternal God he raised Lazarus from the dead;
C        In his love for us all Christ gives us the sacraments to lift us up to everlasting life.
          So much meaning in this simple story; so much beauty; so much to cheer us, to uplift us; to comfort us when we are discouraged; to strengthen us when we grow weak; to raise us up when we fall; to fill our mouths with laughter and our tongues with joy! Do we ever stop to realize the glory of it all, and truly worship?         


March 30th, 2017: Exod. 32:7-14.

          It’s difficult for most of us to relate to the story of the golden calf in today’s first reading. Idolatry is not high on the sin list of most Catholics. We’re aware of the charge by fundamentalist Protestants that we’re guilty of idolatry because we have statues of saints in our churches. We know, however, that we don’t worship the statues. And when we pray to the saints we’re merely asking them to pray for us. So what’s the big deal?

          The issue is not statues, and it’s not prayer to the saints. Idolatry is putting anything in the place that belongs to God alone. What are today’s false gods? There are four: pleasure, power, possessions, and honor. None of them are bad in themselves. Where we go wrong is making the pursuit of any of those four central in our lives. When we do that, we are guilty of idolatry: worshiping a god who cannot answer our prayers, because he is deaf, dumb, and blind.

          The person who lives for thrills is worshiping the false god of pleasure. Control freaks are worshiping the idol of power. People intent on getting more, and more, and more are idolizing possessions. And anyone who can’t stand not being in the spotlight is worshiping the false god of honor. Making the pursuit of any of those four idols central in our lives leads inevitably to frustration – because we’ll never get enough.

We are hard-wired for God. He is the only one who can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. Put Him, the Lord God, at the center of your life, and he will give you pleasure, power, possession, and honor: not as much, perhaps, you think you should have; but as much as the Lord God knows is good for you. No one has said it better than St. Augustine when he wrote, from his own experience: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


March 29th, 2017: Is. 49:8-15; John 5:17-30.
AZion said, >The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.=@ Those were the closing words of our first reading. Have you ever felt like that? You pray, and the Lord seems to answer with silence. In that first reading it is the whole of God=s people who ask whether God cares. In one of the most beautiful verses of Scripture, God answers their plaintive question. ACan a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even if she should forget, I will not forget you.@
Scripture portrays God as our father many times over. God=s loving care for us includes qualities usually regarded as masculine: strength, power, sternness in discipline, and generosity in reward. But God is more than a father. Here he speaks, through his prophet Isaiah, to tell us that, like a mother, his concern for us includes qualities we think of as feminine: gentleness, tenderness, and warm, protective love.
Indeed, God=s tender concern for us, his children, exceeds that of the best father and mother combined. He knows our needs before we do, even as a good mother senses in advance the needs of her baby. Nature itself shows God=s loving care for everything he has created. Look at God=s handiwork in the flowers, his care for the birds. Can we suppose for one minute that we are of less value than these? If so, we have little idea of our true worth in the eyes of our heavenly Father.
In the gospel Jesus speaks of the intimate relationship between himself and his heavenly Father. “The Son cannot do anything on his own,” Jesus says, “but only what he sees the Father doing.” The union between Father and Son could not be more complete than that.
          Moreover, if we are trying to live as Jesus lived, united with his heavenly Father and ours, and trying to do good to others, we have eternal life already, here and now, Jesus tells us. “Whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life,” Jesus says. Note: not “will have,” pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die, but here and now. Such people, Jesus assures us, “will not come to condemnation, but [have] passed from death to life. “ That is the gospel. That is the good news.  


Monday, March 27, 2017


March 28th, 2017: Ezek. 47:1-9, 12; John 5:1-16.

          “Do you want to be well?” Jesus asks the paralyzed man unable to get to the healing waters because of the crush of others ahead of him. Not all sick people do really want to get well. Their illness gains them sympathy which they lose, once they are healed and become ‘like everyone else.’ Moreover, Jesus (who as we see often in the gospels) can read minds and hearts, surely saw that this man was a simple soul indeed. After his healing he doesn’t even ask Jesus’ name, but lets the man who has changed his life slip away into the crowd unidentified. He discovers Jesus’ identity only later, when Jesus himself takes the initiative to look for the man he has healed. And then the man repays Jesus by identifying him to the authorities. A dull soul indeed.

The Church gives us, in the first reading, an account of the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the stream of healing waters flowing from the Temple to be rebuilt following the return of God’s people from their exile in Babylon. The Temple was the earthly dwelling place of God. With the birth of Jesus, who is God’s divine Son, God transferred his earthly dwelling place to a new temple: the body Jesus himself. (See John 2:21). That is why, at Jesus’ death, the Temple veil, concealing the Holy of Holies, the place of God’s dwelling, was “torn in two” (Mark 15:38 and parallels). God had withdrawn his presence: a veil was no longer needed.

In this story we see that the healing previously flowing (in Ezekiel’s prophecy) from the Temple now comes from Jesus himself. Rather than helping the man reach the healing waters, Jesus heals him with a mere word. He continues to exercise his healing power. One of Jesus’ titles is “the Good Physician.” He heals us from the inherited guilt of original sin in the water of baptism. Through the word of a priest authorized to speak in Jesus’ name, he heals us in the sacrament of penance from the guilt of actual sin.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


March 27th, 2017: John 4:43-54

          The royal official who asks Jesus to come with him to heal the official’s son, who is near death, is a pagan. Jesus’ initial response to the man’s request seems harsh. “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” Why does Jesus respond in this way?  The most likely answer is that Jesus wants to teach the man to have faith, to trust. The

official, it seems, would believe only if Jesus went with him to his house. He wanted to see Jesus healing. Most of us have this attitude. We are not aware that is shows lack of faith.

The official loves his dying son so much that he won’t give up. “Sir, come down before my son dies,” he pleads. Jesus still won’t budge. “You may go,” he tells the man, “your son will live.” And now comes a crucial sentence in this story. “The man believed what Jesus had said to him and left.” That shows faith. The man no longer insists on Jesus coming with him. Without any guarantee save Jesus’ word, the official believes. Before he reaches home, his servants come to him with the joyful news that the crisis is past. His son will live. When he asks when the boy began to recover, he learns that it was at the very hour when Jesus had assured him: “Your son will live.” How he must have rejoiced! And how Jesus must have rejoiced at the official’s faith. Later, a week after his resurrection, he would say to his apostle, Thomas, who refused to believe until he actually saw the risen Lord: “You [Thomas] became a believer because you saw me. Blessed are they who have not seen and believed” (John 20:29). This pagan official was one of that blessed company.

The story concludes with another significant sentence: “This was the second sign Jesus did when he came to Galilee from Judea.” Only in John’s gospel are Jesus’ miracles always called “signs.” The first of these signs was the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. A sign points beyond itself to something else. The sign at Cana shows that when Jesus gives, he does not only abundantly, but super-abundantly. The quantity of water made wine would have kept the party going for a week! The sign in today’s gospel shows that Jesus’ love embraces all. He turns no one away. He asks for faith. And when we show even the smallest beginning of faith, he grants us healing, that our faith may grow and become complete.