Hear the word of the LORD, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! … Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim…
Is 1:10, 15b-17a
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, quoting St. Bernard, that the Bible is “not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living” (108).
The Letter to the Hebrews says, “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow…” (4:12).
Yes, the Word is alive. Isaiah’s admonition certainly applied to the Chosen People of his day who had gone astray and were under grave threat from Assyrian aggression.
Just so, the prophet’s message applies to the world today — in spades. We have the benefit of the coming of the Messiah, yet the sins of the world multiply such that even the most decadent citizens of the two infamous cities of the Old Testament mentioned above would blush.
Consider what Jesus had to say about those places that rejected His message:
Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
First, we must pray for conversion of hearts, starting with our own. And then pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit who, we are promised, will not abandon us in times of trouble:
When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say.
For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.
As the song says, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” What (who!) is love? God. And God is truth. And God is life. These are inseparable. And pastoral. A culture of hate, relativism, and death, needs the Lord as much as ever. May we never shy away from being the instruments, the messengers (apostoloi), that our Christian baptism calls us to be. In this challenging calling, we can be heartened to know Christ is with us, leading the way by word and example (from today’s Gospel):
[W]hoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
NO APOLOGIES FOR MARY
But apologetics, for sure. This conversation between Matt Fradd and Tim Staples regarding the four Marian dogmas was providentially recommended by YouTube. I thought I knew a good bit about biblical defenses for the Marian dogmas, but Mr. Staples had me exclaiming “Wow! I never heard that before!” multiple times. I urge you to check out the video. Absolutely rock solid and worthy of hearing, studying, and passing along to friends, doubters or not. It also inspired me to order his book.
By the way, Matt Fradd and Trent Horn should be subscribed to by every Catholic who enjoys podcasts and YouTube and wants to grow in faith and knowledge. These men are doing yeoman’s work in the fields of our Lord.
Bishop Barron once again knocks it out of the park with an angle on the Good Samaritan story I’ll bet you never heard. He is a master at opening new horizons on familiar Bible passages. Word on Fire, his ministry, is another one to subscribe to.
Also, his books of sermons are worthy reading, including his latest, already in my library, and available cheap.
Today’s Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary always follows the day after the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Just as it was particularly fitting that the Solemnity fall on a Friday, the day Jesus heart was pierced, so it is fitting that this special Marian feast fall on Mary’s special day, Saturday, in which her own pierced heart was united to her Son in His tomb. A good day to thank Our Lady for her provident care and intercession as we rejoice in life’s victorious battle yesterday. Let’s pray together here.
This prayer of gratitude honors many aspects of the Blessed Mother’s life. To ponder her life as portrayed in the Gospels, anticipated in the Old Testament, and what happened after her Dormition, check out this excellent comprehensive list of Scripture passages having to do with her. Another opportunity for a wonderful Bible study and contemplation.
Although it is an open theological question as to whether or not Mary died, I favor the idea that she would have given up her spirit just as her Son did. And like Him, she would have gotten it back in short order. It would not have been appropriate for that immaculate heart, so burning with love and compassion for us, would be stopped for long.
MOMS IN NEED
This is a time for great joy for all those who have bemoaned the federal legalization of abortion in our land and have worked, prayed, and donated to see it come to an end. Yet, the work continues in earnest. Certainly, at a state level, to make it illegal everywhere. But this will only come when hearts of stone become hearts of flesh and a Culture of Life, from conception until natural death, reigns supreme. We continue to work and pray for that.
Imperative, as well, is to even more earnestly demonstrably put the lie to the calumny that those in the pro-life cause care nothing about moms, children, and families once birth occurs. Prayer and fasting always, of course, as well as being a listening ear and an encouraging voice. But we must lobby even more strenuously for state assistance to crisis pregnancy centers, adoption programs, employment assistance, and other resources to assist the families that chose life, to live with dignity and the opportunity to have a full and fulfilling life. Any money that was going to Planned Parenthood and other despicable organizations must be transferred to entities that serve to build up families.
In addition, and in fact primarily, it is up to us individually to support this cause through volunteer efforts, donations of goods, and financial support. If you have not made it a regular practice to materially support pro-life causes, begin now! We Catholics must talk the talk AND walk the walk. This is true accompaniment.
Not infrequently, I have recommended an easy and fruitful way to study the Bible that along the way gives one much spiritual benefit and food for thought. This particular method simply consists of finding all instances in the pages of Scripture of a key word and meditating upon those that most strike the reader. Today being the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I looked for “heart” in the Gospels on my favorite Bible website to undertake such an endeavor (I narrowed it down to the evangelists because all of Holy Writ has the word 825 times, not counting instances of “hearts,” but you, dear reader, are welcome to go to town with the whole batch). Following are the instances I found most valuable:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt 5:8)
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Mt 6:21)
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Mt 11:29)
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me (Mt 15:8)
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. (Mt 15:18-19)
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37)
Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. (Mk 11:23)
But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Lk 2:19)
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Lk 6:45)
And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (Lk 24:25)
He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” (Jn 7:38)
And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him (Jn 13:2)
Jesus spoke often of the heart. The disposition of one’s heart says much about the person. Is it pure or does it breed sin? Does it treasure good or evil, God or the world? Do we use it for pondering holy things or is it cluttered with mundane concerns? Do we allow access to it to the Lord or Satan?
Most instructive is the one instance when Jesus speaks of His own sacred heart that is “gentle and lowly.” Humility has been called the “gem casket of all virtues.” With meekness in place, acknowledging God is God, we are not, and all good things come from Him, we protect and develop (through grace) all other virtues. Jesus was God yet He did not regard equality with God something to be grasped (Phil 2:6). If the Second Person of the Trinity does it and shows us the way, how much more obligated are we to have humility of heart?
The second last quote above ties in in a special way with today’s celebration. The “rivers of living water” should remind us of Jesus on the cross. Already dead, the Lord still had more to give in this final indignity — every last drop of fluid in His Body:
But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.
Traditionally, this has been seen as the beginning of the Church. The blood and water representing the two great Sacraments of Initiation, the Eucharist and Baptism. Jesus truly and completely emptied Himself on Calvary: His life given up, His closest collaborators scattered, His clothes given away, His tomb borrowed. Yet, in doing so He gave us everything and promised to be with us always through His Church and in a special way through the Eucharist.
ANOTHER GOOD FRIDAY
It is particularly fitting that on Friday, June 24th, the horrendous federal “right” to kill humans in the womb was struck down after nearly fifty years (NCRegister has done a fine job of covering it). Let us say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for this breakthrough and for all the souls, living and dead, who were so instrumental in fighting the good fight. This is another Friday we can call good. Jesus died on a Friday with His Sacred Heart pierced on that day that we commemorate yearly eight days after Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ). In addition, we celebrate John the Baptist’s birth on this day — he who leaped in the womb at newly pregnant Mary’s arrival, who prepared the way for his cousin’ public ministry, and who was murdered confronting sinful and corrupt authority. He acknowledged Jesus in the womb, spoke boldly of Him in his ministry whatever the cost, and died upholding his convictions.
Jesus and John are splendid examples for us in these days filled with pride and lies. Emulating them, this is no time to be a shrinking violet. It is also no time to remain on the fence. Is Jesus the Lord over all aspects of our lives or not? No compromises on the Truth (no “my” truth and “your” truth). Pray, fast, and be bold in your Catholic faith! Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour (I Pt 5:8). I certainly don’t attribute all sin and vice to the evil one (original sin and its effects continues to do plenty of damage), but abortion is straight from hell. So far, Satan has had it pretty easy on this issue. And there is still plenty of work to be done state by state. But wait for him now to unleash his fury through his minions. We have already had a taste of it, but, sorry to say, we have not seen anything yet. That rat is being pushed into a corner and he will come out rabidly. Stay strong, have the courage of your convictions, and have no fear. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. (Mt 10:28).
One last very important point. The Eucharist was so important to Jesus that He was willing to lose every last follower to its reality (see John 6). Also, He spent the last hours before His arrest instituting the Eucharist and the priesthood that was to continue to provide this sacred banquet till the end of the age. Lastly, as already mentioned, He gave the last drop of His blood to seal the deal (so to speak).
Certain Catholic politicians (and many others, frankly) have put their souls in mortal danger, and scandalized scores of others, by their words and actions in many areas of morality, but particularly regarding their defense and promotion of abortion (see the two most prominent leaders todayhere and here if you can stomach it). I pray for the president daily and Abp. Cordileone has done well in leading a prayer crusade for Madam Speaker. Until they convert, though, all bishops must follow Cordileone’s lead in banning these two, and others who are similarly outspoken in this evil matter, from receiving Communion. If they cannot find reason or courage to do so, then they should simply resign to a hidden life of prayer and penance. Our shepherds must emulate the Good Shepherd or clear the way for those who are willing to do the challenging work of the Lord.
Today is traditionally the day that Corpus Christi, The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, was celebrated. Unfortunately, in my view, it has been moved to Sunday (it deserves its own special day). Nevertheless, today’s Gospel reading (Mt 6:7-15) provides a particular insight to the Catholic understanding of the Blessed Sacrament. It also reinforces the importance of a directive of Christ that most of us have become too familiar with, the Lord’s Prayer. And within that entreaty, an emphasis on what I would argue is its most challenging petition.
There is a particularly unusual wording in the Our Father that I would wager has not been considered by just about everyone who has recited this prayer innumerable times. That is,
Give us this day our daily bread
“Day” and “daily”? Why not just say, “Give us bread/food today”? Why this strange repetition?
“Daily” (epiousios) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Taken in a temporal sense, this word is a pedagogical repetition of “this day,” to confirm us in trust “without reservation.” Taken in the qualitative sense, it signifies what is necessary for life, and more broadly every good thing sufficient for subsistence. Taken literally (epi-ousios: “super-essential”), it refers directly to the Bread of Life, the Body of Christ, the “medicine of immortality,” without which we have no life within us. Finally in this connection, its heavenly meaning is evident: “this day” is the Day of the Lord, the day of the feast of the kingdom, anticipated in the Eucharist that is already the foretaste of the kingdom to come. For this reason it is fitting for the Eucharistic liturgy to be celebrated each day.
The Eucharist is our daily bread. The power belonging to this divine food makes it a bond of union. Its effect is then understood as unity, so that, gathered into his Body and made members of him, we may become what we receive. . . . This also is our daily bread: the readings you hear each day in church and the hymns you hear and sing. All these are necessities for our pilgrimage.
The Father in heaven urges us, as children of heaven, to ask for the bread of heaven. [Christ] himself is the bread who, sown in the Virgin, raised up in the flesh, kneaded in the Passion, baked in the oven of the tomb, reserved in churches, brought to altars, furnishes the faithful each day with food from heaven.
So every Catholic, every Christian, that says this prayer is asking for this “supersubstantial bread.” Remember these words of Jesus during the Bread of Life discourse:
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
A few moments after Jesus gave this teaching nearly all His followers left Him. This is how important the great gift of the Eucharist is. And why we should want everyone to be Catholic.
It is at Mass that we receive this transubstantiated bread, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. We are blessed if we can go each day to Mass. But if it is not possible, let us at least say the following prayer on those days that we cannot attend the Holy Sacrifice:
My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.
This Gospel passage gives us the one instance in which Jesus tells us how to pray. Pretty important, don’t you think, since it comes from our Savior’s own lips? Certainly required recitation at least daily. But let me encourage you to pray it more frequently than once a day. Add it to other formal prayers, when praying for a special intention, and as an “introduction” to any conversation with God.
The Lord’s Prayer has been broken down into seven petitions. Much fruitful time can be spent just focusing on one of these petitions. Meditate on it. Consider how it is playing out in your life. How can you better fulfill the requirements of the petition on your end?
In fact, you can work through this prayer nearly word-by-word in this fashion. Start with “Our.” Yes, the prayer is often said in groups, but Jesus’ instruction is for anyone saying the prayer, with others, or alone. So, no matter the setting, each of us individually is in this together with all other Christians. Even that fellow who despises you. Even the relative to whom you haven’t spoken in years over a dispute the cause of which may have faded in the mists of time. And, yes, even the C & E (Christmas and Easter) Catholic standing in the back of the church, looking a bit confused, on those two holiest of days. How are we honoring our common Father in the way we behave toward each other?
It has long struck me, quite uncomfortably I must admit as I consider my own disposition at times, that Jesus feels the need to repeat and expand upon one of the petitions after concluding the prayer:
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.
It’s as if the Lord is saying, “I know this is a tough one, but I really mean it.” This should send a shiver down our collective spines. Consider this in light of all the other petitions in this prayer. Can we legitimately ask for all the rest if we don’t fulfill this one?
For everything else this prayer is, it is also a fine examination of conscience.
Our blessed Lord knew what He was doing.
I get annoyed when common words are appropriated for immoral causes. Can anyone say “partner” or “choice” or “transition” anymore without qualifying it?
In case you just came out of a coma, you are likely aware that this is “Pride” month. This is one term I don’t mind giving up, though,.per just a few examples from Scripture:
In the pride of his countenance the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.” (Ps 10:4)
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov 16:18)
I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant, and lay low the haughtiness of the ruthless. (Isa 13:11)
Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride (Ezek 16:56)
For in pride there is ruin and great confusion (Tob 4:13)
The beginning of man’s pride is to depart from the Lord; his heart has forsaken his Maker. (Sir 10:12)
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. (Mk 7:21-22)
Instead, let us follow St. Paul’s lead:
[M]ay I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ
Let everyone embrace humility in order to emulate God and be an example to the world. Starting with me.
Summer vacation is here, so the move is already under way to devour a bunch of books before school begins again.
Since my last post, I can recommend several books since completed:
Jesus, The New Elijahby Paul Hinnebusch: You’ll never look at Elijah or Jesus the same way again; a treasure from the 70’s worth finding.
Walking with Maryby Edward Sri: Fantastic journey through the Gospels with Mary and a fine guide whose insights will make you love Our Lady all the more; an excellent book for a Protestant friend who loves Scripture and may learn to appreciate Jesus’ mom much more.
Calming the Storm by Fr. Gerald Murray: I’ve followed this priest for years on EWTN; his calm, clear, and measured evaluation of the current state of affairs in the Church and the world are needed in this time of confusion.
The Navarre Bible: I’ve worked through all the Gospels in this series with its phenomenal commentary rich in spiritual insights.
I’m so glad that today’s first reading (Acts 2:14, 22-33) immediately jumps to Pentecost after yesterday’s joy-filled Resurrection. As astounded as the apostles were to see Jesus alive and in the flesh after abandoning him during the Passion (although John hung around and ultimately was found at the foot of the Cross), it wasn’t until the Holy Spirit was sent to them that they finally could confidently and fearlessly exclaim “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses” (v. 32).
It is sometimes said that the Holy Spirit is the “forgotten” or “neglected” person of the Trinity. Maybe it’s because He is not as easy to personalize as the Father and the Son. After all, a dove, or fire, or wind, as Scripture variously describes the Spirit, are admittedly challenging to relate to. Or maybe, because He is not quoted in Scripture, we don’t feel so connected with Him. But, Luke makes it plain through Jesus’ own words (see Lk 24:49 and Acts 1:4 not to mention repeatedly in John 14-16 – see here for a splendid overview of the Spirit in the Gospels) and the non-action of the Lord’s closest disciples for fifty days after Jesus’ rising, that the Holy Spirit was indispensable to them and is indispensable to us.
“We are witnesses,” Peter exclaims to the crowd after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Well, where were they the past seven weeks? Mainly in hiding or going back to their old jobs. Don’t you think they might have immediately been just a wee bit more enthusiastic to get the word out about the extraordinary (this seems to tame a word) event that brought their Master back to them? Wasn’t Christ’s appearance enough?
This is why, although we are Christians, we are not Christarians. We are Trinitarians. God, from all eternity, is three Persons. We need all three, must call on all three, and worship Him in all three. Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. It is a great mystery, “the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234). We will never get our minds around it (those great intellects who have attempted know better than to think they could; see St. Augustine and also here for a digestible primer), although I pray that all of us reading this will spend all eternity contemplating it and diving into its unfathomable depths.
The slogan, “We are Witnesses” has been used secularly to highlight important matters and to sell shoes. Regardless, are we witnesses in word and deed to what should be most important to us as Christians — our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Without the Holy Spirit we cannot be, at least not with power. Let us not forget or neglect the Spirit of Truth who, in our witness, “will teach you at that moment what you should say” (Lk 12:12).
Come Holy Spirit into our broken lives and broken world!
Easter Monday is a holiday in many countries. We don’t want Easter to end yet, anyway, so we! Check out this review of yesterday’s readings from Hahn and Bergsma.
I was eager to finally get into the second volume of Peter Seewald’s massive and definitive biography of Benedict XVI. I began this volume on the pope’s birthday a couple of days ago and have made it to page 88 (of 539). Maybe it’s the nerd in me, but I find it hard to put down. More so, I suspect my eagerness to devour this work is due to my reverence for the man. He is simply amazing. Astounding intellectual gifts and complete faithfulness to the Lord and His Church wrapped in a simplicity and humility that is a shining example for the rest of us who don’t approach his erudition or sanctity.
LENT NEVER ENDS
From time to time, I have incorporated certain Lenten practices year-round. Many years ago that was to not eat meat on any Friday throughout the year (setting aside Friday has never gone away). Later I extended that to Wednesdays. I treat these days each week as if were a Friday in Lent — so, aside from going meatless, any other practices I take up during Lent I apply to those two days a week for all fifty-two weeks of the year.
I challenge you to take at least one thing you did special during Lent and continue it for the rest of your life. We know the power of abstinence and fasting: and that is detachment from material goods to make us more open to spiritual goods. This is only day one post-Easter so consider beginning today for the good of your soul and the good of the world.
With Our Lord in the tomb, and everyone (save His mother, no doubt) believing this to be His permanent residence, I am reminded of Jesus’ own words to another group mourning the death of a loved one:
The girl is not dead but sleeping.
And another time with threats all around Him:
I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
Jesus was ridiculed for the first statement and nearly stoned to death shortly after exclaiming the second. Just these two instances, never mind the many other raisings, healings, and exorcisms recorded (plus the undoubtedly countless that were not), in addition to the many proclamations of His ultimate fate from His own lips, should have been more than enough to make Jesus’ closest collaborators wait joyfully for their Master’s imminent return after His ignominious death.
Yet, we only see fear and cowardice from the apostles and mourning from the women coming to the tomb. Were they not paying attention all those days and nights with him week in and week out for three years? After escaping death several times, did they think He just ran out of luck? No miracles left in His repertoire?
Nevertheless, Jesus was pretty busy in those thirty-six hours or so in the tomb. We confess in the Apostles Creed that “He descended into Hell.” I encourage you to read the seven short paragraphs in the Catechism on this matter and to look up all the Bible passages referenced therein to realize the biblical warrant for this claim. These are not found directly in the Passion narratives, but elsewhere. The most prominent:
What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended into the lower [regions] of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
Jesus had a human soul and thus, as is the way for all of us eventually, when He breathed His last that soul left His Body and went to the abode of the dead (Sheol, not the hell of the damned). There He proclaimed the good news to all the saints that came before and freed them for heaven.
In His life, His ministry, His suffering, and even His death, Jesus would not be deterred in the mission given to Him by the Father. Eventually, the apostles and many other followers of His day and all the days up to the present, through the power of the Holy Spirit, were to courageously follow in His footsteps. Let us be counted in that number who stayed faithful until the end.
It is good to make Holy Saturday a day of increased silence, remembering Jesus’ entombment two thousand years ago and ours yet to come. Jesus was prepared, so must we be. Meanwhile, will we live and preach the Gospel “in season and out” until our dying breath as Our Savior did? Will even our time in the grave be used to help others to eternal bliss? Let us have the attitude of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower:
I wish to spend my heaven in doing good upon the earth.
(And, I would add, any time in purgatory as well.)
BENEDICT AT 95
Pope Emeritus Benedict continues to break records as he today achieved 95 full years on earth, longer than any other pope. In 1927, April 16 also fell on the day after Good Friday. He writes:
To be sure, it was not Easter Sunday but Holy Saturday, but, the more I reflect on it, the more this seems fitting for the nature of our human life: we are still awaiting Easter; we are not yet standing in the full light but walking toward it full of trust.
Joseph cardinal Ratzinger. Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1977), 8.
This great man is now very frail, and I suspect he will not have to wait long to “stand in the full light.” But as long as the good Lord wills to leave him with us, we will be happy to have him.
Do yourself a favor and read about his life (the new two volume tome [one and two] is magnificent) and read his work, most popular among the myriad titles being the Jesus of Nazareth trilogy he wrote while occupying the chair of Peter.
While you’re waiting for those books, check out this fine article from today on Benedict and the pope emeritus’s own reflections on Holy Saturday.
ODDS AND ENDS
A heart-wrenching story told splendidly by a woman born in the 1880’s about a woman she knew born near the turn of the 19th century. Worth twenty minutes of your time, particularly in our cancel culture.
In pondering the Passion Narrative and listening to some reflections on it, what came to mind for special consideration is Mary’s attitude at the Cross. Her whole life, her whole raison d’etre, from an eternal perspective, was leading to this event. Jesus’ mother spent an entire lifetime pondering her God (it certainly did not begin with her encounter with an angel). Scripture tells us explicitly of this in two places: at the Annunciation (“she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” — Lk 1:29) and during the Finding in the Temple (“his mother kept all these things in her heart” — Lk 2:51b). She also knew, from blessed Simeon, that she would be well-acquainted with suffering (“and you yourself a sword will pierce” — Lk 2:35a). Whatever she thought of precisely the way the last thirty-four years of her life unfolded, her disposition at the foot of her Son’s altar of sacrifice (sadness, silence, resignation) indicate that her Fiat to the Archangel Gabriel remained in effect, as it had been all her days: “Let it be done to me according to your word,” Lord.
In fact, the Theotokos, the Christ-bearer, would no doubt have had it, if the Father would allow it, to let it be done to her instead of to the Word. Like any good mother, not content to just be present for her child, she would have desired to, empathetically. take it all upon herself — to bear His pain just as she bore Him. The great mystics tell us that, in fact, she did experience in her person all the suffering of her Son. We know that certain personages throughout history have experienced interiorly (and some exteriorly) the Passion of Christ — so why not the one who gave flesh to the God-Man?
In all this, she becomes a model for all ages. She anticipates Paul’s words,
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking* in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church
Except she was there, at least according to some, at the institution of the Church, as she saw and felt the lance pierce Christ’s side issuing the Blood of the Eucharist and the waters of Baptism.
A frequent prayer of mine is that all will come to know Jesus Christ more intimately in illness and suffering and that — since it must be endured in any case — none of it will go to waste. Let us all lift up that petition so that in any current and/or future distress, this disposition will be ours. This will help to assure us that, having passed through this valley of tears well, we can look forward to the day when “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Rev 21:4)
GOOD GOOD FRIDAY MEDITATIONS
The always superb Bishop Barron recorded a Stations of the Cross three years back. It runs nearly an hour, but it is worth your prayerful and attentive listening: https://youtu.be/pJNjtA-Awb4
This article on Jesus’ suffering, considered from a medical perspective, with the author of a recent book (definitive and highly recommended by me as it was last year’s Lenten reading) on the subject is fruit for contemplation on the horror of Jesus’ Passion, and thus the horror of sin and its effects.
A CURE FOR OUR ILLS
It was a blessing that my parish offered quite a number of opportunities for Confession the last few days. I was finally able to complete my First Saturday devotion just two days ago (it’s complicated). Lines were very long for our two priests (beautiful!). Wonderfully, as well, there was Eucharistic Adoration going on simultaneously with Confession. I do not recall experiencing that before — during Mass, yes, but not with Jesus exposed in a monstrance.
Upon doing my penance prayers on my knees, it struck me that what the world needs now as much as ever is encompassed in the scene before me. Jesus, contrition, penance, reparation, reconciliation — and mercy. The Real Presence needs to be proclaimed and upheld with a renewed fervor. My annoyance (to put it mildly) with those “Reformers” who separated Christians from this fount of life a half a millennium and more ago, with those Catholics who don’t believe that “This is my Body…This is my Blood,” and the scandal of Catholics not living up to their calling (this is where I come in) was impressed on me deeply in this moment.
Let us pray more fervently than ever that Jesus will become much more widely known in the gift of the Eucharist and that we will take seriously this admonition of our Lord:
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. (Mt 26:51)
One of the bystanders drew his sword, struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear. (Mk 14:47)
And one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said in reply, “Stop, no more of this!” Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him. (Lk 22:50-51)
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. (Jn 18:10)
Each Gospel mentions Malchus, albeit briefly. Only John spills the beans on who committed the act and who the victim was. Only Luke (why only the good doctor, I wonder) mentions Jesus healing the casualty of Peter’s apparently haphazard attempt at defense of his Lord.
I’m endlessly fascinated with characters introduced in the Gospels in one episode never to be heard from again. Thing of Simeon, Anna, the widow dropping her last pennies in the temple treasury, the rich young man, the Samaritan cured of leprosy, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Simon of Cyrene … I could go on and on. Whatever happened to them? How did their encounter with Jesus change their lives? If they were around and heard of Jesus’ death (and Resurrection) what did they make of it all? Even though we will likely not know the answers this side of eternity, such reflection and meditation can be a worthwhile endeavor.
When the person with the cameo in Scripture is named, it is usually presumed that the reason for identification is that that person was well-known to the Christian community being exposed to the evangelists’ writings and maybe even a leader in one of those communities. Was this the case with Malchus? We don’t know. But it is not difficult to imagine this was a life-changing event for this slave of the high priest Caiaphas. Some questions to consider surrounding the incident and its recent aftermath:
What was Malchus’s disposition coming into the Garden of Gethsemane? Did he know of Jesus? If so, even though he was following orders, did he believe it was just to arrest Him? Was the slave surprised by the attack on him and did he try to defend himself? What was his reaction to the healing? Did he make others aware of it? Did he try to defend Jesus or at least question the whole process? Did he stay on the scene and go with the captive Jesus as He was marched out of the garden? What was his involvement in the subsequent trials and the Way of the Cross? What did he think of Jesus’ death and stories of His Resurrection?
Again, we don’t know any of this. I would hope that he would immediately have made others aware of the miracle (after all, it would be quite difficult not to acknowledge the pain of the attack and the shock of the healing, although we can imagine there was quite a tumult at that moment), but that would have required more than a bit of courage with this mob thirsting for blood. I would guess that at least some of them would have witnessed past miracles Jesus performed so maybe they would have not been very moved by the most recent one. But, whatever Malchus did or did not do that fateful evening or the following day, I believe it is a good bet that he eventually grew bold in sharing his unique story as a follower of “the way.” He would have been one of many eyewitnesses (consider my partial list above) who certainly would have been “celebrities” (so to speak) in those early gatherings of Christians, asking to repeat endlessly his encounter with Christ and undoubtedly never tiring to relate his story.
We also must not fail to consider Jesus’ lesson for us at the beginning of these events and all the way to the cross and beyond. He always focused on others, even though we weak and fallen humans would not blame Him if he were self-absorbed as this unjust arrest and subsequent farcical trials unfolded. He heals an aggressor, He focuses on the crying women on the way to Calvary, he acknowledges the “good thief” on the cross next to Him and ushers him t heaven, he forgives his tormentors, he takes care of the future needs of His mother. All this done in humility. What a (difficult) example to follow, but one we must strive to emulate.
Before going any further, listen to Bp. Barron’s Sunday Sermon (14 minutes) (find out more here). They are always excellent, but today’s entry is one of his best. One of his many gifts is the ability to help the listener see things in a new light or make apparent angles that were obscured (to me, at least). It is these new insights that prompted me to take time out of a busy day to build on, or at least explore tangents of, his thoughts. I am blessed to have fine homilists at my parish, but still listen to Bp. Barron nearly every week. If you are not as blessed, or are unmoved or even dismayed by what you here at your church, consider Bp. Barron your lifeline on the drive home.
First we hear the call of Isaiah (6:1-2a, 3-8) “a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” I am reminded of two New Testament passages:
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.
For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus…
I provide the first quote, because Isaiah is totally on board with this teaching since he acknowledges his own sinfulness first. But then, per the second passage, he recognizes the sinfulness of the people (particularly egregious in his time, as we know, since he expends considerable effort in his writings rebuking and warning the Chosen People of the disaster to come because of their waywardness). (I will say, we give that generation a run for its money today.) But then, notice how easily his sin is removed. That burning ember is the fire of God’s love, received by us through grace, making us able, according to our openness to it, to be sent (i.e., apostles), giving us the ability to say, “Here I am…send me!” The world would be transformed in an instant if every professed Christian imitated the prophet.
And for anyone who dares think he is not fit to be an apostle, Paul, in the second reading (1 Cor 15:1-11), disabuses such a person of that notion:
For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
1 Cor 15:9-10a
“Everything is a grace” (St. Therese of Lisieux in “Her Last Conversations”).
Now to the Gospel (Lk 5:1-11). Bp. Barron, in his homily, is masterful in speaking of the lordship of Christ, getting into the boat uninvited and ordering around Peter, the master fisherman. Jesus takes the initiative, the men in the boat are compliant, they receive a material reward (a great catch of fish), and the grace to leave everything on the spot to follow the Lord.
It was Bp. Barron, speaking about allowing Jesus into our “boat,” that got me going on a different, but related, tack. That is, is there room in our boat, in our lives, for the Son of God? Or is the boat so full of earthly cares, anxieties, material things that Jesus could not even get a toehold? Are we sinking into the abyss of the world, drowning with lots of “stuff,” while our Savior can only look on from afar due to our being distracted, or worse, inordinately attached, to these non-essentials?
Is there a dumber expression than “He who dies with the most toys, wins”? Life is not a game. It is our chance to merit eternal life through God’s grace which allows us to have faith working in love. What we do here in this short life, this mortal coil, determines our fate in the next life.
So, it is time to unload our boat of the accumulated material and immaterial junk of our lives. What do sailors due when a boat has taken on too much weight and is sinking? They throw non-essentials overboard. In desperation, they may even toss beyond the rail what seem to be essentials. But what good are the latter when one’s very life is in the balance?
This is to be our attitude. Casting Christ aside puts one’s very life in jeopardy. there is no finer time than today to reassess our priorities, clear out the clutter, and invite Jesus into our boat. Like with Peter, the Lord takes the initiative. But will He find an honored place in our barque? Look to the Barque of Peter, for guidance.
I was thrilled to discover that the prolific writer, Mike Aquilina, has just come out with another book, How the Fathers Read the Bible. It sits on my desk, waiting for a little break to be consumed ravenously. I have read many of his books, but this one, based on the title alone, looks to be one of his most important works. Retrieving these early Church Fathers (through about A.D. 800) and making evident their relevance today, particularly in Scripture study, is a noble and worthwhile task. How better to read the Bible from the heart of the Church than to go back to those men much closer than we are to the time of Christ and the apostles.
If you have read Mike already, you have a good idea what you are in for (a very accessible, lively, and interesting work, filled with interesting people and places). If you have not yet had the pleasure of a romp, and you love the word of God, I can’t think of a better place to start.
I polished off forty-five books cover-to-cover, including two that I wrapped-up today, during this past year (there were three others completed that were started in 2020, as well, while I have one started this year that will be completed in 2022).
I read many fine books over the course of 2021, but picked nine that I would like to especially recommend, in no particular order (you can ready my reviews on Goodreads here):
St. Dominic’s Way of Life: A Path to Knowing and Loving God by Patrick Mary Briscoe OP and Jacob Bertrand Janczyk OP (Amazon)