If you love Me, you will obey Me

p1000735In today’s readings there are some challenging, even hard, teachings. Jesus tells his disciplines plainly the nature of love. He says, “whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.”

Do you remember the story of the wedding at Cana from the Gospel of John? They are running out of wine, and Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” That was not just a thoughtful Mom making sure the party went well. That was basic instruction on Christian discipleship from Christ’s best disciple. That story was in Chapter Two. Now, in Chapter Fourteen, Jesus says it himself. Just as she said, “Do what he tells you to do,” Jesus tells his disciples — which is us —  “Do what I tell you to do.” Continue reading

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Good Friday 7th Word 2020

It was around midday, and darkness came over the whole land until midafternoon with an eclipse of the sun. The curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two. Jesus cried out in a loud voice: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” He then inclined his head and died.

St. Anselm taught that the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was something only a man must do and only God could do. Jesus is true God and true man, one person of the Trinity with two natures. Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped but came down in love and took on the form of human flesh. He was obedient unto death, even death on a cross. He shared with us in everything but sin. His sacrifice is now complete. His establishment of the new Passover meal is now complete. His earthly ministry is now complete. Sharing in our humanity he will endure death.

With this last word he continues to teach his children. Perfect in every way, he is the perfect rabbi. He reminds us that death is – even for us – a temporary condition. Our spirit will live forever. Our soul is immortal, and Jesus shows us the way because he is the Way. He says into your hand I commend my spirit. Jesus has shown through the passion that he is not merely the victim but is also the priest. He is choosing his path at the end of his life. He chooses to be with his father in Heaven forever. We need to choose our destination. If we participate in the life of Christ, if we take up our cross and carry it to our Calvary, if we choose mercy over judgment, then we choose to commend our spirits into the care of our heavenly father. We choose to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus and the father.

Our eternal souls will be united with our glorified bodies when Jesus comes back at the general judgment. We choose in this life where we will spend the next life in those glorified bodies.

Jesus has completed the making of the New Covenant. The Law written in the books of Moses is now written in our hearts. Jesus has shown his disciples how to live the law within our hearts, how to live in response to the great dignity he gave us in creation. Now he shows us how to die in that dignity, in the supremely confident knowledge of who our father is and how much he loves us.

It has been dark because of an eclipse for the three hours Jesus has been hanging on the Cross. The heavy curtain inside the Temple has been torn in two. Mary and the other ladies, along with the younger son of Zebedee, watch this gruesome execution in horror and anguish. Now the soldiers are told to break their legs and bring things to a more rapid end. Methodically, they break the legs of the two thieves crucified with Jesus. They pause before moving toward the True Cross, the cross on which Truth Incarnate has been condemned to die; condemned by the arrogant Roman Empire in cahoots with scheming religious leaders. One more affront to God: breaking his legs after breaking his heart.

The soldiers will not get the chance, for Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son, has one last message for his followers before he gives up his earthly life. He will die in obedience to his Father’s will. He will humble himself to die on a Cross. But he will not die until he has imparted one last lesson for his Church. Loving us, he loved us to the very end.

With no breath left, with his very last breath, he showed everyone the communion of love that is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Father, he says, I who never left you for I am you, put into your hands myself, my entire self. You entrusted to me the salvation of mankind, and I now entrust you with all that I am as I allow my human life to perish on the Cross. I am the perfect sacrifice, the sacrifice that redeems Man, who fell from grace through the presumption of Adam at the dawn of time.

This Roman state, this worldly state, thinks that its will and its power give it immortality. This state will die and be replaced many times over, for the power to kill cannot overcome the power of Everlasting Life. I am not executed. I lay down my life for the sins of all men throughout all time.

See how power of the state is shown to be powerless against faith.

See how the instrument of terror is become the means of salvation.

See how the Cross of the Lord is revealed to be the Tree of Life.

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Good Friday 5th Word

Jesus, realizing that everything was now finished, said to fulfill the Scripture, “I thirst.” John 19:28

esus continues to pray the 22nd Psalm from the Cross. Everything is completed. Everything of his earthly ministry is completed, and he is preparing to give up his life. St. John the Evangelist makes sure we know this was no random event. This was no senseless execution. Good Friday, the day that Jesus died, was the pinnacle of his earthly ministry. This is what he came for. This is what the scriptures pointed to, if one but knew where to look and how to read them.

And Jesus is showing his Church from the Cross where to look and how to read. The people of Israel knew to look for the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. And the Psalms point to him: Jesus is the Son of David, upon whose throne God has set him forever and whose kingdom will not end. But today, he is the “scorn of Men, cast away by the people.” The toast of the town on Sunday, he is cast away on Friday.

They are wagging their heads, in the Psalm Jesus is reciting, and there in front of him. They say in the Psalm and in the Gospel story, “He hoped in the Lord; let Him rescue him.” Prophetic words from the Psalms, the Jewish book of prayer, spoken today by those who have cast him away. Like the Psalmist, his tongue clings to his jaws, and he says, “I thirst” to those who have pierced his hands and his feet.

This is the Cup of Consummation in the New Passover. Jesus takes a bit of sour wine from the hyssop branch held up to his mouth. The Old Covenant is finished, it is completed, it is perfected. The New Covenant is established, and the 600 Laws of Moses are replaced by a Law of Love written on our hearts by Love Itself.

Jesus still thirsts. He thirsts for us, for our souls, for our salvation. He offers salvation, and it is up to us to accept it. He shows us from the Cross that suffering can have a great purpose and great power. The Jewish religious authorities believe they have won, but they have lost. The Devil thinks he has won, but he has lost if we turn toward Christ and unite our suffering with his on the Cross. That is our sacrifice. That is our participation in His sacrifice.

Many are suffering today. We are suffering without access to the sacraments. Many are suffering with the virus, and many more are suffering because of how we responded to the virus. This suffering does not have to be pointless. This execution was not pointless because it glorified God and brought the triumph of Life over Death. Our current suffering is not pointless if we offer it to God at the foot of the Cross. For he thirsts for us. His palate is drier than a piece of clay from a pot, and his tongue is stuck to his jaw. For he thirsts for us.

 

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Good Friday 3rd Word 2020

Near the cross of Jesus there stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Seeing his mother there with the disciple whom he loved, Jesus said to his mother: “Woman, there is your son.” In turn he said to the disciple: “There is your mother.” From that hour onward, the disciple took her into his care. John 19:25-27

The Doctors of the Church have long understood this dialogue as John representing the Church, with Mary as Mother of the Church. Jesus established his Church, with his Mother as its Mother. This is the Church of Christ. We are the Church of Christ.

We are the called out, the ekklesia, which is the Greek word used for our English word Church. Ekklesia is those called out for a purpose. We are the Church, the called out for a purpose, established by Christ for his purpose.

We are called out to be wisdom. We are called out to be courage. We are called out to be love.

We are called out from the Cross. In fifty days, the Holy Spirit will descend upon the Apostles, but today from the Cross Jesus establishes his Church. From the Cross. Because it is from the Cross – and only from the Cross – that we will get true wisdom, divine wisdom, the wisdom that does not change nor weaken. It is from the Cross – and only from the Cross – that we will get true courage, holy courage, the kind of courage that stands in the face of earthly power because the power of God is mightier than the power of the world. It is from the Cross – and only from the Cross – that we can understand and share true love, the self-sacrificing love of the Cross that sustains us in our earrthly lives and perfects us for eternal life. The self-love of the world ultimately fails, for true love – the love that flows from the Cross – is love of generosity rather than selfishness. It is a giving love rather than a taking love.

Only John and the women are still at the Cross by this point in the Passion. The strength that sustains John and the women is a lonely strength. The strength of the Cross sustains us as we are lonely without the acclaim and honor of the world because we choose the Cross rather than the world. Mary and the women represent the feminine strength, the strength to persevere, to remain when others have already run away. Jesus and John represent the masculine strength, the strength to embrace the whipping, the crown of thorns, and the nails. All of us, all made in the image and likeness of God, have both the feminine and masculine strength, and we need both kinds to carry our crosses and persevere through the days of persecution and apostasy. We are called out to be the light of Christ in the world, a Church protected by the Holy Spirit and comforted by our Mother Mary.

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

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Good Friday 1st Word

Jesus was led along with two criminals to be crucified. When they came to the Place of the Skull, as it was called, they crucified him there and the criminals as well, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:32-34

From the description that St. Luke gives us, it seems the Jewish leaders did know what they were doing when they had the Romans crucify Jesus with the two criminals, yet his first word from the Cross was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

If they did not know what they did on Good Friday, then equally they did not know what they did on Palm Sunday when they welcomed Jesus as King with shouts of, “Hosanna!” as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. It was the same Jesus on Sunday and on Friday, and it was the same crowd, but there was a different response to Him.

One person knew what was really going on the whole time: Jesus. He knew why he had come down to earth as one of us, and he knew what his mission was when the crowd cheered him on Sunday, and he knew what it was when the same crowd jeered him on Friday.

There is no wisdom in crowds; there is only wisdom in the seat of Wisdom. It is only by establishing ourselves in the seat of God’s wisdom that we have any hope of knowing what is really going on. It is only by hanging on to the Cross that we protect ourselves from being lifted up momentarily by the crowd’s reaction only to be dashed down when the same crowd rushes away after some new delight or distraction.

Through the wisdom of the Cross, God gives us eyes to see through the surface reality of our choices to the deeper reality. Where the crowd might think we act foolishly, the wisdom of the Cross shows us we are acting wisely. For the Cross is foolishness to the world. By drawing strength from the wood of the Cross, we will not be weakened by the weakness of others but will manifest the strength of a disciple of Christ.

Through the power of the Cross, God gives us eyes to see his power still operating in a world that has largely turned its back on him as it did on Good Friday at Golgatha. The world rejected Jesus on Good Friday, and many of his followers did, too. The world today rejects Jesus, but his disciples follow him in his power nonetheless. We see him on the Cross, broken and yet unbroken. Even on the Cross, dying as victim, offering sacrifice as priest, Jesus retains all his power. And he uses his power to forgive those who in the vanity of worldly power seek to rid themselves of this troublemaker.

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

 

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CEO and NGO Catholics

Faithful Catholics have long derided what are known as CEO Catholics: Christmas and Easter Only. It is easy to conclude one is not really a Catholic if one only comes to Mass twice a year, when everybody goes to whatever church they belong to, if only to be seen going to church or because it is a nice thing to do as a family. There is another acronym-ic Catholic that is just as false: the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Catholic.

In the season of Lent, we are asked to commit to greater depth in our prayers, our fasting, and our almsgiving. Prayers and fasting are interior practices, but almsgiving rapidly shifts our focus to the recipients of our monetary gifts. That external focus may lead us away from the purpose of almsgiving: the reason the Church asks us to engage in almsgiving is to bless us, the givers. The recipient is also blessed, but that is not the primary reason to give money during Lent.

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Responding to Reality

In the Old Testament reading today, we have the famous scene known throughout the rest of the Scriptures as the waters of contradiction. The Israelites are faced with troubles: they are thirsty and they are in the desert. This reading resonates with us today because we are faced with the corona virus phenomenon, and we are concerned. When something bad happens, the question we often ask is, “why?”

The Israelites ask themselves, “Why are we here thirsty in the desert?” And they quickly come up with an answer: “Moses did it to us!” From the comfortable distance of history, we can see that they came up with the wrong answer. Moses was their savior, the man who led them out of slavery in Egypt. Moses was a prophet, who conversed with God and conveyed God’s power through the entire Exodus story. It was Moses acting as God’s agent who brought plagues and pestilence upon the Egyptians and spared the Israelites so everyone knew clearly that God loved his people and would save them from their earthly tribulations. Continue reading

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