February 29, 2020

Penance in the River and the Desert: Naked and Unafraid

"Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness," by J. Tissot. Brooklyn Museum / Public Domain.

For the First Sunday of Lent

February 28, 2020

Learning to Be Hungry for the Return of Christ

Matthew 9:14-15, the Gospel at Mass
on the Friday after Ash Wednesday

The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast."

In the Gospel at Mass on Ash Wednesday, two days ago, Christ spoke of our fasting, our self-denial, for the sake of a secretly rewarding relationship with the Father.

Then, yesterday in his Gospel, though not naming fasting, he said if we wish to follow him we must take up our crosses daily and deny ourselves.

In today's Gospel, he said we would fast once he was taken away from us.

We practice concrete self-denial in fasting as part of calling to mind that he denied himself, took up his cross and died on it to let death take him away as a sin offering to reconcile us sinners to the Father.

Forty days after Christ died and rose, he ascended into heaven, the Father taking him away to seat him at his right hand.

So we fast in self-denial as part of hungering for Christ's return.

With this season of fasting, prayer and merciful works, we mark the days until Good Friday, the great memorial of Christ's suffering and death.

We have been baptized into his suffering and death, but also into his resurrection and ascension.

Following Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we shall again swear the oaths of our baptism on the day of his resurrection.

By the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we are baptized and anointed for Eucharistic Communion with God the Son in his Passover of suffering, death, resurrection and ascension.

That is the new and eternal covenant for the forgiveness of sins, so that we might rise to live in freedom as the sons and daughters of God the heavenly Father.

In his embodied and glorified humanity, the Son of God as one of us is already enthroned in intimacy with the Father.

For us to be finally and fully at home in that intimacy is the goal of our prayer, fasting, self-denial and works of mercy.

Our goal has its presence, promise and preview in the Body and Blood Christ.

If we imitate what they contain, we shall receive what they promise.

February 25, 2020

Vulnerability and Intimacy in the Ash Wednesday Gospel

In this Gospel, Christ says our Father will recompense, reward, or repay us when we offer the secret, righteous deeds of almsgiving, prayer and fasting for our Father alone.

Prayer deals with our Father.

Almsgiving deals with my neighbor.

Fasting deals with my own self.

Our Father, my neighbor, my self— the three kinds of personal relationship I can have.

Although fasting, almsgiving and prayer turn in three different directions— myself, my neighbor, my God— Christ says our Father will repay them only if my goal in all three directions is our Father alone.

Our Father does not repay when I show off my fasting, my alms or my prayer so that others will pat me on the back.

Even letting “your left hand know what your right is doing” is another way of saying “patting your own self on the back.”

Christ underscores secrecy in our seeking the Father.

Today’s Gospel is a three-part litany of secrecy with the Father in almsgiving, secrecy with the Father in prayer and secrecy with the Father in fasting.

It has all the makings of intimacy.

When I secretly give alms, I make myself materially vulnerable and avoid having others support my vulnerability by patting me on the back.

Christ tells me to offer my material vulnerability secretly to the Father for his support alone.

When I pray all by myself, I avoid the social support of neighbors, so I am socially vulnerable.

Christ tells me to offer my social vulnerability secretly to the Father for his support alone.

When I fast, I make myself physically vulnerable.

Christ tells me to offer my physical vulnerability secretly to the Father for his support alone.

Secret almsgiving, prayer and fasting— material, social and physical vulnerability in secret with the Father— these are the all-embracing, natural and supernatural makings for real and deep intimacy with God.

In his own Body and Blood, Christ makes himself vulnerable materially, socially and physically.

In the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood, Christ makes himself into a saving alms for our poverty, into a prayer interceding for us to the Father, and even into a fast-unto-death-on-the-cross that he offers on our behalf to the Father.

By raising him from the dead, and exalting him to his side in the intimate depths and heights of heaven, our Father has repaid Christ for his vulnerability.

If we follow Christ in his intimate pursuit of our heavenly Father, we open ourselves to begin to receive even now the same repayment Christ received: being intimately at home with our heavenly Father.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. [Matthew 6:19-21]

February 22, 2020


Regarding Matthew 5:38-48, the Gospel Reading for Mass on the Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Gospel of the Lord today dishes up things we might receive (or reject) with sadness, anger and fear.

Christ tells us to “offer no resistance to one who is evil.”

If a man hits you, let him hit you again.

If he wants to take away your shirt, hand him your coat also.

If he uses you for one mile, go along for two.

By taking today’s Gospel out of context, we could make a bad lesson from it:
“Even if it kills you, be a doormat; let men use, rob, and hurt you; be a doormat, even if it kills you.”

Christ goes on, and ends by telling us to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Today’s Gospel is part of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, where he is mapping out the blessed way of God’s children, the perfect children of the perfect Father, the Father of heaven.

[Mt. 5:10-12] Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you, persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Today’s Gospel, in the context of the whole Sermon on the Mount, does not command us to be mere victim doormats.

Rather, it tells us to expect and welcome suffering if we are sincere in following, imitating and serving Christ as sons and daughters of his heavenly Father who is perfect.

In the Body and Blood of Christ, God binds himself to us men and women and to our salvation in an everlasting covenant.

God is the one who offers us his left cheek after we have hit his right.

In the Body and Blood of Christ, we sue God for his tunic, and he hands us his cloak as well.

In the Body and Blood of Christ, we expect God to serve our needs; we press him into service for at least a mile, but he goes much more than twice that.

In his Body and Blood, Christ suffered murder, so that we— for whose sins he died— could eat and drink his resurrection.

His all is for the glory of his Father and for the everlasting, joyous welfare of humanity.

If we are to be in “Holy Communion” with Christ, then we must risk our all and offer our all to be available to serve the glory of the Father and the authentic welfare of humanity.

Turn. Love. Repeat.

February 18, 2020

Christ Is Too Much and Gives Too Much

Mark 8:14-21, the Gospel at Mass on Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Yesterday in the Gospel, we saw that some group of Pharisees seemed to have missed out on seeing Christ make food come out of thin air for crowds of thousands on two different days.

So those Pharisees argued with him demanding from him a sign from heaven.

He would not do it for them.

He would not do a miracle to slap them into believing.

But in today’s Gospel even his disciples who saw him work the signs from heaven, his disciples did not get what his teaching and wondrous works meant.

Twice they had seen him give crowds of thousands not only ENOUGH food but TOO MUCH.

He wants his disciples to understand the TOO MUCH.

He has them tell from memory just how many baskets of overflowing leftovers they picked up each time he made bread for thousands come out of thin air— come out of heaven.

Those heaps of leftovers were not unforeseen.
Christ knows what he is doing.

What he gives and who he is go far beyond meeting merely our earthly needs.

He knows and will deal with our needs and hardships, our lack of both wisdom and foresight, our woes and wounds.

Yet he wants more than to fill out and fill up earthly well-being.

Christ wants us to open up to something greater than earthly well-being.

Here we are celebrating him in his Eucharist, where he is the Living Bread from Heaven.

He wants us to plan with him on taking from here full basket after full basket of far more than our own earthly worries about ourselves.

Such worries must die with him on the cross if we are to be his disciples.

To live, die, rise and live for the glory of God and for our salvation is the leaven that no number of baskets could begin to hold.

February 11, 2020

Cana and Our Lady of Lourdes

The Massabielle grotto where St. Bernadette saw the Blessed Virgin Mary

John 2:1-11, the Gospel at Mass on the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes

Here in the Gospel, we see Mary the Mother of God stepping in on behalf of poor man and woman.

She tells her Son that man and woman are in need.

Then, she turns to speak on behalf of God as well.

She says to the servants of God:  Do whatever he tells you.

So, her intercession is two-way.

She tells God that man and woman are in need.

She tells us to do whatever God says.

This same work or mission of the Mother of God is present in her three great mystical comings:  at Tepeyac in Mexico, at Lourdes in France, and at Fatima in Portugal.

In all three, she brings again the mission she began at Cana in Galilee.

In all three, she visits human poverty and need as she did at Cana.

In all three, she tells the servants of God to build a church.

We are inside a church building right now.

Here we gather with mindfulness to hear the Gospel of God and to obey it.

As the Mother of God said at Cana:  Do whatever he tells you.

As Christ changed water into wine at Cana, here in his Church he changes wine and bread into his Body and Blood.

At Cana, his glory shows itself to us, because his Mother gave voice to human need and misery, and because she believed in her Son who is God.

He honored his mother, her mind and her love for the poor.

In this way, as the Gospel testifies today, he revealed his glory.

He did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory.

He revealed his glory because his Mother stepped in.

He revealed his glory in changing water into wine.

When his Mother came in mystery to Lourdes, water began to flow there as a sign and instrument of healing might.

There she revealed her spring to St. Bernadette, thus drawing the faith of uncounted pilgrims.

There the pilgrims still meet God the Son of Mary in the sacrament of confession, where he heals them from sin.

At Lourdes, the faithful worship God, and can know the touch of his healing hand in the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

Most especially, the pilgrims at Mary's spring at Lourdes can taste and know the glory of God the Son of Mary in the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ.

Many of the miraculous healings at Lourdes happen through the Eucharist.

Whether with water at Lourdes or water at Cana, the Mother of God directs all her fellow servants to faith in the glory of her Son.

Let us follow her example and believe in the glory of God her Son.

Let us follow her directions to do whatever God her Son tells us.

Let us follower her example by stepping in wherever there is human need.

Let us follow her example and tell the world to do whatever her Son says, for he is God.

February 08, 2020

For the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A, February 9, 2020: Matthew 5:13-16

"The Sermon of the Beatitudes," by J. Tissot. Brooklyn Museum / Public Domain.

Salt brings its own goodness to food, but also helps the goodness food already has.

So it is with the Son of God from all eternity who came in time to be born a man of flesh and blood.

He brought his Godly goodness into our humanity.

In himself, he restored, awakened, and strengthened the human goodness that God gave us in the beginning when he made man and woman.

He rose from the dead as a man, and ascended thus to the heavenly throne, the beginning and fulfillment of humanity’s everlasting glory.

Since he is God and also truly a man, he is the salt of all creation, and can tell his disciples— those who learn from him— that they also “are the salt of the earth.”

Since he is God and man enthroned above, he is the light of the world, and calls his students to be the same.

He does NOT tell us we are salt of HEAVEN, or light of HEAVEN, but salt of the EARTH, and light of the WORLD.

We are to make a difference HERE and NOW.

Nonetheless, once all is said and done, the difference we are to make must in the end rise above, beyond, and hereafter, since he says:
your light must shine before others
that they may see your good deeds

We are here to salt and light the world, but we can do so only if and because we glorify our heavenly Father.

For all eternity before the world or anything else was, the Son of God was utterly for the Father in the oneness of the Holy Spirit.

Before we set out to salt and light up the world, we must receive and carry salt and light from prayer and the worship of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Throughout the testimony of the Gospels, the Lord Jesus is often at prayer in lonely places or the mountains; and on the Sabbath he is always to be found at prayer and worship in the synagogue.

The Church did not go out into the world until the head of the Church, Christ, ascended into the glory of the Father, having commanded the Church to pray for power from on high.

The Church obeyed for ten days of prayer together with Mary the mother of Jesus in the Upper Room that had seen the birth of the Body and Blood of Christ as food and drink, and would then see on Pentecost the public birth of the Body of Christ the Church.

Without having within us the salt and light that come only from prayer and worship that glorify the Father— above all, in the Body and Blood of Christ— we are not the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who tells us today:
But if salt loses its taste,
with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Wild Sheep Do Not Need a Shepherd, but Domestic Sheep Cannot Survive Without One

"Jesus Sits by the Seashore and Preaches," by J. Tissot. Brooklyn Museum / Public Domain.

At Mass on Saturday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Year II of the Weekday Lectionary:  1 Kings 3:4-13 and Mark 6:30-34

In today’s two readings we meet two shepherds.

The first was King Solomon, shepherd of God’s people.

God told him:  Ask something of me and I will give it to you.

Solomon did not ask for riches, long life or the death of his enemies.

He asked for wisdom to serve rightly as the shepherd of God’s people.

In asking for this, Solomon was the opposite of greedy, the opposite of self-centered.

He was poor in spirit.

Rather than enrich himself, he sought to give God’s people the wise shepherd they needed.

In today’s Gospel, we see that God in Christ knew his people needed a shepherd again.

We see Christ in today’s Gospel shepherding first of all his Apostles:  Come away by yourselves ... and rest a while.

Then, a vast crowd rushed out from all the towns to meet Christ.

They were eager for what Christ could do for them.

The Gospel says when he saw them:  his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.

The tame sheep that humans have bred for thousands of years cannot survive without a shepherd.

They do not have the speed or cunning to avoid predators.

They do not distinguish between plants safe to eat and poisonous plants.

Tame sheep need a shepherd.

That is how Christ saw the vast crowd that had rushed out from all the towns to meet him:  his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.

So he himself began to shepherd them— as today’s Gospel says:  he began to teach them many things.

Teach— he gave them wisdom, even as God had given wisdom to Solomon.

In the end, Christ would even give himself as real food to feed these and many more hungry people.

Together with his Apostles and the vast crowd in today’s Gospel, you and I are his sheep.

We are members of the vast crowd that is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church coming out from all the towns of the world to seek out and follow Christ.

His heart is moved with pity for us.

Through his Gospel, his life and deeds, his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension, through his real presence and the Holy Spirit that he breathes upon us:  he teaches us many things.

Here in his Eucharistic Body and Blood, our Shepherd hands over his life for us.

Here in his Eucharistic Body and Blood, God in Christ is poor in spirit, seeking not to enrich his own self, but to be given up and poured out for us and for many.

At the same time, he is also the Risen One, who is forever alive for his sheep.

Without him, we are sheep without a shepherd.

Like the vast crowd in the Gospel today, each of us would do well always to hasten to find Christ.

When we are eager to find Christ, his heart is moved to be a teacher of many things.

We listen, we learn, and we are alive through prayer, where, like the Apostles in today’s Gospel we go to be alone with Christ who said:  Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.

Yet we must also be alive like Christ in having a heart moved with pity for the vast crowd of the world; and with Christ we must teach them many things.

But we must first teach the world with the honest example of our own Solomonic wisdom in truly seeking and following Christ before and above all else.

February 04, 2020

The Power of Our Faith Draws Out the Power in His Touch

"The Daughter of Jairus," by J. Tissot. Brooklyn Museum / Public Domain.

The Gospel at Mass on Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time: Mark 5:21-43.

Even without his choosing to save the woman in the crowd from her long-standing ailment, Christ was already filled with godly power and will to save.

The power of the woman's faith touched God's saving will and power.

The woman who got herself healed thought the power was all in Christ.

However, it was not Christ who chose to reach out and touch her.

He did not know she was reaching out to touch his clothing from behind him.

He knew at once that power had gone out from him, but he also knew it was because power had gone out from the woman, the power of her faith.

He said to her, "Daughter, YOUR FAITH has saved you."

While he was still speaking, the message came that the daughter of Jairus had died.

Christ straightaway asked Jairus for the power of faith: Do not be afraid; just have FAITH.

Jairus, wielding the power of his own faith, went to his dead daughter with Christ.

Going with Jairus, Christ wielded the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord the Giver of Life.

Armed with both the faith of Jairus and the power of the Holy Spirit, the will, the voice and the hand of Christ brought the dead girl back to life.

The faith of Jairus made Jairus into a sign and instrument of the heavenly Father for his earthly daughter.

By the will of the heavenly Father with the willing faith of Jairus the earthly father, and by the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ gave back life to the dead girl.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit-- the saving fullness of God is at the disposal of the faith of earthly men and women.

Here in our celebration of the Gospel and the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ, the fullness of God-- Father, Son and Holy Spirit-- the saving fullness of God is at our disposal.

Here through the Gospel and the Eucharist, God tells us what he told the dead girl: I say to you, arise!

What answer, what life-giving obedience will we let our lives give to the Lord's saving power?

The power of faith is in our hands.