Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord – A Meditation on the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter

In today’s gospel we encounter two discouraged and broken men making their way to Emmaus. The text described them as “downcast.” That is to say, their eyes are cast to the ground, their heads are hung low. Their Lord and Messiah has been killed; the one they had thought would finally liberate Israel. Yes, it is true, some women had claimed he was alive, but these disciples have discredited the reports and are now leaving Jerusalem. It is late in the afternoon. The sun is sinking low.

The men cannot see or understand God’s plan. They cannot “see” that he must be alive, just as they were told. They are quite blind as to the glorious things that have already happened, hours before. Their eyes are cast downward. And, in this, they are much like us, who also struggle to see and understand that we have already won the victory. Too easily we are downcast, our eyes cast downward in depression rather than upward in faith.

And how will the Lord give them (and us) vision? How will he enable them to see his risen glory?  How will he encourage them to look up from their downcast focus and behold new life?

In effect, if you are prepared to “see” it, the Lord will celebrate Holy Mass with them. In the context of a sacred meal we call the Mass, he will open their eyes, and they will recognize him, they will see glory and new life.

Note that the whole gospel, not just the last part, is in the form of a Mass. There is a gathering, a penitential rite, a Liturgy of the Word, Intercessory prayers, a Liturgy of the Eucharist, and an Ite Missa est. And, in this manner of a whole Mass, they have their eyes opened to Him and to glory. They will fulfill the psalm which says: Taste, and see, the goodness of the Lord (Psalm 34:8).

Lets look at this Mass, which opens their eyes, and ponder how we too taste and see in every Mass.

Stage One: Gathering Rite – The Curtain rises on this Mass with two disciples having gathered together on a journey: Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus (Lk 24:13). We have already discussed above that they were in the midst of a serious struggle and are downcast. We only know one of them by name, Cleopas. Who is the other? If you are prepared to accept it, the other is you. So they (this means you, this means me) have gathered. This is what we do as the preliminary act of every Mass. We who are pilgrims on a journey come together on our journey.

It so happens for these two disciples that Jesus joins them: And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them (Luke 24:15). The text goes on to inform us that they did not recognize Jesus yet.

The Lord walks with us too – Now for us who gather at Mass it is essential to acknowledge by faith that when we gather together, the Lord Jesus is with us. For Scripture says, For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matt 18:20). It is a true fact that for many of us too, Jesus, though present, is unrecognized! Yet he is no less among us than he was present to these two disciples who fail to recognize him.

Liturgically we acknowledge the presence of the Lord at the beginning of the Mass in two ways. First, as the priest processes down the aisle the congregation sings a hymn of praise. It is not “Fr. Jones” they praise, it is Jesus, whom “Fr. Jones” represents, that they praise. Once at the Chair the celebrant (who is really Christ) says, “The Lord be with you.” And thereby he announces the presence of Christ among us promised by the Scriptures.

The Mass has begun, our two disciples are gathered and the Lord is with them. So too for us at every Mass. The two disciples still struggle to see the Lord, struggle to experience new life and that the victory has already been one. And so too some of us who gather for Mass. But simply the fact that these disciples (us) are gathered is already the beginning of the solution. Mass has begun, help is on the way!

Stage Two: Penitential Rite – The two disciples seem troubled and the Lord inquires of them the source of their distress: What are you discussing as you walk along? (Lk 24:17) In effect the Lord invites them to speak with him about what is troubling them. It may also be a gentle rebuke from the Lord that the two of them are walking away from Jerusalem, away from the site of the resurrection.

Clearly their sorrow and distress are governing their behavior. Even though they have already heard evidence of his resurrection (cf 24:22-24), they seem hopeless and have turned away from this good news. As we have well noted, the text describes them as “downcast” (24:17).

Thus the Lord engages them is a kind of gentle penitential rite and  wants to engage them on their negativity.

So too for us at Mass. The penitential rite is a moment when the celebrant (who is really Christ) invites us to lay down our burdens and sins before the Lord who alone can heal us. For, we too, often enter the presence of God looking downcast and carrying many burdens and sins. We too, like these disciples may be walking in wrongful directions. And so the Lord says to us, in effect, “What are thinking about and doing as you walk along? Where are you going with your life?

The Lord asks them, and us, to articulate our struggles. This calling to mind of our struggles for them and us in the penitential rite, is a first step to healing and recovery of sight.

And thus again, we see in this story about two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Mass that is so familiar to us.

Stage Three: Liturgy of the Word – In response to their concerns and struggles the Lord breaks open the Word of God, the Scriptures. The text says: Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures (Luke 24:27).

Notice, not only does the Lord refer to Scripture, but he interprets it for them. Hence the Word is not only read, there is also a homily, an explanation and application of the Scripture to the struggles these men have. The homily must have been a good one too, for later, the disciples remark: Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32)

And so too for us at Mass. Whatever struggles we may have brought to the Mass, the Lord bids us to listen to his Word as the Scriptures are proclaimed. Then the homilist (who is really Christ) interprets and applies the Word to our life. It is a true fact that the Lord works through a weak human agent, (the priest or deacon), but God can write straight with crooked lines. As long as the homilist is orthodox, it is Christ who speaks. Pray for your homilist to be an obedient and useful instrument for Christ at the homily moment.

Notice too, though they do not fully yet see, their downcast attitude has been abated. Their hearts are now on fire. Pray God, too, for us who come to Mass Sunday after Sunday and hear from God how victory is already ours in Christ Jesus. God reminds us, through successive Sundays and passages which repeat every three years,  that though the cross is part of our life, the resurrection surely is too. And we are carrying our crosses to an eternal Easter victory. If we are faithful to listening to God’s Word, hope and joy build within our hearts and we come, through being transformed by Christ in the Liturgy to be men and women of hope and confidence.

Stage Four: Intercessory Prayers – After the homily we usually make prayers and requests of Christ. We do this based on the hope that his Word provides us that he lives, he loves us and he is able. And so it is that we also see these two disciples request of Christ: Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over. (Luke 24:29)

Is this not what we also say in so many words: “Stay with us Lord, for it is sometimes dark in our lives and the shadows are growing long. Stay with us Lord and those we love so that we will not be alone in the dark. In our darkest hours, be to us a light O Lord that never fades away.”

And indeed, it is already getting brighter for we are already more than halfway through the Mass!

Stage Five: Liturgy of the Eucharist – Christ does stay with them and then come the lines that no Catholic could miss: And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them (Luke 24:30). Yes, the Mass to be sure. All the basic action of the Eucharist are there: he took, blessed, broke and gave. It is the same action as at the Last Supper and the same action in every Mass. Later, the two disciples will refer back to this moment as the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:35), a clear Biblical reference to the Holy Eucharist.

And so, the words of Mass come immediately to mind: “While they were at supper He took the bread, and gave you thanks and praise. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, take this all of you and eat it: this is my Body which will be given up for you.”

A fascinating thing happens though: With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:31).

Note that it is the very act of consecration that opens their eyes. Is this not what Holy Communion is to do for us? Are we not to learn to recognize Christ by the very mysteries we celebrate? Are we not to Taste and See?

The liturgy and the sacraments are not mere rituals, they are encounters with Jesus Christ, and though our repeated celebration of the holy mysteries our eyes are increasingly opened if we are faithful. We learn to see and hear Christ in the liturgy, to experience his ministry to us.

The fact that he vanishes from their sight teaches us that he is no longer seen by the eyes of the flesh, but by the eyes of faith, and the eyes of the heart. So though he is gone from our earthly, fleshly, carnal sight, he is now to be seen in the Sacrament of the Altar, and experienced in the Liturgy and other Sacraments. The Mass has reached it’s pinnacle, for these two disciples and for us;  for they have tasted and now they see.

Consider these two men (and us) who began this gospel quite downcast. Now their hearts are on fire and they see. The Lord has celebrated Mass to get them to this point. And so too for us, the Lord celebrates Mass to set our hearts on fire and open our eyes to glory. We need to taste in order to see. Consider a fuller number of verses from that psalm (34):

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. …Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him (Psalm 34:4-8).

Yes, blessed are we if we faithfully taste in order to see, every Sunday at Mass.

Stage six: Ite Missa est – Not able to contain their joy or hide their experience the two disciples run seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell their brethren what had happened and how they encountered Jesus in the breaking of the bread. They want to, they have to,  speak of the Christ they have encountered, what he said and what he did.

How about us? At the end of every Mass the priest or deacon says “The Mass is ended, go in peace.” This does NOT mean, “OK, we’re done here, go on home, and haver nice day.” What it DOES mean is: “Go now into the world and bring the Christ you have received to others. Tell them what you have heard and seen here, what you have experienced. Share the joy and hope that this Liturgy gives with others.”

Perhaps you can see the word MISSion in the word disMISSal? You are being commissioned, sent on a mission to announce Christ to others.

The Lucan text we are reviewing says of these two disciples: So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them…..Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:33,35). How about us. Does our Mass finish as well, as enthusiastically?  Can you tell others that you have come to Christ in “the breaking of the bread,” in the Mass?

So Jesus has used the Mass to drawn them from gloom to glory, from being downcast to delighted,  from darkness to light. It was the Mass, do you “see” it there. It is the Mass. What else could it be?

Picture Credit: Bobosh_t via Creative Commons

Don’t Block Your Blessings – A Meditation on the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter

In today’s Gospel we see that the Risen Lord appeared to the apostles who were gathered together in one place. The fact that they were gathered in one place is not without significance, for it is there that the Lord appears to them. One of them, as we shall see, was not in the gathering and this missed the blessing of seeing and experiencing the risen Lord. It might be said that Thomas, the absent disciple, blocked his blessing.

Some people want Jesus without the Church. No can do. Jesus is found in his Church, among those who have gathered. There is surely a joy in a personal relationship with Jesus, but the Lord also announced a special presence whenever two or three are gathered in his name. It is essential for us to discover how Mass attendance is essential for us if we want to experience the healing and blessing of the Lord. This Gospel has a lot to say to us about the need for us to gather together find the Lord’s blessing in the community of the Church, in his Word and the Sacraments. Lets look at the gospel in five stages.

I. The Fearful Fellowship – Notice how the text describes the apostles gathering: On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews..… These men are frightened, but they are in the right place. It is Sunday, the first day of the week, and they have gathered together. The text says nothing of what they are doing, other than that they have gathered. But in a sense, this is all we need to know, for this will set the stage for blessings and for the presence of the Lord.

And these are men who need a blessing. The locked doors signify their fear of the Jewish authorities. One may also presume that they are discouraged, lacking in hope, even angry. For they have experienced the earthquake that Jesus’ crucifixion was for them. It is true that some of the women in their midst claimed to have seen him alive. But now it is night and there have been no other sightings of which they have heard.

But, thanks be to God, they have gathered. It is not uncommon for those who have “stuff” going on in their lives to retreat, withdraw, even hide. Of course this is probably the worse thing to do. And it would seem that Thomas may have taken this approach, though is absence is not explained. Their gathering, as we shall see, is an essential part of the solution for all that afflicts them. This gathering is the place in which their new hope, new heart and mind will dawn.

And for us too, afflicted in many ways, troubled at times, and joyful at others, there is the critical importance of gathering each Sunday, each first day of the week. Here too for us in every Mass, is the place where the Lord prepares blessings for us. I am powerfully aware at how every Mass I celebrate, especially Sunday Mass, is a source of powerful blessings for me. Not only does God instruct me with his Word, and feed me with his Body and Blood, but he also helps form me through the presence and praise of others, the people I have been privileged to serve. I don’t know where I’d be if it were not for the string and steady support of the People of God, their prayers, their praise, their witness and encouragement.

The Book of Hebrews states well puyrpose and blessing of our liturgical gatherings:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Heb 10:22-25

So here they are, meeting together, encouraging one another. As we shall see, the Apostles are about to be blessed. But the blessing occurs only the context of the gathering. Thomas, one of the apostles, is missing, and thus he will miss the blessing. This blessing is only for those who are there. And so it is for us who have also have blessings waiting, but only if we are present, gathered for holy Mass. Don’t block your blessings!

II. The Fabulous Fact – And sure enough here comes the blessing, For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matt 18:20). The text from today’s Gospel says, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.

Suddenly there is a completely new reality, a new hope, a new vision. Note too, there is also a new serenity, a peace, a shalom. For not only do they see and come to experience a wholly new reality, but they also receive an inner peace. Observe again, this is only to those who are present.

And here is a basic purpose of the gathering we call the sacred liturgy. For it is here that we are invited to encounter the Living Lord, who ministers to us and offers us peace. Through his word, we are increasingly enabled to see things in a wholly new way, a way which gives us hope, clarity and confidence. Inwardly too, a greater peace is meant to come upon us in an increasing way as the truth of this newer vision begins to transform us, giving us a new mind and heart. And, looking to the altar we draw confidence that the Lord has prepared a table for me in the sight of my enemies and my cup is overflowing (Ps 23). The eucharist is thus the sign of our victory and election and, as we receive the Body and the Blood of teh Lord we are gradually transformed into the very likeness of Christ.

Is this your experience of the gathering we call the Mass? Is it a transformative reality, or just a tedious ritual?

As for me, I can say that I am being changed, transformed into a new man, into Christ, by this weekly, indeed, daily gathering we call the Mass. I have seen my mind and heart changed, and renewed. I see things more clearly, have greater hope, joy and serenity. I cannot imagine what my life would be like, were it not for this gathering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where Jesus is present to me and says, “Shalom, peace be with you.” Over the years, I am a changed man.

Yes, the Mass works, it transforms, gives a new mind and heart. Don’t bloc your blessings, be there every Sunday.

III. Forgiving Fidelity – Next comes something quite extraordinary that also underscores the necessity of gathering and simply cannot take place in a privatistic notion of faith. The text says, As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

In this remarkable moment, the Lord gives the apostles the power to forgive sin. Note that he is not simply giving the ability to announce that we are forgiven. He is giving them a juridical power to forgive, or in certain cases, to withhold or delay forgiveness. This is extraordinary. Not only has he given this authority to men (cf Matt 9:8), but he has also given it to men, all of whom but one had abandoned him at his crucifixion. These are men well aware of their shortcomings! Perhaps only with this awareness can he truly trust them with such power.

There are those who deny Confession is a biblical sacrament. But here it is, right here in this biblical text. There are other texts in Scripture that also show confession to be quite biblical. For example:

  1. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. (Acts 19:18).
  2. Is any one of you sick? He should call the presbyters of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:14-16).

Many consider it sufficient merely to speak to God privately about their sons. But the scriptures once again instruct us away from a solitary notion and bid us to approach the Church. The Lord gives the apostles authority to adjudicate sin, but this presupposes that someone has first approach them interpersonally.  Paul too was approached by the believers in Ephesus who made open declaration of their sins.  The Book of James also places the forgiveness of sins inthe context of the calling of the presbyters, the priests of the Church and sees this as the fulfillment of “declare your sins to one another…the prayer of the righteous man has great power.”

Thus, again, there is a communal context for blessing, not merely a private one.  More on the biblical roots of confession here: Confession in Biblical

IV.  Faltering Fellowship – We have already noted that Thomas blocked his blessing by not being present. The text says, Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas exhibits faltering fellowship in two ways.

First he is not with the other apostles on resurrection evening. Thus he misses the blessing of seeing and experiencing the resurrection and the Lord.

Secondly, Thomas exhibits faltering fellowship by refusing to believe the testimony of the Church that the Lord had risen.

One of the most problematic aspects of many people’s faith is that they do not understand that the Church is an object of faith. In the Creed every Sunday, we profess to believe in God the Father, and to believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, and to believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. But we are not done yet. We go on to say that we believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We know and believe what we do about Jesus Christ on the basis of what the Church hands on from the apostles. Some say, “No, I believe in what the Bible says.” But the Bible is a Book of the Church. God has given it to us through the Church who, by God’s grace, collected and compiled its contents and vouches for the veracity of the Scriptures. Without the Church there would be no Bible.

So in rejecting the testimony of the Church, Thomas is breaking fellowship and refusing to believe in what the Church, established by Christ to speak in his name (e.g. Lk 24:48; Lk 10:16; Matt 18:17; Jn 14:26; 1 Tim 3:15; inter al.). And so do we falter in our fellowship with the Church if we refuse to believe the testimony of the Church in matters of faith and morals. Here too is a privatization of faith, a rejection of fellowship, and a refusal to gather with the Church and accept what she proclaims through her Scriptures, Tradition, and the catechism.

But note, as long as Thomas is not present, he has blocked his blessings. He must return to gather with the others in order to overcome his struggle with the faith.

V.  Firmer Faith – Thomas returns to fellowship with the other Apostles. As we do not know the reason for his absence, his return is also unexplained. Some may want to simply chalk up his absence to some insignificant factor such as merely being busy, or in ill health or some other possible and largely neutral factor. But John seldom gives us details for neutral reasons. Further, Thomas DOES refuse to believe the testimony of the others, which is not a neutral fact.

But praise God, he is not back with the others and now in the proper place for a blessing. Whatever his struggle with the faith, he has chosen to work it out in the context of fellowship with the Church. He has gathered with the others. And now comes the blessing.

You know the story, but the point here for us is that whatever our doubts and difficulties with the faith, we need to keep gathering with the Church. In some ways faith is like a stained glass window that is only best appreciated when one goes inside the Church. Outside, there may seem very little about it that is beautiful. It may even look dirty and leaden. But once inside and adjusted to the light the window radiates beauty.

It is often this way with the faith. I have personally found that some of the more difficult teachings of the Church could only be best appreciated by me after years of fellowship and instruction by the Church in both here liturgy and in other ways. As my felloowship and communion have grown more intense, so has my faith become clearer and more firm.

Thomas, now that he is inside the room sees the Lord. Outside he did not see and doubted. The eyes of our faith see far more than our fleshly eyes. But in order to see and experience our blessings, we must gather, must be in the Church.

Finally, it is a provocative but essential truth that Christ is found in the Church. Some want Christ without the Church. No can do. He is found in the gathering of the Church, the ekklesia, the assembly of those called out. Whatever aspects of his presence are found outside are but mere glimpses, shadows emanating from the Church. He must be sought where he is found, among sinners in his Church. The Church is his Body, and his Bride. Here he is found. That his presence may be “felt” alone on some mountaintop can never be compared to the words of the priest, “Behold the Lamb of God.”

Thomas found him, but only when he gathered with the others. It is Christ’s will to gather us and unite us (Jn 17:21).  Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor (the love of Christ has gathered us in one).

In this Video, Archbishop Dolan speaks of those who want Christ without the Church:

Jesus is Real to Me – A Reflection on the Gospel For Easter Sunday

Just about all of the Resurrection Accounts in the Gospels present the apostles and disciples on a journey to deeper faith. In stages they come out of the darkness of despair and this world into the light of faith.  Matthew’s (28:1-10) account that is read at the Easter Vigil this year, and which can also be read at Masses during the day, is no exception.

Let’s look at the Easter journey that Mary Magdalene and Mary, (likely, Mary the Mother of James and Joses) make out of darkness into light.  Mark (16:1) adds that “Salome” went with them. Salome was the wife of Zebedee, and the mother of James and John. From Luke (24:10) it also appears that Joanna, wife of Chusa, Herod’s steward was with them.  Hence, though Matthew only mentions the two by name, it would seem that our analysis includes these four women. As these women journey through the events of Easter Morning we see their faith deepen and brighten. In a condensed sort of way, we also see the whole life of the Christian as we, journeying in stages, come to deeper faith and a brighter vision of the paschal mystery that our life is.

Lets observe their journey in four stages.

Stage 1 – Disturbance at Dawn . The text says,

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.

Note that in this first stage, it is still quite dark. The text here says, with hope, that the new day was dawning. The Greek word however properly means as the first day “approached,” or drew on, without specifying the precise time. Mark 16:1-2 that it was very early in the morning, at the rising of the sun – that is, not that the sun “was risen,” but that it was about to rise, or at the early break of day. Luke 24:1 that it was “very early in the morning;” (in the Greek text, “deep twilight,” or when there was scarcely any light). John 20:1 says it was “very early, while it was yet dark” – that is, it was not yet full daylight, or the sun had not yet risen.

So the point is, it is still quite dark, but dawn is near! And all this creates for us who read an air of great expectation.  An old Song by the Taize Community says, “Within our darkest night, you kindle a fire that never dies away!”

Next, there is a great earthquake! Sometimes God has to shake things up to open new doors and new vision. And in our life too, there are often violent shakings. But, remember, we are at the dawning of a new day. In just a few short years we’ll be with God, if we are faithful. And so it is that this earthquake is not unto destruction, but is unto the opening of the tomb that has claimed our Lord, and unto the opening of tombs that have claimed us, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and so forth. This earthquake, frightening though it may seem, serves only to draw these women deeper into the paschal mystery and toward the risen Christ.

Now, note, they haven’t seen him yet or even heard he is risen. There is only this earthquake. But it has a purpose. Yet, for now, it is barely dawn, and things are still very unclear to them..

Stage one: Disturbance at dawn

Stage Two: Declaration: Do Not Be Afraid. The text says,

Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

Note that the angel summons them to deeper faith. He exclaims, “Do not be afraid.” Now, to most of us this may merely seem a slogan; one we often hear when we are perceived by others as anxious. Frankly, when others say this to us, it is both annoying and unhelpful. But in this case, the Angel presents a basis on which their faith should grow and their anxiety dissipate.

That they should not be anxious or afraid is rooted in the Lord’s promise and in his word. The angel is reminding them that the Lord had promised to rise on the third day, and that he has done, just as he said. The Lord, who had raised others from death, and healed multitudes, has now done just exactly what he promised.

Hence, the angel summons them to grow in their faith by pondering the Word of Jesus Christ and coming to trust in his promise.

The angel also presents evidence to them, the evidence of the empty tomb. He invites them to connect the dots between the promise of Jesus and the present data of an empty tomb.

So, it’s getting brighter, by the power of God’s word and the application of that word to the present situation.

We too must journey through this stage as we become more deeply immersed in God’s Word and apply it to our present situation. As we grow in knowledge and remembrance of God’s promises and his word, our anxiety begins to flee. This happens especially when, like these women, God helps us to connect his word to what is actually happening in our life. We start to notice the empty tombs, the many signs of God’s favor and blessing. Things start to add up and we begin to connect the dots between faith and experience. And as we do this it gets brighter and our faith grows stronger.

Stage two: Declaration: “Do not be afraid!”

Stage Three – Deepening Dispatch. The text says,

Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.

Learn by teaching – Having been instructed in the paschal mystery, and grown deeper in their faith, the Lord sends them to inform others. An interesting aspect of teaching is that we often learn more by teaching than we ever learned merely as a student. Hence we grow in our faith as we begin to teach and testify to it. And simply the fact of teaching and witnessing causes us to grow.

But note the text, “Behold, I have told you.”  The true faith is received from God, not invented by us. St. Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing.” Do NOT go and invent your own faith; that is a very bad idea! We receive the faith from God through the Church and the Scriptures approved by the Church. These women have first been instructed by God’s angel, and only after that, are they told to go and tell someone. We too, are instructed by the Church. Our Faith comes from what is heard and we pass on what we have heard.

So, these women are sent. And, as they go, we shall see that they have a great breakthrough. But prior to that breakthrough, they are sent to witness, to proclaim. And this very act for them, and for us, deepens the faith even more.

Stage Three: Deepening Dispatch.

There is one final stage they must attain. For they are still only able to say what others have said, they have not yet personally seen the Risen Lord. That comes next.

Stage Four: The Discovery that is Definitive. The text says,

Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.

Here we see an important and powerful stage that, frankly, too many Christians ignore. Note that, in this moment, they go from inference to experience. Inference is a form of knowledge based only on what others have said. But experience, includes personal witness. Experience means that I myself can personally vouch for the truth of what I proclaim. As we have seen, inference is a necessary stage of our faith (do NOT go and invent your own religion). But the Lord invites us deeper to more personally experience the truth of what the Church has always proclaimed and what her Scriptures have always announced.

Inference to experience – These women have heard from the angel, that Jesus is risen, and they receive the teaching with joy. But, on the way, on the road of their life, they come to personally meet the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Suddenly the truth of what they have been taught is made quite personal to them and experienced as real. They have gone from inference to experience. And now, they will tell not only what they have heard from others, but also how they have personally experienced it as true.

We too are invited to do the same. I need to be able to say, “In the laboratory of my own life I have come to personally experience as true all that the Church and her Scriptures proclaim.” I am now a first hand witnesses to Jesus, for I have experienced him personally in my life. I have met him in my prayer and in my experience. He is alive and real to me, and he is changing my life. I have done more than hear about the Lord, I have met him. I do not merely know about him, I KNOW him.

Stage Four: The Discovery that is Definitive.

Do you know the Lord, or do you just know about him? Have you met him, or just heard about him. On Easter Sunday morning we have observed a group of women go from the darkness of this world to the light of the normal Christian life. And what is the normal Christian life? It is to be in living, conscious contact with God in my life and to personally know the Lord of all glory. It is to be in a living and transformative relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

See What the End Shall Be – A Meditation on the Gospel of Passion Sunday

The Passion which we read in today’s liturgy is too long to comment on in detail. We are only able to take a portion and examine it.

It may be of some value to examine the “middle range” of problems and personalities. The usual villains such as the Temple leaders, Judas, and the recruited crowd which shouted “Crucify him!” are fairly obvious in displaying their sinfulness and are unambiguously wicked. But there are others who participate in the Passion accounts whose sinfulness, struggles and neglect are more subtle, but still real. It is perhaps in these figures that we can learn a great deal about ourselves who, like them, may not overtly shout “crucify,” but who are often not as unambiguously holy and heroic as the persecutors are unambiguously wicked and bold.

As these behaviors are noted, we must understand that WE do these things. For the Passion accounts are not merely portraits of people long gone, they are portraits of you and me. We do these things.

So, lets  look at this middle range group in three stages.

I.  The Perception that is Partial – Near the beginning of today’s passion account the apostles, who are st the Last Supper with Jesus are reminded of what the next days will hold. Jesus says,

This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken,  for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed;’ but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.

Note that the apostles are reminded of these facts since Jesus has said them before on a few occasions. For example:

  1. From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matt 16:21)
  2. When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief. (Matt 17:22-23)
  3. We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matt 20:19)

Thus we see that the Lord has consistently tried to teach and prepare them for the difficulties ahead. He has told them exactly what is going to happen and how it will end, NOT in death, but rising to new life. But though he has told them over and over, they still do not understand or see. Thus he predicts that their faith in in will be shaken.

Their perception is partial. They will see only the negative and forget that he has promised to rise. Since they cannot see beyond the apparent defeat of the moment they will retreat into fear and not boldly and confidently accompany him to his passion and glorification (for his passion IS is lifting up, his glorification). Instead they will flee. He has shown the “what the end shall be.” But they cannot see or accept it. Thus fear overwhelms them and draw back into a sinful fear and disassociation from Jesus. Only a few, Mary his Mother, John, Magdalene, and a few other women would see him through to the end.

But as for the rest they see only what is gory and awful and miss what is glory and awesome. Their perception is quite partial and their blindness comes, paradoxically, from not hearing or listening to what Jesus has been telling them all along.

We too can easily suffer from a blindness caused by poor hearing. For the Lord has often told us, that if we trust, our struggles will end in glory and new life. But, blind and forgetful we give way to our fears and fail to boldly walk the way of Christ’s passion. We draw back and disassociate ourselves from Jesus and exhibit some of the same tendencies and problems we will now observe in the people of that day.

So lets examine some of the problems that emerge from the Partial perception and forgetful fear of many of the disciples and others.

II.  The Problems Presented – The problems that emerge are at least five. They are unhealthy and sinful patterns that emerge from the fear generated in not trusting Jesus vision and refusing to see it. We can consider them one by one. Please understand that the word “we” used here is short hand and does not mean that every single person does this. Rather, it means that collectively we have these tendencies. But no need to take everything here personally.

A. They Become Drowsy – One of the common human techniques for dealing with stress and the hardships of life is to just go numb and drowsy. We can just doze off into a moral sleep. Being vigilant to threats posed to our souls by sin, or the harm caused by injustice, (whether to ourselves or others) is just too stressful. So we just tune out. We  stop noting or really even caring about critically important matters. We anesthetize ourselves with things like creature comforts, meaningless distractions, alcohol or drugs. We go into a kind of moral sleep and we begin to lack a prayerful vigilance. Prayer and spirituality pose too many uncomfortable questions. So we just tune out and day dream about meaningless things like what a certain Hollywood star is doing, or what the latest sports stats are.

In the passions accounts, Peter, James and John are personally asked by the Lord to pray with him. But they doze. Perhaps it is the wine. Surely it is the flesh (for the Lord speaks of it). But unwilling or unable to deal with the stress the Lord is clearly under they just tune out, go numb, and drowse away. Grave evil is at the very door. But they sleep on. The Lord warns them to stay awake, lest they give way to temptation. But still they sleep. Some one they know and love is in grave danger, but it is too much, so they just tune out, much as we tune out at the overwhelming suffering of Christ in the poor and needy. We just stop noticing. It’s too painful, so we tune out.

The Lord had often warned them to be vigilant, sober and alert (Mk 13:34, Matt 25:13, Mk 13:37; Matt 24:42; Luke 21:36, inter al). Other scriptures would later pick up the theme (Romans 13:11; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 Thess 5:6, inter al). For drowsiness is a significant and serious spiritual problem.

Sadly God described us well when he remarked to Isaiah: Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. (Is 56:10)

We do this, not only because we might be lazy, but also because we fear. And one strategy is  to try and not notice, to go numb, to tune out. But, despite the sleepiness of the disciples, the wicked are still awake, and the threat does not go away by a drowsy inattentiveness to it. Thus we ought to be confident and sober. Life’s challenges are nothing to fear, for the Lord has told us we have already won, if we trust him. But the disciples have forgotten Jesus promise to rise after three days. And so, often, have we. So they, and we just give way to stress and tune out.

B. They Seek to Destroy –  It is said in the text when Peter finally does come awake that he lashes out with a sword and wounds Malchus, the servant of the High priest. The Lord rebukes Peter and reminds him of the vision:  Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me? (John 18:11). He goes on to heal Malchus who, tradition says later became a follower.

We too, in our fear can often lash out and even seek to destroy our opponents. We usually act in this way because of fear. But if we are already certain of our victory, as the Lord has promised, why do we fear and why do we need to ruthlessly suppress our opponents and enemies. It is one thing to speak the truth in love, boldly and confidently. But too often we aggressively lash out and seek to win a debate. In so doing we may lose a soul. The Lord healed Malchus and saw in him a future disciple. The Lord saw what the end shall be. Peter did not, and in fear, lashed out with an aggression that did not bespeak a confidence in final victory.

It is true that we are required to confront evil, resist injustice and speak to a confuse world with clarity. But above all we are to love those whom we address. There is little place for fear in our conversation with the world. The truth will out, the truth will prevail. We may not win every encounter. But we do not have to, all we have to do is plant seeds. God will water them and others may well harvest them. But in Christ we have already won. And this confidence should give us a serenity.

But Peter has forgotten Jesus promise to rise after three days. And so, often, have we. So Peter, and we just give way to fear and lash out, or attack and have a need to win, when we already have won.

C. They Deny – Peter, confronted with the fearful prospect of being condemned with Jesus denies that he knows him or is one of his followers. He disassociates himself from Christ. We too, confronted with the possibility of far lesser things like ridicule, will often deny a connection with the Lord or with the Church.

Someone might say of one of the more controversial passages of scripture (such as prohibitions on divorces, fornication, homosexual activity, commands to tithe, etc), “Oh, you don’t really believe that, do you?” And it’s too easy to give way to fear and either say “no” or to qualify our belief. Why suffer ridicule, endure further questioning, or experience the unpleasantry of debate? So we just disassociate, compromise, or qualify our faith to avoid the stress.We even congratulate ourselves for being tolerant, etc. when we do it.

Jesus says, If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mat 16:21). But too easily we ARE ashamed. And so, like Peter, we engage in some form of denial. Peter was afraid because he has forgotten to “see what the end shall be.” He has forgotten that Jesus will rise after three days. So too do we often forget that. So we lack confidence and give way to fear, and we deny, so as to avoid suffering with Jesus.

D. They Dodge – Simply put, when Jesus is arrested, all the disciples except John split. They “get the heck out of Dodge.” They are nowhere to be found. After Jesus arrest, it is said that Peter, prior to his own denials had followed the Lord, “at a distance” (Mk 14:54) but as soon as trouble rose, he scrammed.

And we too can run. Sometimes it’s persecutions from the world. But sometimes its just our own self-generated fear that following the Lord is too hard, and involves too many sacrifices we are just not willing to make. Maybe it will endanger our money since the Lord insists that we tithe and be generous to the poor. Maybe it will endanger our playboy lifestyle since the Lord insists on chastity and respect.  Maybe we are doing something we have no business doing, that is unjust, excessive or sinful. But, rather than face our fears, whether from within or without, we just high-tail it out.

The disciples forgot that Jesus has shown them what the end shall be. In three days he would win the victory. But, this forgotten, their fears emerged and they ran. We too, must see what the end shall be to resist and confront our many fears.

E. They Deflect – Now in this case our example is Pontius Pilate, not one of the disciples. But the fact is that Pilate was summoned to faith, just like anyone else. Are you a King? he asked Jesus. And Jesus responds by putting Pilate on trial: Are you saying this on your own, or have others been telling you about me.” The fact is, Pilate has a choice to make. Either he will accept what Jesus is saying as true, or he will give way to fear and commit a terrible sin of injustice. Now the text all make it clear that Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. But, because he feared the crowds he handed Jesus over.

Now, note PILATE did this. The crowds tempted him through fear, but HE did the condemning. Yet note that he tries to deflect his choice. The text says, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” (Mat 16:21). Well, actually Pilate it is also YOUR responsibility. You had a choice and you made. Your own career and hide were more important that justice. And, though you wanted to do what was right and were sympathetic with Jesus, merely wanting to do what is right is not enough.

So too for us. We also will favor our career or hide over what is right. And in so doing we will often blame others for what we freely choose. “I am not responsible, my mother dropped me on my head when I was two” ….etc.

In effect we are often willing to say, “Look Jesus, I love you. You get my Sundays, and my tithe and, generally I obey you. But you have to understand, I have a career, I need to make money for my family. If I really stand up for what is right, I might not make it in this world. You understand, don’t you?…I know the company is doing some things that are unjust, I know the world needs a clearer witness from me….and I’ll do all that, after I retire. But for now…..well, you know. It’s really may boss whose to blame. It’s this old hell bound sin soaked world that’s to blame. Not me!” And we wash our hands and excuse our silence and inaction in the face of injustice and sin.

And all this is done in fear. We forget what the end shall be and get focused on the fearful present. We lack the vision Jesus is trying to give us that in three days we will rise with him. But we stay blind to that and only see the threat of now.

III. The Path that is Prescribed – OK, by now you ought to know the path that is prescribed: See what the end shall be! In three days we rise! Why are we afraid. Jesus has already won the victory. It is true, we get there through the cross. But, never forget what the end shall be! Today we read the Gospel of Friday, but wait till Sunday morning! I’ll rise!

We end where we began with this gospel: This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken,  for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed;’ but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.

Yes, after he has been raised, he goes before us into Galilee. And for us, Galilee is heaven. Whatever our sorrows, if we are faithful we will see Jesus in the Galilee of heaven. Never forget this vision. After three days we will rise with him and be reunited in Galilee.

So take courage, see what the end shall be! The end for those who are faithful is total victory. We don’t need to drowse, destroy, deny, dodge and deflect. We’ve already won. All we need to do is hold out.

An old Gospel songs says, I promise the Lord that I would hold out! He said he’s meet me in Galilee! So hold out, Galilee is not far, in three days we rise with him.

This Homily was recorded in mp3 format here: Palm Sunday Sermon


I Shall Recover It All- A Meditation on the Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Lent

In today’s Gospel We hear the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The story is a significant turning point in the ministry of Jesus for, as we shall see, it because of this incident that the Temple Leadership in Jerusalem resolves to have Jesus killed.

As is proper with all the gospel accounts we must not see this as merely an historical happening to people 2000 years ago. Rather we must recall that I am Lazarus, I am Martha and Mary. This is also the story of how Jesus is acting in my life.

Let’s look at this Gospel in stages and learn how the Lord acts to save us and raise us to new life. This gospel has six stages that describe what Jesus does to save us:

I. HE PERMITS – Sometimes there are trials in our life by God’s mysterious design to bring us to greater things. The Lord permits these trials and difficulties for various reasons. But, if we are faithful, every trial is ultimatly for our glory and the glory of God. The text says,

Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill. So the sisters sent word to him saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.” When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Notice therefore that Jesus does not rush to prevent the illness of Lazarus but permits it now for something greater, that God’s Glory in Jesus be manifest, and, we may add, for Lazarus’ own good and his share in God’s glory.

It is this way with us as well. We do not always understand what God is up to in our life. His ways are often mysterious, even troubling to us. But our faith teaches us that his mysterious permission of our difficulties is ultimately for our good and for our glory.

Scripture says,

  1. Rejoice in this. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials. But this so that your faith, more precious than any fire tried gold, may lead to praise, honor and glory when Jesus Christ appears. (1 Peter 1: 10)
  2. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)
  3. For our light and momentary troubles are producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor 4:17-18)

An old gospel hymn says: Trials dark on every hand, and we cannot understand, all the way that God will lead us to that blessed promised land. But He guides us with his eye and we follow till be die, and we’ll understand it better, by and by. By and by, when the morning comes, and all the saints of God are gathered home, we’ll tell the story of how we’ve overcome, and we’ll understand it better by and by.

For now it is enough for us to know that God permits our struggles for a season and for a reason.

II. HE PAUSES – Here to we confront a mystery. Sometimes God says “wait.” Again, this is to prepare us for greater things than that for which we ask. The text says,

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.

Note that the text says that Jesus waits because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. This of course is paradoxical since we expect love to rush to the aid of the afflicted.

Yet Scripture often counsels us to wait:

  1. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD. (Ps 27:14)
  2. For thus says the Lord God, the holy one of Israel, “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet an in trust, your strength lies. (Isaiah 30:15)
  3. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance…God’s patience is directed to our salvation. (2 Pet 3:9)

Thus, somehow our waiting is tied to strengthening us, and preparing us for something greater. Ultimately we need God’s patience in order for us to come to full repentance, so it may not be wise to ask God to rush things. Yet still his delay often mystifies us, especially when the need is urgent.

Note too how Jesus’ delay here enables something even greater to take place. For, it is one thing to heal an ailing man. It is another and greater thing to raise a man who has been dead four days. To use a meal analogy, Jesus is preparing a feast. Do you want a microwave dinner or a great feast? Great feasts take longer to prepare. Jesus delays but he’s preparing something great.

For ourselves we can only ask for the grace to hold out. An old gospel song says, Lord Help me to Hold out, until my change comes. Another song says, Hold on Just a little while longer, every thing’s gonna be alright.

III.HE PAYS – Despite the design of God and his apparent delay, he is determined to bless us and save us. Jesus is determined to go and help Lazarus even though he puts himself in great danger. Notice in the follow text how the apostles are anxious about going to Judea. For, it is a fact that some there are plotting to kill Jesus. In order to help Lazarus, Jesus must put himself at great risk. The Text says:

Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?”Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.” So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.” But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep. So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.” So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.

We must never forget the cost that Jesus has paid for our healing and salvation. Scripture says, You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Pet 1:18).

Indeed, the apostles concerns are born out when we see that, because he raised Lazarus from the dead, the Temple leaders from that point on plot to kill Jesus (cf John 11:53). It is of course dripping with irony that they should plot to kill Jesus for raising a man from the dead. We can only thank the Lord who, for our sake endured even death on a cross and purchased our salvation by his own blood.

IV.HE PRESCRIBES – The Lord will die to save us. But there is only one way that saving love can reach us and that is through our faith. Faith opens the door to God’s blessings and it is a door we must open by God’s grace. Thus Jesus inquires into the faith of Martha and later of Mary. The text says

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.

Jesus prescribes faith for there is no other way. Our faith and our soul are more important to God than our bodies and creature comforts. For what good is it to gain the whole world and lose our soul? We tend to focus on physical things like our bodies, our health and our things. But God focuses on the spiritual things. And so before raising Lazarus and dispelling grief, Jesus checks the condition of Martha’s faith and elicits an act of faith: “Do you believe this?” ….Yes, Lord, I have come to believe.

Scripture connects faith to seeing and experiencing great things:

  1. All things are possible to him who believes. Mk 9:23
  2. If you had faith as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20)
  3. And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. (Matt 13:58)
  4. When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you” (Mat 9:28)

So Jesus has just asked you and me a question: “Do you believe this?” And how will you answer? Now be careful. I know how we should answer. But how do we really and truthfully answer?

V.HE’S PASSIONATE – Coming upon the scene Jesus is described as deeply moved, a perturbed, as weeping. The text says,

When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Sir, come and see.” And Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.”

In his human heart Jesus experiences the full force of the loss and the blow that death delivers. That he weeps is something of mystery since he will raise Lazarus in moments. But for this moment Jesus enters enters and experiences grief and loss with us. It’s full force comes over him and he weeps, so much so that the bystanders say “See how much he loved him.”

But there is more going on here. The English text also describes Jesus as being perturbed. The Greek word here is Greek word ἐμβριμάομαι (embrimaomai), which means literally, to snort with anger; to have have great indignation. It is a very strong word that includes the notion of being moved to sternly admonish. What is this anger of Jesus and to who is it directed? It is hard to know exactly, but the best answer would seem to be that he is angry of death, and what sin has done. For it was by sin that suffering and death entered the world. It is almost as thought Jesus is on the front lines of the battle and has a focused anger against Satan and what he has done. For Scripture says, by the envy of the devil death entered the world. (Wisdom 2:23). And God has said, As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ez 33:11).

I do remember at the death of loved ones that I experienced not only sorrow but also anger. Death should NOT be. But there it is, it glares back at us, taunts and pursues us.

Yes, Jesus experiences the full range of what we do here. And out of his sorrow and anger, he is moved to act on our behalf. God’s wrath is his passion to set things right. And Jesus is about to act.

VI.HE PREVAILS – In the end Jesus always wins. And you can go to the end of the Bible and see that Jesus wins there too. You might just as well get on the winning team. He will not be overcome by Satan, even when all seems lost. God is a good God, he is a great God, he can do anything but fail. Jesus can make a way out of no way. The text says,

He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go free.”

I have it on the best of authority that as Lazarus came out of the tomb he was singing a gospel song: Faithful is our God! I’m reaping the harvest God promised me, take back what devil stole from me, and I rejoice today, for I shall recover it all!

But notice something important here. Although Jesus raises Lazarus, and gives him new life, Jesus also commands the bystanders (this means you) to untie Lazarus and let him go free. So Christ raises us, but he has a work for the Church to do, to untie those he has raised in baptism and let them go free.

To have a personal relationship with Jesus is essential, but it is also essential to have a relationship to the Church. For after raising Lazarus (us) he entrusts Lazarus to the care of others. Jesus speaks to the Church, to parents, to priests, catechists, and all members of the Church and gives this standing order regarding the souls he has raised to new life: Untie them and let them go free.

We are Lazarus and were dead in our sin. But we have been raised to new life. And yet, we can still be bound by the effects of sin. And this why we need the sacraments, scripture, prayer, and other ministry of the Church through catechesis, prayer, preaching and teaching. Lazarus’ healing wasn’t a one and your done scenario and neither is ours.

We are also the bystanders – And just as we who are in need of being untied and set free, who who are also members of the Church, also have this obligation to others. Parents and elders must untie their children and let them go free by God’s grace, pastors their flocks. I too as a priest have realized how my people have helped  to untie me and let me go free, how they have strengthened my faith, encouraged me, admonished me and restored me.

This is the Lord’s mandate to the Church regrading every soul he has raised: untie him and let him go free. This is the Lord’s work, but just as Jesus involved the bystanders then, he still involves the Church (which includes us).

Yes, faithful is our God. I shall recover it all.

Artwork above from the ancient mosaics at Ravenna

This is the song Lazarus sang as he came forth (I have it on the best of authority)

Walk in the Light – A Meditation on the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Lent

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, the Light of the World, brings light to a man born blind. If you are prepared to accept it, you are the man born blind, for all of us were born blind and in darkness. It was our baptism alone, and the faith it gave, which has rendered us able to see, and, by stages, to come more fully into the light. The man in today’s Gospel shows forth the stages of the Christian walk, out of darkness, and into the beautiful light of Christ. Let’s take a moment and observe these stages evident in this man, for we are the man.

I. The Problem that is Presented – We are introduced to man who was blind from his birth, he is quite incapable of seeing at all. The text says: As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

So there is the problem, he is blind, he has no vision. And this us. On account of Original Sin we had lost all spiritual vision. We could not see God, or endure the light of his glory. This lack of vision causes many to have no “vision” for their life. They don’t know why they were made, or what the true purpose of their existence is. Many cannot see past the sufferings of this world to the glory that waits. Still others have retreated into the material world and cannot see beyond it. Others have retreated even further, away from reality into the realm only of their mind, their own opinions and so forth. St. Augustine describes this condition of the human person as curvatus in se (man, turned in on himself). Yes, there is a blindness that imprisons many in the darkness. And even for us who do believe there are still areas where it is hard for us to see. Coming to see God more fully, and ourselves as we really are is a journey we are still on.

While the disciples want to dwell on secondary causes, Jesus sidesteps these concerns and focuses on solutions. The fact is he is blind, assessing blame is unproductive. Healing the man is uppermost. In a statement, dripping with irony, Jesus says that the works of God will be made visible in a blind man. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (1 Cor 1:25). Yes, God can make a way out of no way and write straight with crooked lines. So Jesus gets to work.

II. The Purification that is Prescribed – Having diagnosed the problem and noting that the man is in darkness, Jesus, the Light of the World, begins the work of healing this man. The text says, When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva,and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” – which means Sent -. So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

Hopefully, you can see baptism here.  Jesus says, “Go and wash.” – He went, he washed and he came back able to see. Yes, this is baptism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says of Baptism: This bath is called enlightenment, because those who receive this [catechetical] instruction are enlightened in their understanding… Having received in Baptism the Word, “the true light that enlightens every man,” the person baptized has been “enlightened,” he becomes a “son of light,” indeed, he becomes “light” himself.…(CCC1216).

Baptism is required, in order to truly see. It is no mere aside that John mentions the name of the pool to which the man goes: Siloam, a name which means “sent.” Jesus sends him, and He sends us. Baptism is required. Jesus says elsewhere:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)

Notice he comes back ABLE to see. But just because you’re able to see does not mean you actually DO see. Right now I am able to see the Statue of liberty, my eyes work fine for that. But I do not yet see it. I have to make a journey to do that. Thus, the man here is able to see Jesus, but he does not yet see him. He has a journey to make in order to do that. Though able to see but he, like we, has a long way to go to see Jesus fully, and face to face. Baptism is not the end of our journey but the beginning of it. It renders us able to see. But we are still new born babes. We need to grow. We can see, but there is plenty we haven’t seen yet.

III. The Perception that is Partial – Hence we notice the man can see, but he still does not know much of the one who has enabled him to see. Notice what the text says: His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is, ” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.” So they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.” And they said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I don’t know.”

So he’s able to see. But he hasn’t seen much. The man must grow in his faith to come to know who Jesus Really is. Look at how his partial perception is described. For now, he merely understands Jesus as “the man called Jesus.” To him,  Jesus is just some “dude,” some “guy.” And then they ask where Jesus is, and all he can say is that he does “not know.” Hence although he able to see, he does not yet actually see Jesus.

And this describes a lot of Christians. They know about Jesus but they don’t know him. Many Catholics in the pews are “sacramentalized but unevangelized.”  That is, they have received the sacraments, but have never really met Jesus Christ and do not know him in any more than an intellectual way. Many don’t even expect to know him. He is little better to them than “the man called Jesus.” They’ve heard of Jesus, and even know some basic facts, but he still remains a distant figure in their lives. And when asked questions about him, they respond like this man, “I don’t know.”

The man needs to make progress, and he will and we shall now see. Remember, you are the man.

IV. Progress Through Persecution and Pondering – The text goes on to show us the progress this formerly blind man makes in coming to know and finally see Jesus. It is interesting that this progress comes largely through persecution. Now persecution for us need not always be understood as being arrested and thrown in jail etc. Persecution can come in many forms such as puzzlement, expressed by relatives and friends, ridicule of Catholicism in the media, or even those internal voices that make us question our faith. But, in what ever form, persecution has a way of making us face the questions, and refine our understanding. Our vision gets clearer as we meet the challenges.

Notice the man’s progress up till now. He HAS been baptized and is now able to see. But he still knows little of Jesus calling only “the man called Jesus,” and not really knowing where Jesus is. But, he is about to grow, and he does so in several stages.

In stage one of his post-baptismal growth we that his neighbors turn on him and bring him to the Pharisees who interrogate him because Jesus had healed him on a sabbath. The text says,

They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a Sabbath. So then, the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.” So some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a sinful man do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, “What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

Thus notice what this persecution does for him. As he is challenged to say something about Jesus he moves beyond calling him “the man called Jesus” and describes Jesus as a “prophet.” He has gained some insight here. A prophet speaks for God and, Jesus is the Word, made flesh.

In Stage two of his post-baptismal growth we see that the Pharisees doubt his story and broaden their persecution to interrogate and threaten his fearful parents, and then they call him back and put him under oath and declare Jesus to be a sinner. The text says:

Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his sight until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How does he now see?” his parents answered and said, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ, he would be expelled from the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; question him.”

In stage three of his post-baptismal growth we note that the continuing persecution seems to make him grow even stronger and more able to withstand his opponents. Note his determination and fearlessness in the second interrogation he faces which includes ridiculing him and placing him under oath:

So a second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner.” He replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” So they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” They ridiculed him and said, “You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.

The result of this is to further deepen his vision of Jesus. For, at first, he saw him only as “the man called Jesus,” then he sees him as a prophet, now he goes further and sees him as “from God.” He’s progressing from sight to insight. His ability to see, given him in baptism is now resulting in even clearer vision.

This then, leads us to the final end of this gospel and this man’s journey.

V.Perfection that is Portrayed – He has been thrown out of the synagogue, as many early Christians were. He has endured the hatred of the world, and the loss of many things. Now, cast aside, and hated by the world, the Lord approaches him. The text says:

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.”He said, “I do believe, Lord, ” and he worshiped him.

Now his vision is plain. After all this, he finally sees. He sees, not only Jesus, but Who Jesus is. First he saw him only as “the man called Jesus.” Next a prophet. Next, he says, he is from God. But this final stage is the best of all. He actually sees Jesus and falls down to worship Him, Jesus is not only from God, he IS God. Christ has fully enlightened this man.

This is our journey, moving in stages to more perfectly know Jesus. One day we will see him face to face. But even before that time we are called to grow in faith by stages so that we see Jesus for who he is.

Where are you on this journey? Our vision is daily getting better if we are faithful but it is not yet complete. Scripture says

  1. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. (1 Cor 13:12)
  2. Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2)
  3. My soul is thirsting for God, the God of my life; when can I enter and see the face of God? (Psalm 42:2)

For now, make this journey. Journey in stages. Come to know who Jesus is.

I have it on the best of authority that the man, on his journey to Jesus, sang this song: Walk in the Light, beautiful light. Come where the dew-drops of mercy shine bright. Walk all around us by day and by night, O Jesus the Light of the World!

Just a Little Talk With Jesus Makes it Right – A Meditation on the Gospel of The Third Week of Lent

As we examine the Gospel for this weekend’s Mass we do well to understand that is fundamentally a gospel about our desires and how the Lord reaches us through them. Prior to looking at the text, consider a few things:

  1. What it is that really makes you happy? There are endless ways this question could be answered. We desire so many things: food, water, shelter, clothing and creature comforts. We long for a sense of belonging, affection, & peace. Sometimes we hope for stability and simplicity, at other times we yearn for change and variety. Our hearts are a sea of desires, wishes and longings. The gospel today says that a woman went to the well to draw water. She is each one of us and her desire for water is a symbol of all our desires.
  2. Have you ever considered that your desires are in fact infinite? Can you even think of a time that you were ever entirely satisfied, a time when you needed absolutely nothing? Even if you can imagine such a time, it didn’t last did it? In fact our desires are infinite, without limit.
  3. The well in today’s gospel symbolizes this world. Jesus says to the woman and to us: “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again.” The world cannot really provide what are looking for. No matter how much this world offers us, it will never ultimately satisfy us, for the world is finite and our desires are infinite. In this way our heart teaches us something very important about ourselves: We were not made for this world, we were made for something, for someone, who is infinite, who alone can satisfy us. We were made for God.
  4. The Water offered is the Holy Spirit – Jesus says elsewhere: If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive…(Jn. 7:37-39).
  5. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the meanings of our longings: The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for…With his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God’s existence. In all this he discerns signs of his spiritual soul. The soul, the seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the merely material, can have its origin only in God (Catechism # 27, 33).
  6. Scripture too speaks to us our desires: Of You my heart has spoken: “Seek His face.” It is your face O Lord that I seek; hide not your face! (Psalm 27:8-9). Or again, Only in God will my soul be at rest, he is my hope, my salvation (Psalm 62:1,5) St. Augustine wrote classic words to describe our hearts’ truest longing: Thou hast made us for Thyself O Lord and our hearts are restless till the rest in Thee. (Confessions 1,1).

With this in mind, let’s look at the journey that this woman (this means you) makes to Jesus. Things start out rough but in the end she discovers here heart’s truest desire. The journey is made in  stages.

Rendezvous – Notice that the initiative here is Jesus’ As the Lord teaches elsewhere, It was not you who chose me, It was I who chose you (John 15:16). Jesus encounters a woman from Samaria at Jacob’s well. She desires water, but Jesus knows that her desire is for far more than water or anything that the world gives. Here desire has brought her face to face with Jesus, a holy and fortunate rendezvous, if you will. Jesus begins a discussion with her about her heart’s truest longing.

Request – The discussion begins with a request. The text says: It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” Imagine, God asking you for anything. What a stunning thing! What can she or we really give God? The answer is simply this, the gift of our very self. God has put a threshold before our heart that even he will not cross, unless we say yes. This request of Jesus initiates a discussion, a dialogue of two hearts. As we shall see, the woman, like most of us, struggles with this dialogue. It is, to be sure a delicate, even painful process for us to accept the invitation to self-giving the Lord makes. Something in us draws back in fear. Scripture says, It is an awesome thing to fall into the hands of living God! (Heb 10:31).

Rebuke – Sure enough, she draws back with fear and anger. She says,   “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” –For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans. In our journey to God, we do not always trust or understand Him at first. Some fear to relate to God because they think their freedom will be lost, or too many changes will be required. Others loathe the commandments, or fear they cannot keep them. Still others are angry at the unexpected twists and turns of this life and do not want to trust a God who doesn’t always play by their rules. The woman’s anger, in particular, is based on the prejudices of the day. Her anger is not really at Jesus, it is at “the Jews” to whom Samaritans are hostile. This is sometimes the case with God as well. It is not always the Lord Jesus, or God the Father, that people hate or distrust, it is Christians. For it remains true, some have been hurt by the Church, or by Christians. Others have prejudiced opinions influenced by a hostile media and world. But, praise, God, Jesus is willing to stay in the conversation, and so we next see:

Repetition – Jesus repeats his offer for a relationship. He says, If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.  I don’t know about you, but I am mighty glad that the Lord does not merely write us off when we say no. Jesus stays in the conversation and even sweetens the deal by making an offer to give her fresh, living water. The Lord does the same for us. First he gave the Law, then he gave the prophets, now he gives his Son. It just keeps getting better. First he gave water, then he changed it to wine, then he changed it to his blood. And, despite our often harsh rejection of God, he keeps the dialogue open and going.

Ridicule – The Woman is still hostile and now even ridicules Jesus: Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks? To the world, the teachings of God often appear to be foolishness. People often dismiss religious faith as fanciful and unrealistic. But here too the Lord is patient and continues on.

Reminder – Jesus now re-frames the question by reminding the woman of the obvious: Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. What she is relying on can’t come through for her. The world’s water does not satisfy us, the world’s delights are transitory. They promise ultimate satisfaction, but twenty minutes later we are thirsty again. The world is the gift that keeps on taking, it takes our money, our loyalty, our freedom, our time, and gives us only transitory, and ultimately unsatisfying pleasures, in return. It’s a bad deal. Every one who drinks from this well be thirsty again.

Re-upping the offer – Jesus says, But whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Here the Lord speaks of happiness and satisfaction that he will give, that grows in us and makes us more and more alive. The “water” he offers, as we saw above, is the gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit lives in us, and transforms us,  we become more and more content with what we have. As the life of God grows in us we become more alive in God and joyful in what he is doing for us. This is what the Lord offers us: the gift of a new and transformed life, the gift to become fully alive in God. I am a witness of this. How about you?

Result – The woman has moved in Jesus’ direction. She has warmed to his offer and so she says: Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water. Here is the result of the Lord’s persistence. Thank God that he does not give up on us, he keeps calling, even when we say no, even when we sin, he just keeps call our name!

Requirement – Jesus want to give this gift, but first he must help her make room for it. For the truth is, she has unrepented sin. A glass that is filled with sand cannot be filled with water. The sand must be emptied first and then the cup cleansed. Only then can the water flow. Thus Jesus says, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” Now she does what most of us do when we are in an uncomfortable spot, she changes the subject. She attempts to engage in a discussion about what mountain to worship on. Jesus is patient with her and answers her, but ultimately draws her back to the subject, which is her heart and what her desires are really all about.

Reconciliation – Now here the conversation gets private, we are not permitted to listen in. It is just between Jesus and her. But whatever it was, she in elated and will later declare: “He told me everything I ever did.” And there is no sense in her tone that Jesus was merely accusatory. Rather it would seem that Jesus helped her to understand her heart, and her struggle. And old song says, I once was lost in sin but Jesus took me in and then a little light from heaven filled my soul. He bathed my heart in love and he wrote my name above and just a little talk with Jesus made me whole. Here Jesus reconciles her with God and with her own self.

Rejoicing – The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They went out of the town and came to him.  Do not miss that little detail: she left her water jar. The very thing she was depending on to collect the things of the world is left behind. What is your water jar? What do you use to gain access to the world and to collect its offerings? For most of us, it is money. And scripture says, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim 6:10). At any rate she is joyfully empowered to leave this enslaving water jar behind. Now, freed from its load, she is able to run to town and declare Jesus to others. Her joy must have been infectious, for soon enough they are following her out to meet the Lord!

So here is the journey of a woman who is ultimately each one of us. This is our journey, out of dependence, out of a kind of enslaving attachment to the world, and unto Jesus, who alone can set us free. Here is our journey to understand that our desires are ultimately about God.

(Photo Credit above Martin Howard via Creative Commons)

The mp3 version of this homily is here: Just a Little Talk With Jesus

I have it on the best of authority that as she joyfully journeyed to town she was in fact singing this old Gospel song:

And Every Round Goes Higher, Higher! – A Meditation on the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent

The second Sunday of Lent always features the transfiguration. This is done in the first place because we are following the Lord on his final journey to Jerusalem and this journey up Mt Tabor was one of the stops Jesus himself made with Peter, James and John. It is commonly held that Jesus did this to prepare his apostles for the difficult days ahead. There’s a line from an old spiritual which says, Sometimes I up, sometimes I’m down, sometimes I’m almost on the ground…..but see what the end shall be.  And this is what the Lord is doing here: he is showing us what the end shall be. There is a cross to get through, but there is glory on the other side.

There also seems a purpose in placing this account here in that it helps describe the pattern of the Christian life which is the paschal mystery. For we are always dying and rising with Christ in repeated cycles as we journey to an eternal Easter (cf 2 Cor4:10). This Gospel shows forth the pattern of the cross, in the climb, and rising,  in the glory of the mountaintop. Then it is back down the mountain again, only to climb another mountain, (Golgotha) and through it find another glory (Easter Sunday). Here is the pattern of the Christian life: the paschal mystery. Let’s look a little closer at the Gospel in three stages.

I. The Purpose of Trials. The text says – Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. Now we often pass over this fact, that they had to climb that mountain. And the climb was no easy task. Any one who has been to the sight of Tabor knows what high mountain it is. The climb was almost 2000 feet, high and steep. It may have taken the better part of a day and probably had its dangers. Once at the top it is like looking from an airplane window out on the Jezreel Valley (a.k.a. Megiddo or Armageddon).

So here is a symbol of the cross and of struggle. A climb was up the rough side of the mountain: exhausting, difficult, testing their strength.

I have it on the best of authority that as they climbed they were singing gospel songs: I’m comin’ up on the rough side of the mountain, and I’m doin’ my best to carry on! Another songs says, My soul looks back and wonders how I got over! Yet another says, We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, every round goes higher, higher.

Now, this climb reminds us of our life. For often we have had to climb, to endure and have our strength tested. Perhaps it was the climb of getting a college degree. Perhaps it was the climb of raising children, or building a career. What do you have that you really value that did not come at the price of a climb….of effort and struggle?

And most of us know that, though the climb is difficult, there is glory at  the top is we but endure and push through. Life’s difficulties are often the prelude to success and greater strength.

Though we might wish that life had no struggles, it would seem that the  Lord intends the climb for us. For, the cross alone leads to true glory. Where would we be without some of the crosses in our life?  Let’s ponder some of the Purposes of problems:

  1. God uses problems to DIRECT us. Sometimes God must light a fire under you to get you moving. Problems often point us in a new directions and motivate us to change. Is God trying to get your attention? “Sometimes it takes a painful situation to make us change our ways,” Proverbs 20:30 says:  Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inner most being. Another old gospel song speaks of the need of suffering to keep us focused on God: Now the way may not be too easy. But you never said it would be. Cause when our way gets a little too easy, you know we tend to stray from thee. Sad but true, God sometimes needs to use problems to direct our steps to him.
  2. God uses problems to INSPECT us. People are like tea bags.. if you want to know what’s inside them, just drop them into hot water! Has God ever tested your faith with a
    problem? What do problems reveal about you?  Our problems have a way of helping to see what we’re really made of. I have discovered many strengths I never knew I had through trials and testings. There is a test in every testimony and trials have a way of  purifying and strengthening our faith as well as inspecting our faith to see whether it is really genuine. 1 Peter 1:6 says, In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure.
  3. God uses problems to CORRECT us. Some lessons we learn only through pain and failure. It’s likely that as a child your parents told you not to touch a hot stove. But you probably learned by being burned. Sometimes we only learn the value of something  health, money, a relationship by losing it. Scripture says in Psalm 119:71-72 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees and also in Psalm 119:67  it says Before I was afflicted, I strayed. But now I keep you word.
  4. God uses problems to PROTECT us. A problem can be a blessing in disguise if it prevents you from being harmed by something more serious. A man was fired for refusing to do something unethical that his boss had asked him to do. His unemployment was a problem-but it saved him from being convicted and sent to prison a year later when management’s actions were eventually discovered. Scripture says in Genesis 50:20 as Joseph speaks to his brothers You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
  5. God uses problems to PERFECT us. Problems, when responded to correctly, are character builders. God is far more interested in your character than your comfort. Romans 5:3 says We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. And 1 Peter 1:7 says You are being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return.

So here it is, the cross symbolized by the climb. But after the cross comes the glory. Let’s look at stage two:

II. The Productiveness of Trials. The text says, And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

All the climbing has paid off. Now comes the fruit of all that hard work! The Lord gives them a glimpse of glory! They get to see the glory that Jesus has always had with the Father. He is dazzlingly bright. A similar vision from the book of revelation gives us more detail:

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, ….. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Rev 1:12-17)

Yes, all the climbing has paid off. Now comes the glory, the life, the reward or endurance and struggle. Are you enjoying any the fruits of your crosses now? If we think about it, our crosses, if they were carried in faith have made us more confident, stronger. Some of us have discovered gifts, abilities and endurance we never knew we had. Our crosses have brought us life!

  1. The other night I went over to the Church and played the pipe organ. It was most enjoyable and the fruit of years of hard work.
  2. And not only have my own crosses brought me life, but the crosses of others have also blessed me and brought me life. See the trials do produce. Enjoy it!
  3. St. Paul says, that this momentary affliction is producing for us a weight of glory beyond all compare (2 Cor 4:14). He also says For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom 8:18).
  4. An old gospel song says, By and by, when the morning comes, and all the saints of God are gathered home, we’ll tell the story, of how we’ve overcome. And we’ll understand it better, by and by.

So then, here is the glory that comes after the climb. Here is the life that comes from the cross. Here is the paschal mystery: Always carrying about in our selves the dying of Christ so also that the life of Christ may be manifest in us (2 Cor 4:10).

III. The Pattern of Trials – The text says, Suddenly,  looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Notice that, although Peter wanted  to stay, Jesus makes it clear that they must go down the mountain for now and walk a very dark valley, to another hill, Golgotha. For now, the pattern must repeat. The cross has led to glory, but more crosses are needed before final glory. An old spiritual says, We are climbing Jacob’s ladder….every round goes higher, higher, soldiers of the cross!

This is our life. Always carrying within our self the dying of Christ so also that [the rising of Christ], the life of Christ may be manifest in us (cf 2 Cor 4:10).

There are difficult days ahead for Jesus and the apostles. But the crosses lead to a final and lasting glory. This is our life too. The paschal mystery, the pattern and rhythm of our life.

This Homily was recorded and is availbale in mp3 here:  http://frpope.com/audio/2%20Lent%20A%202011.mp3

Here is an excerpt from the Song We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder. The Text says that every round goes higher, higher! Almost as if imagining a spiral staircase even as the rounds get pitched higher musically. For this is the pattern of our life that we die with Christ so as to live with him. And each time we come back around to the cross, or back around to glory,  we are one round higher and one level closer to final glory.