Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Know How to Speak

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, That I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; And I have not rebelled, have not turned back.  Isaiah 50:4-5

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over. Matthew 26:14-16

Lord, give me the attitude of your faithful disciple Isaiah.  Open my ears to hear your Word.  Then, open my mouth that I may faithfully proclaim it.  However, make sure that I do not stop there.  Open my heart so that I may faithfully follow Your Word without turning back in my humble works.

What are we supposed to do?

That is the question which has been directed to us time after time throughout the Lenten season.  Like in today’s servant song from Isaiah, we are pointed to example after loving example of ways to serve God and the people of the Kingdom by putting others ahead of ourselves. In essence, we should answer this question like the popular bracelets – “WWJD?” What would Jesus do is the perspective that should guide our choices.

But choices abound.  As we reach the threshold of the Triduum, Judas provides to us the example of what NOT to do.  Betrayal is shown as the opposite of service.

As Lenten and Holy Week practices go, perhaps none are as powerful as the contrast between what will happen in churches Thursday and Friday.  Thursday, we will focus on the servant Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.  Friday, we will focus on the feet of Jesus moving from trial to torture to state-sponsored death by execution – step-by-bloody-painful-step up Calvary. 

As Pope Francis takes those steps Friday, his Good Friday reflections also will ask us to reflect upon when the death penalty will be abolished. 

At the station that marks Jesus being nailed to the cross, Francis and the pilgrims will use a reflection that questions modern-day uses of both the death penalty and torture.

“We gaze at you, Jesus, as you are nailed to the cross,” states the reflection. “And our conscience is troubled.”

“We anxiously ask: When will the death penalty, still practiced in many states, be abolished?” it continues. “When will every form of torture and the violent killing of innocent persons come to an end? Your Gospel is the surest defense of the human person, of every human being.”

Does our “legal” practice emulate more the servant attitude of Christ or is it a betrayal of the Gospel defense of love in action? Does this trouble your conscience?  Living in Virginia, one of the top states to use execution (even when consecutive Catholic men occupied the Governor’s mansion), we can use this season and the example of our pope to ask our political leaders to turn away from the use of such force.

While Catholic teaching holds that the death penalty can be used in a situation where the public authority can find no other way to contain a dangerous person, the last several popes have said that such situations likely no longer exist.

Francis has been even more publically opposed to the practice, saying March 20 that "today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.”

Francis added that executing a prisoner can no longer be justified by a society's need to defend itself, and he addressed two issues prominent in the American context: He declared that the death penalty "loses all legitimacy" because of the possibility of judicial error, and he said "there is no humane way of killing another person."  

Several recent botched executions have given anti-death-penalty advocates more ammunition for their arguments.  More and more states are now having trouble finding the drugs that have been used for decades to administer lethal injection.  One state has gone so far as to reauthorize use of the firing squad if the pharmaceutical cocktail cannot be found to bring on death.  


By Colleen O’Sullivan

Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God…   It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel: I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.  (Isaiah 49:4, 6)

Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”  (The one whom Jesus loved) leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?”  Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.”  So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot.  (Later) Peter said to him, “… I will lay down my life for you.”  Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me?  Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” (John 13:21, 25-26, 37b-38)

Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love;
in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions.
Thoroughly wash away my guilt;
and from my sin cleanse me.
(Psalm 51:3-4)

Jesus, the Suffering Servant, was sent into the world that salvation truly might reach to the ends of the earth. He has done nothing other than be faithful to the mission his Father gave him.  But here he is sitting at the table troubled and distressed as he’s sharing a final meal with his disciples.  He’s the best friend anyone could ever have, and it’s difficult to sit back and watch what goes on.
Jesus knows his betrayer will be Judas.  We watch Judas as he takes the morsel from Jesus.  He doesn’t even hesitate or look upset in the least.  He’s one calm, cool, collected actor.  You’d think his hand would tremble or he would wince at Jesus’ words.  But, no.  He shares what Jesus offers like this is just any other day.
And then there’s Peter wanting to know where Jesus is going if he’s leaving them.  Jesus tells Peter he can’t go with him right now.  He’ll have to wait till a later time.  Peter’s response is: Why not?  I would lay down my life for you.  He’s sincere, but we know that he doesn’t live up to his word just a few hours afterward.

It’s tempting to be judgmental, but we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.  Maybe we’ve never sold Jesus out for a pile of coins, but every time we sin, we betray him.  We say we’re going to follow in his footsteps, but sometimes we find ourselves taking long detours.
And who among us could point a finger at Peter?  We always think we’re going to be faithful.  We don’t get up in the morning intending to sin, but the truth is that like the apostle Paul, we find that when we “want to do right, evil is at hand.”  (Romans 7:21) 
Spend some time today asking the Lord to forgive you for your betrayals.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Victory of Justice

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness. Isaiah 42:6-7

So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” John 12:7-8

If we are in darkness, let the Lord be the light that leads us to salvation.  If we seek light elsewhere, we will end up remaining in darkness like Judas.  If we answer yes to Christ, then we will open the eyes of the blind – including ourselves like Lazarus, Mary and Martha.   

As we get to the highest holy days of the Church, we can contemplate the dichotomy of victory and defeat.  Isaiah sets up the picture of victory.  The first reading foretold the manifestation of the Nazareth Manifesto – the mission of the Church that is synthesized in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  These exist side-by-side in our tradition. 

However, as we move into the Gospel of John, it appears that Judas is forcing us to choose one side over the other.  Shall we put a primacy on serving the poor (the corporal works of mercy) or on burying the dead (the spiritual works of mercy)?  The notes to the New American Bible explain that “Jesus’ response reflects the rabbinical discussion of what was the greatest act of mercy, almsgiving or burying the dead. Those who favored proper burial of the dead thought it an essential condition for sharing in the resurrection.”

The Lenten season has brought us to the precipice of the resurrection.  The season also brings us to what appears the ultimate defeat that Jesus must pass through before he emerges victorious over death and darkness on the other side of Easter.

The irony is that when Jesus conquers death, his words ring false.  We through the Eucharist and the Resurrection, we will always have him with us.  Literally, though, Jesus is addressing Judas.  And the words ring true for Judas the thief and traitor.

In today’s dinner scene, the roles change very little from the earlier fateful encounters in Bethany.  One sister, Martha, remains at service to the body.  The other sister, Mary, remains at the feet of the Lord blessing his feet with the oil in service to the spirit.  It is in the authentic actions of both that we see through the false witness of Judas – who remains in darkness and serves neither.

What is your favorite spiritual practice of Holy Week?

We need to be both Martha and Mary this holy week and throughout the year.  They show us two sides of the coin to become contemplatives in action.   As Cursillistas, we need to have our spirituality and intellect engaged as we go about doing the nitty-gritty action work of the world – serving the needs of the body and the spirit. 

There are times like this week when we must stop and reflect on the mysteries and then go about doing the hard work that is revealed in our reflection.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Obedient to Death

Originally Posted April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday
By Rev. Joe McCloskey, S.J.

The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. Isaiah 50:7

Christ Jesus though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8

At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Mark 15:33-34


The Prayer in the Garden 

Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.

I have always called it Palm Sunday because the cheering for Christ was more upbeat than the suffering with Christ that was up coming. Cheering for the passion of Christ takes a great deal of mystic grace. The glory of the cross is not obvious to those who do not appreciate the love of God the Father that the sending of the Son is such an emphatic statement of. It is one thing to realize that the glory of Christ is from his passion and another to rejoice in the sufferings of Christ that are for me. Palm Sunday is the beginning of the process to appreciate the tree of glory that flowers in the Resurrection of Christ.

It is possible to look at a stranger dying and not feel anything. The death of a good friend or a sibling is another story. The depth of the involvement of our lives with another is a measure of how much we would grieve their death. Love makes the other’s life part of our life. The death of a loved one is always hard to bear. Connections are built up by all the intimacies of life. When one we love is gone, that part of our lives is gone also. Too often we keep our distance from another’s suffering because we are afraid of the pain of separation. Love is the giving of one’s life for the sake of another. Christ died for each of us. I can depersonalize the suffering of Christ by seeing it for everyone, not just myself.

Waving the palms on Palm Sunday is a symbolic statement of how important Christ is for us. When I come to some sort of a realization of who it is that is dying and appreciate that he is and would have died just for me, a personalizing of the suffering and death takes place in my heart. Seeing that he is suffering for me, I want to stop him. Making Christ suffer for what I did wrong makes me into a very selfish person unless I can find a way to make it up to him. Respect for life would always keep me from watching the death of another. When a loved one is dying, it is different for me. I want to be there for the person. After all these years of Palm Sundays I find myself looking at Christ with my heart and belonging to him because he is my new life. I invite everyone to celebrate this Holy Week with a personal stake in the dying of Christ. Thus, Easter Sunday may take on an entirely different meaning. Christ had to die unknowing of what it would mean to us so that we could die knowing what his death means to us. Let us cheer the Christ whose death brings us his life. Let us enter into Palm Sunday with all our minds and hearts united to the suffering of Christ in all the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, prisoners and hurting people of the world in our hearts.

Holy Week allows us the chance to ask the three questions of St. Ignatius. What was I doing for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ? Holy Week gives us the chance to participate in the sweep of Salvation History. Going with Christ through the triduum of Holy Thursday, Friday and Saturday allows us the chance to open our hearts to salvation as the new dawn of Salvation touches our prayer in our Participation in the Resurrection. Palm Sunday can be for us the opening salvo of God’s love for us in the Passion of Christ. The more deeply we enter into the passion of Christ, the more the joy of the Resurrection will reveal itself as the taste of what a waits us in our faithfulness to Christ in his Mystical Body of the Church.

Note:  Father Joe’s recovery continues at Washington Hospital Center.  While he needs his rest and visitors are restricted, you can always spend a few extra minutes in your own sanctuary or chapel visiting his brother Jesus.  Follow his recovery at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/fr.joe

Friday, March 27, 2015

What Are We Going To Do?

My servant David shall be prince over them, and there shall be one shepherd for them all; they shall live by my statutes and carefully observe my decrees.  Ezekiel 37:24

“What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” John 11:47B-48

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.
Ignatius Loyola

What are we going to do?

After spending generations wandering the desert – scattered – in search of a homeland, the Jews finally returned to the land that was promised to them long ago.  I will make with them a covenant of peace; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them, and I will multiply them, and put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (Ezekiel 37:26-27)

Now, however, they feared that the unity brought about after the diaspora would be shattered by the actions of an itinerant preacher from Nazareth.  What are the high priests to do? 

Acting out of fear, not love, the Pharisees and high priests sought to protect the power and possessions they had gathered on earth.  They decided to sacrifice one man over the nation.  By choosing unwisely, they ended up sacrificing the one true gift that God had bestowed upon them – the one shepherd for them all.

Jesus went into hiding for a while and we are now brought to the cusp of Lent wondering what will he do for the Passover feast:   stay in hiding or participate with the people? 

What are we going to do?

Lent asks us this same question that was on the minds of Ezekiel and the high priests of Jerusalem.  For five weeks, we have been offering up prayers, actions and sacrifices to get our temples ready for the events that will unfold.  Now is not the time to relax but to concentrate even more on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.  How can we help the Kingdom get ready for the King?

If we take the self-giving actions of Lent and the words of the Suspice to heart, God’s love and grace are enough for me and you.  After all, when this life is over, what we have gathered on earth remains behind.  The concerns of the high priests of Madison Avenue, Wall Street, Hollywood and K Street are meaningless.  As Amy Welborn writes in The Words We Pray, “The more you roll this [Suspice] prayer around in your soul, and the more you think about it, the more radical it is revealed to be.”  The conspicuous consumption of our consumerism and capital accumulation becomes more meaningless by the minute and by the penny.

If we want to get to a post-material, spiritual stage in our lives, then we have to stop trying to keep up with the Joneses and start trying to keep up with the Jesus. The only way to do that is to set ourselves free of the stuff that weighs us down. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Truth: Not the Road to Popularity

By Colleen O’Sullivan

I hear the whisperings of many:  “Terror on every side!  Denounce! Let us denounce him!”  All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.  “Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.”  But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion; my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.  (Jeremiah 20:10-11a)

The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus.  Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father.  For which of these are you trying to stone me?”  The Jews answered him, “We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy.  You, a man, are making yourself God.”  (John 10:31-33)

Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
(from Anima Christi prayer)

One of my favorite prayers is the Anima Christi prayer.  I find myself drawn to the line Passion of Christ, strengthen me.  If we walk with Jesus, at some point along the way we’re going to need that strength that only he can give.
On any Sunday morning we can turn the television on and find a preacher on some channel promising us health, wealth and a whole host of other things if we just have enough faith.  Don’t believe it for a second.  Faith didn’t guarantee the prophet Jeremiah an easy road through life.  In fact, his very faithfulness caused his friends to turn against him.  The words God put in his mouth weren’t what they wanted to hear, so they attempted to kill him.
Doing the works of his Father didn’t win Jesus accolades in every circle, either.  In today’s Gospel reading, the Jews listening to him in the Temple area wanted to pick up rocks and stone him to death.  Jesus escaped, but not for long.
Hopefully we are spending Lent accompanying our Savior on his journey to Jerusalem and the Cross.  If we want to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and be with him for all eternity, this is the only route available.  There is no easier path, and don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.  Jesus himself never promised prosperity or physical well-being.  On the contrary, he said we may well be despised or persecuted ourselves.  Think of all the Christians who’ve lost their lives recently at the hands of ISIS members simply because they were believers.

There is no way to Easter and the Resurrection but the Way of the Cross.  As we’ve been trudging along these forty days, we’ve witnessed Jesus’ frustrations.  All he wanted to do was share his Father’s love for all of us, but not many wanted to believe.  As we draw closer to the final destination, we feel the mounting opposition and danger on every side.  It’s not an easy journey.  Knowing that Jesus willingly walked this road all the way to the Cross so that our sins could be forgiven brings me to my knees.  I can scarcely comprehend a love like that.

Spend some time today reflecting on what it means to you to be a loved sinner.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Keep My Covenant, Keep My Word

By Beth DeCristofaro

I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. … God also said to Abraham:  “On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.” (Genesis 17: 4, 9)

Jesus said to the Jews:  “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.”  (John 8:51)

Lord God, I seek to serve you in all things.  Soften my heart so that I do hear your voice and heed it in all things.  May I live to forever see your face.

Jesus, again and again in his ministry, teaches that eternal life waits for anyone who follows him, who chooses his way.  Of course, his audience often argues.  How can this be, they ask, pointing out that their patriarch Abraham died. Even Jesus when confronted with Lazarus’ death cried even though he knew that Lazarus’ death afforded him an opportunity to publicly display God’s mercy and will to those assembled.  Everyone who heard Jesus’ words had met death in their families and in their villages. 

Jesus says to his followers much like God told Abraham, keep my Word.  Jesus’ Word is love, fulfilling the law which begins in the two greatest commandments: love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself. Fr. Richard Rohr speaks of the perpetual outpouring of God’s love.  “You can’t be more loving than God; it’s not possible!”

“And we're all saved by mercy. Knowing this ahead of time gives us courage, so we don’t need to live out of fear, but from love. To the degree you have experienced intimacy with God, you won’t be afraid of death because you’re experiencing the first tastes and promises of heaven in this world.”  (Adapted from Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 9)

Place yourself in God’s presence and ponder who you might be if your identifiers – job, relationships, habits, health, nationality, and all were stripped away.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his poem “Who Am I?” concludes, “Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!”  In being God’s own, each of us has an eternal covenant with God and eternity to be God’s.  Are you keeping your part of the covenant?

According to Your Word

Then Isaiah said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us!”   Isaiah 7:-14

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”  Luke 1:38

“Here I am Lord.  I come to do your will.”  Psalm 40

There used to be a commercial on television about an investment company that has since been gobbled up in mergers.  When one of the actors said that his broker was from the company, all the extraneous loud conversations stopped and people listened to what was expected to be a great stock tip or investment strategy. “When EF Hutton talks, people listen.”
Today, there is so much noise, how can we really take time to listen and to hear?  Our first reading reveals that the Lord spoke to Ahaz.  Yet, Ahaz acted like us.  He refused to listen and follow the instructions until Isaiah steps in.  Then, the Lord speaks to Mary through an angel.  When reading accounts in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, when the Lord speaks, people listen.  Sometimes, the Lord uses others to intervene.  In Ahaz case, it was Isaiah.  In Mary’s case it was Gabriel.  Who might it be in your case? 
It seems so easy for these Biblical characters to listen to the Lord.  But it was not and it remains hard. And the listening is just the first step.  The doing comes next.

How is the Lord trying to get your attention today?  Unless you take some time to disconnect the earbuds, the tiny screen, and the other distractions, you might not hear what the Lord has to say.
The Carmelites have an interesting little Internet posting.  They call it the Daily Disconnect.  You can get it right there on your Facebook page.  The challenge is to stop everything else that you are doing and spend three minutes with the Lord.  Three minutes is less than a commercial break and only slightly longer than those EF Hutton commercials. 
As one of the other advertisers of my youth used to admonish, “Try it.  You’ll like it.”

Monday, March 23, 2015

I Always Do What Is Pleasing to Him

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

By Melanie Rigney

… Their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!” (Numbers 21:4-5)

O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you. (Psalms 102:2)

(Jesus said to the Pharisees:) “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but that I say only what the Father taught me. The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” (John 8:28-29)

Lord, I pray that You never leave me alone.

There is a chapter in Little Women, that gorgeous family classic and allegory of spiritual journey a la Pilgrim’s Progress, in which the sisters take a break from their responsibilities for a week and their mother leaves them to their own devices. Meg, the oldest, freed of her governess duties, sleeps in and shops and ruins some of the clothes she has by trying to alter them. Jo, modeled after author Louisa May Alcott, released from caring for a crotchety aunt, reads till her eyes give out and fights with a friend. The younger two, Beth and Amy, take time off from their lessons; Amy is bored silly, and the family bird dies because the usually faithful Beth forgets to feed him. The experiments end with a disastrous dinner party and lessons learned. “Let me advise you to take up your little burdens again, for though they seem heavy sometimes, they are good for us as we learn to carry them,” Marmee advises.

It’s a simple lesson, yet one we seem to need to learn over and over again. God is always with us, as John tells us in today’s Gospel. He asks only that we do what is pleasing to Him, and what is pleasing to Him is made pretty clear in those two greatest commandments. But like the March sisters and the Israelites, we get tired of following the rules, of being good, of submitting. And each and every time, we learn that while whining may feel good for a bit and playing hooky from God’s desires may be fun and exciting for a while, they only hurt us and those around us.

May we have the faith the Israelites lacked that we will be delivered. May we have the wisdom the March sisters learned that our “little burdens,” carried faithfully, draw us closer to the Lord.

Resist the urge to complain about anything today. Journal about how you feel at the day’s end.

No One, Sir

The Lord heard her prayer…Thus was innocent blood spared that day. Daniel 13:44, 62

Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”  John 8:10-11

The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. 
In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me;
He restores my soul.  He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.
You set a table before me in front of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for endless days. (Psalm 23)

Just a little over a week ago, Pope Francis declared the Year of Mercy which will be marked starting in October.  Today’s readings give us two views on mercy:  the lack of mercy shown by humans against each other when some are not even sinners and the abundance of mercy shown by God toward sinners.
That God is merciful is not in doubt or question.  However, we have an interesting contrast in the accusers today.  In one case, the accusers do not back down and they end up paying the steepest price for their transgression. In the other case, the accusers disappear into the crowd – leaving the sinner standing alone with Christ.
In both cases, though, the Lord heard her prayer and demonstrated the love and mercy of God for her. 

Is it any wonder why Francis announced a new global jubilee, the Holy Year of Mercy?  According to a recent news story
Symbolically calling on the entire global Roman Catholic Church to take up his papacy's central message of compassion and pardon, Pope Francis on Friday announced that he is convoking a jubilee year to be called the Holy Year of Mercy.
Saying he has "thought often about how the church can make more evident its mission of being a witness of mercy," the pope announced the new jubilee year during a Lenten penitential service in St. Peter's Basilica.
"I am convinced that the whole church -- that has much need to receive mercy because we are sinners — will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time," Francis said in announcing the year.
"Let us not forget that God pardons and God pardons always," the pope continued. "Let us never tire of asking for forgiveness."

Francis has made mercy a central theme of his papacy, speaking of it often in homilies and in his texts. His apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel"), uses the word 32 times.  How can you make it a central part of your life?  Who are you called to shower mercy upon?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Honor Whoever Serves Me

Fifth Sunday of Lent 2012 B*

By Rev. Joe McCloskey, SJ

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.  Jeremiah 31:33-34
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. Hebrews 5:8-9
"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me." John 12:23-26

God offers to make us his people and to be our God. Piety is our acceptance of the covenant of the Lord. Piety is how our heart understands God as our Lord.Piety in its externals reflects how we accept the Lord as our God. Piety contains the rituals of how we return to the Lord with our whole heart. Piety shows itself in our desires and yearnings to see the Lord. The intensity with which we read or listen to the Word of the Lord reveals piety to our world. The Prophet Jeremiah speaks of how the Lord took the Hebrews by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt. Our piety is how we take the hand of the Lord in our daily lives and allow the Lord to lead us as our master. Our piety is seen in the recognition of the law of the Lord that is written on our hearts. Our piety is how we love the Lord. Piety is how we give thanks for the forgiveness of the Lord. It is the confidence of our hearts that God remembers our sin no more. Our piety is the clean heart that God has created in us.

Even as Christ learned obedience through what he suffered and offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to his Father, he becomes the source of eternal salvation for us who obey him. Our study reveals to us the ongoing presence of God in our daily lives. We learn how to be like the grain of wheat that falls to the earth. Even as the grain dies it produces much fruit. We study what we can do for the Lord and discover how we can best serve him. What we are willing to put up with for the sake of our union with Christ becomes how we are lifted up to draw others to the love of the Lord. We preach the love of God for our world with the peace and the gentleness of our lives in the crosses we bear for the sake of a better world in the name of the Lord. We study how to preach by our lives that our example might become the best sermon we can give.We lose our lives in the world that we might preserve it for eternal life. As servants of the Lord we carry the crosses of our daily lives aware that what we put up with for the sake of Christ will be our fame in heaven.
The difficulties of our daily life take on a new meaning when we die with Christ.The joy of the cross is the union our crosses give us with Christ. As we fill up what is wanting to the suffering of his body, the Church, we discover that we are the presence of Christ in our world. The saint is a transparency of Christ. Our little acts of mortification during Lent shout out to the heaven how much we love Christ in the very missing of what we have given up for the sake of Christ. What we offer up to the Lord as our Lenten sacrifices become the love of our lives as we offer what is important to ourselves that we go without for the sake of our world.

*  Yes...you read the date correctly.  2012.  Fr. Joe continues to recover from his recent stroke. Please keep him in your prayers and visit his page at Caring Bridge updates posted by family members. You will need to create a free acco forunt and check back for updates and to leave messages or prayers.  As one person has already commented, God is not finished with Fr. Joe yet! Until further notice, Your Daily Tripod will be reprinting his reflections from Sundays in the Liturgical Cycle B that appeared in prior years.  


Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter, had not realized that they were hatching plots against me: “Let us destroy the tree in its vigor; let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will be spoken no more.”  Jeremiah 11:19

Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, “Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?” They answered and said to him, “You are not from Galilee also, are you? Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”  John 7:50-52

We are the ones transgressing into sin.  Yet He is the One bruised for them.
We are the ones who gain peace.  Yet He is the One who takes the chastisement for us.
We are the ones who are healed.  Yet He takes the stripes of the whip and the piercing sting of the nails for us. 
We are the ones like willful sheep led to stray.  Yet He is the shepherd who comes after us and then becomes the lamb to the slaughter.  (Glen Scrivener on Isaiah writing in The King’s English)

He’s back.  No.  Not Jack Nicholson in some remake of “The Shining.”  Nicodemus.  When we last met Nicodemus, he was sneaking over the meet up with Jesus under the cover of darkness to quiz the carpenter’s son about this preaching that had all of Galilee in a buzz.  Jesus’ teaching was starting to threaten the authority of the temple leadership.  As a member of the much-maligned parasitical class that preyed on the emotions and savings of the people (make that Pharasitical class), Nicodemus was trying to make academic sense of what Jesus was saying.
Today, Nicodemus moves from the academic to the legalistic. He also courageously moves from darkness to light defending Jesus not alone in some evening tutoring session but in broad daylight in the halls of the temple.  If it were up to Nicodemus, maybe Jesus would not give up without a fight or at least without a court-appointed lawyer for the defense.  The arguments Nicodemus puts forth are ignored and we watch all retreat to their own homes.  Nicodemus now begins to separate himself from the others – he doesn’t hang out with them or share a meal with those of his own class.  Maybe the solitary Nicodemus would now feel more at home having dinner with the sinners and tax collectors who assemble around Jesus?  I wonder with whom we will see Nicodemus next?
In addition to watching the conversion of Nicodemus before our eyes and imaginations, we also begin to see more references to the coming events of Holy Week. As Jeremiah foretells, the “lamb to slaughter” reference has two meanings.  If someone does something or goes somewhere like a lamb to the slaughter, they do it without knowing that something bad is going to happen.  However, Jesus knew what fate was ahead.  He knows the nails, the thorns, the cross and the sword.  Jesus was led knowingly but therefore acted calmly and without fighting against the situation.  
It’s a brutal verbal picture.  An innocent lamb will follow a leader no matter where they’re taken.  No protests, no questions asked.  At the slaughterhouse they train a “Judas sheep” to lead the others to their doom.  “Judas” escapes through a hatch, the others get it in the neck.  A lamb led to the slaughter is a chilling image.
The King of Isaiah 6 is now seen as the Servant of Isaiah 52-53.  In both visions He is “exalted”, “lifted up”, “very high” etc.  But the two images of “lifted up” appear very different.  In one, He sits on a throne.  In the other He is slain on an altar.
John’s Gospel also picks up on this double-meaning from Isaiah.  Jesus is truly “lifted up” – that is, truly glorified – by being lifted up on the cross. 

Who is so defense-less that they need your Nicodemus-inspired mercy? 
Pope Francis gives us two choices (among many) this week as he takes on the economic injustice suffered by those who are unemployed and legal injustice imposed by countries where the death penalty remains in use. 
Regarding those without hope of a job, the pontiff remarked: "What to do, a young person without work?" he asked. "What future do they have? What path of life to choose?"
"This is a responsibility not only of the city, not only of the country, but of the world," the pontiff continued. "Because there is an economic system that throws away people and now touches the young people, namely, without work."
On the death penalty, Pope Francis called capital punishment "cruel, inhumane and degrading" and said it "does not bring justice to the victims, but only foments revenge."
Furthermore, in a modern "state of law, the death penalty represents a failure" because it obliges the state to kill in the name of justice, the pope said. Rather, it is a method frequently used by "totalitarian regimes and fanatical groups" to do away with "political dissidents, minorities" and any other person deemed a threat to their power and to their goals.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Just One

By Colleen O’Sullivan

The wicked said among themselves, thinking not aright:  “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.  He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord.  To us he is the censure of our thoughts: merely to see him is a hardship for us, because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways.  Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.”  These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them, and they knew not the hidden counsels of God; neither did they count on a recompense of holiness nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.  (Wisdom 2:1a, 12-15, 21-22)

So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said, “You know me and also know where I am from.  Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true.  I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.”  (John 7:28-29)

Many are the troubles of the just man, but out of them all the Lord delivers him.  (Psalm 34:20)

There’s a great deal of truth in the old saying “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”  Granted, 21st century Northern Virginia is vastly different from Alexandria, Egypt, in the first century B.C., when the Book of Wisdom is believed to have been penned.  The author’s head would spin if he could see the changes time has wrought: many more people in the world, clothing styles he could never have imagined, McMansions and high rises, cars, traffic on the Beltway, etc.  But after a while, I think he would say there’s one thing that never changes and that’s the human heart.

Let’s face it; our hearts are often fickle.  We profess our love for God, but our actions may reveal greater love for things other than the Lord.  The Scripture readings the first three Fridays of Lent have led us to self-examination with regard to worship of false gods, jealousy that can lead to bitterness and hatred, and the hypocrisy inherent in performing pious acts while holding onto anger toward our brothers and sisters.

Today we’re asked to consider our reaction to just and righteous persons.  You’d think we’d be drawn to them and would want to emulate them.  But this is where the Evil Spirit comes in.  Liking nothing better than twisting good into evil, the Evil One worms his way into our hearts and comes between us and what is good and of God.  Suddenly, that desire to be close is usurped by the fear that our own sins and failings will be magnified by contrast.   The Evil Spirit then works a little harder.  Now it seems like the only way to deal with the situation is to reject and put down what is good.

That’s exactly what we see going on in the Gospels.  Jesus is the human face of God.  Everything he does speaks of the mercy, compassion and kindness of his Father.  But those who know their lives don’t reflect that sort of love feel threatened.  They begin by putting him down, and they end by nailing him up on a Cross.  He’s gone.  They can feel good about themselves again.  At least for a few days, but that’s a story for another liturgical season.

We’ve never killed anyone, we say.  The writer of the Book of Wisdom exaggerates, we protest.  But when you think about it, any time we gossip about someone or demean them, we are killing them by degrees.  When we trash someone on Facebook or cyberbully them, we are responsible for a death of a sort. 
The flip side of this is how people react to us when we are following in Christ’s footsteps.  They may well despise us or think we are foolish.  In other parts of the world, they may literally kill us.

Take a few minutes to reflect on good and just people you know today.  What is your reaction to them?  What is the reaction of others?  

How do your family, friends or strangers react when you witness to your faith, whether through words or actions?