Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

“Call your mother.”

Sometimes we need a subtle – or not so subtle – reminder to reach out, to make an effort and contact those in our lives who have had an impact, an influence and been a support as we have grown and developed. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in motherhood.

We have all sorts of reminders during this month of May. On the secular front, we observe Mother’s Day on May 9th this year; the Church traditionally sets aside the month of May to honour Mary (particularly with devotional practices such as communal recitation of the rosary and other Marian prayers). This month is a time of new birth and growth in the natural world of the northern hemisphere. It all points us toward the crucial role of motherhood – of participation in creation, salvation and development.

With the exception of marketing to promote sales and services for a particular ‘occasion’, our culture increasingly diminishes the intrinsic value that motherhood has, simply by its existence. Our Creator invites us as humans to participate in continuing His divine act of loving each of us into existence; mothers, intimately connected to this ongoing creative process surrender their own selves to bring another into the world. They are called (and it is a calling, a true vocation – not just circumstances or a coincidence) to nurture, to care for, to raise and support the child that they have been graced with. In our faith, mothers have a key role in raising their children (as the baptism ritual notes) according to the Gospel, to love God and to love their neighbour as themselves as Christ commanded.

Yet, we now live in a world and society where the blessing and gift of motherhood is often looked upon as a curse, or a burden. The siren call of this culture says that children prevent women from achieving their own full potential, their own desires and ambitions, their own comforts. Even more recently there is a movement in certain ‘politically correct’ circles to reduce the gift of motherhood simply to a bodily function devoid of the respect due to women who answer and fulfil this vocational calling that is key to our very existence and our relationship with our Creator.

True, in the circumstances leading to birth, a woman has to adapt, alter her plans and lifestyle and set aside certain activities and wants in the moment; but doesn’t that happen every time any person desires to move towards something that is truly life-giving and positive in their lives?

In today’s Gospel passage from St. John, Jesus speaks at the last supper to his disciples about what true love is. It is not an emotion, a ‘feeling’, or simply a physical act. Love is deliberately and intentionally wishing for and working for the good of the ‘other’.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this; than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

There is no more direct or poignant way to describe the true essence of motherhood than that. Mothers surrender much in order to see the light of life and love in their own child’s eyes. They suffer for their children, rejoice for their children, and delight in their children.

So whether your thoughts this weekend wander to the Blessed Virgin Mary as our spiritual mother, offer a prayer. If your mother is no longer living among us, offer a prayer and a word to her. If your mother is still on this earth, pick up your technology of choice and reach out, if you are not able to physically be with her.

Either way;

Call your mother.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Springtime is a time for preparing and dressing and pruning vines and other plants.  Sometimes we enjoy this work – sometimes not so much.  But this season gives a graphic example, at least for gardeners particularly, of the meaning of the teaching of Jesus in today’s message from the gospel of St. John; the dead, disconnected growth that will not bear fruit or flowers is cut away and discarded.  The main healthy branches are left to receive even more of the life-giving energy that comes from the main vine.  We can look at the ‘pruning’ analogy that Jesus gives in the Gospel in two ways; one way would be God pruning the branches that bear fruit; that they will bear still more fruit; generosity of spirit, joy, peace, love for God and others.

A second way of looking at the ‘pruning analogy’, is that we too have to trim our own branches in our faith lives; if there is an activity or something that we know prevents us from growing closer to God; if there is a choice we make that we know is contrary to the commandments or the teachings of the Church, we need to remove those things, to prune them off, in our own lives. Jesus says He is the True Vine; and reminds us that apart from Him we can do nothing.

St. John writes both our gospel and our second reading from his first letter.  In both, we hear about the desire to remain close to God.  St. John uses the word ‘abide ‘ in both the gospel and his letter;  abiding is much more than just saying we are a part of something, like a member of a group or a club – it means living out what we believe; abiding means to be in a state where our words and actions are influenced by that state of being.

In his first letter, St. John speaks of those who abide in God; that they keep His commandments – and that is how we know we abide in God; by a desire to abide in Him and a desire to keep His commandments. Do we fall short? Most certainly, and in this lifetime, on this earth, there is no one who does not fall short of perfection and total union with God ., and anyone who thinks or says otherwise is deluding themselves… there is only one who is perfect in word, and action and thought, and that is God…the greatest Saints in the Church didn’t think or act or speak as if they had ‘made it’…they lived in humility, recognizing that they too were only human and prone to falling short of complete and total union with God in this life;  that’s what sin is – it’s a falling short in our relationship with God by deliberately putting other things first – things which interfere with our connection with God… …we can strive for the ideal of perfection, but even this striving is inadequate; we can never reach this goal through our own efforts – it is only through the Grace of God that we can come near Him. It is only through God’s reaching out to us, moving us by His Spirit and drawing us closer to Himself through Jesus that we come near Him, it is only when we are ‘connected’ to God that we abide in Him.

Motherhood is a perfect example; think of the pre-born child, from conception through the early stages of pregnancy; the child’s survival depends totally on the mother; life, warmth, nutrition – all is drawn from this growth within and connection to Mom…separated from Mom at this stage, the child has no source of the necessities of physical life. 

During our life on earth, as we grow towards eternity with God and develop our relationship with Him, we are like those children in the womb in a sense; born into this life, born into adopted childhood of God in baptism, but not yet born into eternity; we draw our very life, from God through Jesus; but when we deliberately separate ourselves from God we kill that life within us.  And we can separate ourselves in a whole variety of ways – certainly by our actions and words, but also by our thoughts or even our lack of action; refusing to follow the commands of Jesus to love God above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves; and just like the unborn child in the mother’s womb, if we become disconnected from the one who gives us life, the life of God within us cannot survive. We become like those branches that have been removed from the vine…we wither.

But like the child growing in the womb, or like healthy shoots of a plant, when we remain connected to the vine, the fruit we bear becomes apparent; and not only to ourselves, but to those around us. It is the example in our outward actions and words that will draw others, not to us, but ultimately to Christ, and doing so for the glory of God; a God who loved us into existence and continues to grant us the graces we need to grow ever closer to Him.

To abide in God, we need to constantly remain in contact with God; we do that first of all with prayer; by maintaining and deepening our own prayer lives; we can’t stay connected with someone we love or desire to spend time with if we never talk to them or listen to them, and God is no different.  Connected to God, we can truly live and grow to our full potential as sons and daughters of God – to satisfy our own desire to remain closer to God; to live as branches of  Jesus, the True Vine.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B)

This Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Easter – often called ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ because of the Gospel passage for Mass – also marks the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  It is not by coincidence that these two observances converge.  The theme should be clear enough; God does not abandon His creation.  Salvation history, recorded in the Scriptures, is filled with example after example of God’s presence to His people, culminating in His ‘Coming Among Us’ as one of us – Emmanuel, Jesus.  Jesus who repeatedly instructed His disciples to follow His example – to seek out the lost and bring them back ‘into the fold’; who commanded His followers to minister to others as He had done to them.  That commission continues to this day, and is handed on to each of us who are baptized in the faith. 

While we might be tempted to ‘leave it up to the professionals’ , the truth is that the mission of the Church in continuing Christ’s mission of salvation, is a mission for each one of us.  Yes, we pray for and encourage and support those who discern a call to a vocation to the priesthood, diaconate, or religious life.  Yes we encourage and support those who undertake the various lay ministries within our parishes.  Most importantly, though, and I think sometimes we forget , that the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, of sharing the faith, belongs to all of us.

There is so much to be done in leading and guiding the people of God – every baptized Christian has a role to play in bringing others into this wonderful reunion with God ; from parents, to grandparents, even children – whether we lead others as clergy; as religious; as teachers, in public service, as supervisors in a workplace; as mentors to those less experienced in our trades, wherever and whenever we are in a position of trust and responsibility for others, we are all shepherds and as Catholics we are all responsible for taking up our roles of guiding others , by our word and example, to come to know Christ and enter into a deeper relationship with God.

Even in the midst of a pandemic as we are now, there is nothing truly preventing us from continuing the work of the Good Shepherd.  Yes, we may be limited in our ‘usual way of doing things’, but there are many and varied ways we can continue to reach out to others – especially in this modern world with so many communication technologies available to us.

That no one is left behind, abandoned, or forgotten.  This is the message of our Gospel today, the message of the Good Shepherd.   The voice of the good shepherd is calling to each one of us individually, extending His invitation to follow His lead; so that we may “have life, and have it abundantly”; He calls each of us to draw others to Him – to become part of His body – The Church; as Shepherds after His own example.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Third Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Am I a witness or am I a bystander?

Among the many questions we ask ourselves during our faith journeys, this one is, perhaps, one of the more challenging ones.  Am I a witness or a bystander?

Using a law enforcement analogy might describe the difference a  bit better.  At the scene an accident or a crime, whenever there is a crowd of people around, that crowd can easily be divided into witnesses or bystanders.  Witnesses describe what they have seen, heard or experienced, often in great detail.  Bystanders don’t say anything – they don’t want to get involved.  They don’t offer to help or to provide information that could prove valuable, because it might be inconvenient, or out of fear.  Witnesses give testimony.  They have to stand up and speak the truth.  Bystanders don’t take a stand; sometimes they actually encourage criminal behavior, by ‘cheering on’ a perpetrator, or by their silence.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke picks up the story after two disciples of Jesus report back to the Apostles about meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  It is at this point, that Jesus appears to them; they are in a locked room, yet Jesus appears to them anyway – but this is not some ghostly apparition.  Jesus has real physical substance.  He eats a piece of fish to show them He is as real as they are.  This appearance of Jesus reinforces the true nature of the Son of God.  He is real flesh and blood – true man; but He is much more – He appears in the midst, supernaturally, resurrected from the dead – true God.  St. Luke is reporting, like a witness these two important points, so that there is no confusion.

Jesus is not just another ‘teacher’ in a long list of teachers – He is much, much more.  To claim that Jesus was just a man, as some ‘New Age’ adherents state, is to subscribe to what was basically a heresy in the third century – Arianism – a heresy condemned by the Church in its early history; the claim that Jesus was not God.

Nor was Jesus resurrection a ‘trick of the mind’, or an unreal vision or some kind of metaphor.  He was there to be seen, heard, and touched.

And it is in this resurrected state, that Jesus ‘opens their minds’ to understand all that was written in the Scriptures – that his Passion, Death and Resurrection are the point to which all of the Scriptures, the law and the prophets point.  This is the crowning of all of Salvation history, when human beings, through Jesus’, are to be reunited with God;  that everything Jesus taught and showed them points to how they were meant to live and be.  That repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations in Jesus’ name.

And this is when Jesus tells the disciples “ you are witnesses to this”.  He doesn’t phrase it as a request. He doesn’t offer it as a suggestion. He states it as a fact.

He doesn’t provide them with an option or a qualifier (you can be witnesses to all this if you want to).  He has opened their minds to understand that He is the point of all the Scriptures, and that anyone who has come to know Him, and who would claim the name of Christian, cannot simply fade back into the crowd, into anonymity, becoming ‘bystanders’.

It is not ‘wish’.  It’s really a command.  And it’s a command that continues for all members of the Church, right up to this present moment.

‘You are witnesses to this’.  We are not called to be bystanders, to refuse to ‘get involved’ in the life and mission of the Church.

We are called to be witnesses.  To speak the truth; to give testimony to the Resurrection of Christ and the love of God – to take a stand even if it means taking a risk.

It’s easy enough to determine to ourselves whether we are witnesses or bystanders.

Do we treat others with the respect and dignity that is their inherent right as human beings?  Do we let a culture that is all about self-satisfaction determine our morals?  Or do we rely on the teaching of our faith to stand up to an immoral society?

In meeting the resurrected Christ, the Apostles could not return to ‘business as usual’.  Once Christ opened their minds and their hearts, they could not pretend that life was unchanged for them, or for the world.

Once we ‘know’ something, we can’t ‘un-know’ it.  Once we experience the grace of God and the reality of Christ’s love, we can’t deny it, if we are truly honest with ourselves.

We can’t just be bystanders. 

We are witnesses to this.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Second Sunday of Easter (Year B) Divine Mercy Sunday

One of the things, particularly in our culture, that is most difficult to surrender, is our own ego.  Whether it is larger than life or subtle, we all have our own preconceptions, likes and dislikes, biases and fears.  In spiritual direction, one of the greatest challenges for anyone is to confront their own ego, and seek ways to diminish it, to surrender it, in growing a more profound and deep relationship with God and, by extension, with others. 

For Christians, disciples of Christ, this becomes particularly crucial.  We cannot build up Christ’s Body if we cling to our own ways, thoughts, preconceptions, and refuse to be open to the possibility that God works within the confines of our own daily lives, our own circumstances;  unless we are open to God moving in the most incredible and strange and even bizarre ways that, at times, can challenge everything we have ever thought about ourselves, others and our place in the world as children of God.

In this Sunday’s Gospel passage from St. John, we read the continuing story of the Resurrection of Jesus, with his encounter with his disciples on the evening of that first Easter.

St. Thomas confronts the unimaginable when the disciples on tell him that Jesus has risen from the dead and has appeared to them. He, like the others, has followed Jesus through His public ministry, lived with Him, heard His teaching and watched His miracles – and like the others he ran away and hid when Jesus endured His passion and death. 

But it is in this resurrection moment, when the remaining disciples bear witness to the Risen Christ, that Thomas really struggles.  That flood of what happened over the course of that first Good Friday crashes into that wave of excited news that the other disciples are sharing with Him, and in that moment, it becomes too much for St. Thomas and he retreats back into himself – into his own terms of reference, of what ‘makes sense’ in his own little world; because to accept what the other disciples are saying means to accept that Jesus is much more than a wise teacher, a healer or a prophet.  It means to accept that He is in fact, God Incarnate and with Him, all things are possible.   It also means that His disciples are not only called to accept this reality, but to bear witness to it to others.

Thomas would have to weigh in his own mind what this meant – that he would be expected to go out and tell people that this Jesus was Risen from the Dead; so many questions would come into play – how will people react to that message? How will they respond to me?  Will they call me a liar, a fanatic, crazy?   The temptation to retreat from witnessing to others that message of the first Easter would be incredibly strong, particularly if Thomas was worried about how he would be received.  His own ego would scream out against putting himself in that difficult situation.

And so it can be with us.  We might say we don’t care what people think of us – if they accept us or not, when we proclaim Christ is risen, when we preach the Gospel; but in all of us, the constant struggle is with our own egos, because at some level we all want to be accepted, part of the ‘crowd’, generally liked.  Nothing threatens the ego quite like the demand of the Gospels, particularly the notion of putting God above all else, and loving our neighbours as ourselves, and then being a living witness to the truth of who Jesus really is in our secular world.  Yet in that struggle, we have the calming words of Jesus, recorded for us in this gospel passage from St. John, when he greets those disciples who are amazed, confused and even fearful with the words, “peace be with you”. 

Those words are not only for the disciples two thousand years ago; they are for us here, now, trying to make sense of our own struggles and trials as we continue our own journeys of faith; but in the infinite mercy and love of God we don’t continue this journey alone. We have our brothers and sisters in faith. We have our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ who continues to speak those words to each of us, in the depths of our hearts;

“Peace be with you.”

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Easter (Year B)

(based on the Gospel of Mark for the Easter Vigil)

It’s quite a change from this time last year, when we were in the early stages of this worldwide pandemic, and experienced ‘stay at home’ orders and hard lockdowns.  While we may be a bit ‘down’ about our limited capacity to gather in our church as a community (as our province is presently in lockdown), at least we can gather somewhat; although restricted this year, last year we couldn’t gather to worship at all. 

We felt that inability to gather quite sharply, particularly during the great Feast of Easter, which we begin marking with the Vigil.  If there is any day we gather as a faith community in great joy, it is Easter – perhaps even moreso than Christmas.  But I would invite all of us, who are able to gather (and even those who can only attend remotely via the internet) to consider the small gain that we have made from last year’s ban on worship in numbers, to this year’s worship with limited numbers.  Or consider how few churches were able to ‘stream’ services on the internet for those at home to follow along – and how, it seems, every house of worship has become able to do that.  Improvement always starts with “baby steps”; small increments, until at some point, even if we haven’t noticed, there is a major difference between where we started and where we are. 

Our gospel passage from St. Mark recounting the Resurrection seems, perhaps less joyful and more traumatic than the narrative of the other gospels.  We aren’t given an immediate celebration or response of joy at the news of Jesus’ resurrection; we are presented with shock, fear, and fleeing at this presentation. Jesus is gone from the tomb which Mary Magdalene and the other women saw his lifeless body placed in on Friday, and now it’s gone with a complete stranger – a young man in a white robe (apparently an angel) – sitting in the tomb and telling them Jesus has gone ahead to Galilee where his disciples will see him, as he foretold.  St. Mark says the women fled in terror and amazement and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. 

This doesn’t sound like a particularly strong beginning for the spreading of the Good News; that Jesus has conquered sin and death, and because of that, He has opened the way for every person on the planet to be reunited forever with Our Creator, as we were meant to be from the beginning.

Not a great start; but it is a start.  The women may not have said anything immediately in that moment to anyone out of fear.  However, empowered by their faith, a grace given them by God, they at least let a few of the disciples know what they had seen.  Eventually, those disciples would look further for themselves; eventually they would begin to spread this great news; eventually others would come to believe and likewise spread the news, the teaching and the love of Christ.  Eventually the number of disciples and believers resulted in world-changing events, becoming a movement and faith that would bring the Gospel to every part of the entire world; an incredible difference from where the Christian faith started, to where it is today; all from this very humble, frightened and amazed beginning.

The story of the Good News of Jesus Christ does not end with the Easter story, and a small cast of characters; it only begins, and continues to this day, and will continue beyond; we are part of that story, and are called by Jesus to contribute to it, to spread it and to witness to it in our words, our actions, in our very lives. It is an invitation from God of Divine importance, to participate in the continued mission of salvation of all people; and it is with great joy that we are able to receive and respond to it. 

Even if it is with ‘baby steps’.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Good Friday (Year B)

On Good Friday, we can take note how there are some very stark reminders of ‘the minimum’ that is required; our altar is stripped and the sanctuary has been cleared of any plants, statues, coverings and the like; it is a day of fasting and abstinence from meat, again reminding ourselves of the minimum we require to sustain us.  We do away with a number of ‘extras’ and ‘comforts’ and even ‘decorations’ this day- it serves as a reminder of the ‘minimum’ remaining as we mark the Passion and Death of Jesus – as we look forward to His Resurrection.

Often we can fall into a sense of comfort with the concept of crucifixion. When we look at various crucifixes, some of them quite beautiful in terms of their art work, we can be lulled into a sense that this was a death like any other and was fairly clean and quick.  It was not.

Crucifixion was a dirty, brutal, cruel and slow way to die.  The Romans crucified non-Roman criminals, and enemies of the state, really for two reasons.  One, was to of course, end the person’s life – but the other was to send a message; a message that this was how Rome treated her enemies.  It did more than simply execute a human being – it destroyed the person completely, removing any sense of dignity of the condemned.   The Romans didn’t expect to be providing a sense of the depth of God’s love for the human race, but this happened nonetheless. 

God, in the second person of the Trinity, The Son, enters into our humanity and empties himself completely, setting aside His Divinity and taking all of our failings, our faults and the original sin or separation from God that was of human origin, upon Himself.  He submits to the removal of any respect or dignity that even the lowest of people is entitled to.  Everything is taken away, everything is surrendered; even his very life.  And in this bare minimum, there remains one thing- love; the love that God expresses in holding absolutely nothing back in order to be reunited with his creation; the love that we are invited into, in holding nothing back in order to be reunited with God.

This is why we fast, abstain and deny ourselves some comforts during Lent; this is why we commemorate the death of Jesus; this is why we consider the complete surrender of the Son to the will of the Father, for the benefit of all of humanity.

Because when the minimum is all that is left, all that is required is Love.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Passion Sunday (Year B)

Here we are, marking one of the most solemn days of our Catholic calendar, Passion or Palm Sunday, where we recount two portrayals of the reaction and response to the presence and reality of Jesus by human beings in their weakness, their imperfection, and their fickle nature.  Mass ordinarily beings with our recounting Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, hailed and cheered by adoring crowds, welcoming the ‘Son of David’, much to the dismay of the religious and political authorities. Then we encounter Jesus’ passion, crucifixion and death at the hands of many of the same participants in the triumphal entry story.  Those who were so happy to welcome Jesus into their midst, because they expected Him to ‘deliver’ something the way they wanted it – to overthrow that which they were in disagreement with –  those very same ‘cheering throngs’ later side with His worldly enemies, to beat, torture and ultimately kill this very same, “Son of David”. 

It is perhaps one of our more recognizable and shameful traits as humans, that we can reject those who don’t give us what we expect or want.  This is no less true with our Creator; we can turn with a vengeance on God when He doesn’t give us what we want, how we want it, when we want it.  God created us out of love, each one of us, to be in perfect union with Him for eternity; if all humanity were in harmony with God, then all humans would be in harmony with each other through that union.  Balance.  Peace.  Joy.  Love.

So for the entry of chaos, violence, sorrow, death, and hate into creation, we have to look no farther than ourselves – humanity.  In the story of Adam and Eve we see that  it was our human nature that threw everything away; because as much as God gave us, we wanted more;  because we knew better than God who created us.   Yet in that rejection of the God of love by humans in the beginning, God continued to reach out to draw us back into that union; all that God asked through all of salvation history was that we respond freely, in real love- and He left it up to us.

Against that backdrop, we look at how humanity turned out.  Yes there are some ‘bright lights’, but largely the picture is not particularly pretty.  It was human nature, not God, that decided a price had to be paid; that someone had to be punished for breaking the covenants that God continued to establish with humans.  In the end, and to meet that ‘technicality’, God entered into our humanity in the person of Jesus; not only to take on that punishment and settle the debt, but to give us an example of real, true love to imitate – again so that we would not only be in union with God, but with each other.

Self-emptying and self-denial; putting others needs ahead of our desires; that’s a crucial part of the teaching of Christ.  God enters into our humanity in the person of Jesus, and sets aside his divinity to sacrifice himself, through crucifixion, to offer himself, so that we can be reconciled with God – brought back into union with God.  God does this because he loves us, and wants us to return to him, but he leaves that up to us. We get to choose. 

So if God allows us that much power – to choose or reject eternal life – why is it that we are so quick to complain or blame God when a world and life that we possess turns out as it has? Why is there so much injustice?  Why is there poverty?  Why are so many suffering, oppressed, without hope?  Quite simply; because as a species this is what we have chosen; because as a species, we have allowed it, and continue to allow it.

Jesus told His disciples that if they would truly follow Him, then they were to deny themselves, pick up their cross daily and follow him, following his example, his lead.  He didn’t say this to ‘build up’ a following.

He said this to teach us how to respond to God and each other; that it is only when we truly appreciate something or someone, we respond in love by expressing our gratitude; that when we understand that our difficulties are often the result of our own actions or decisions, we respond in love by seeking reconciliation; that when we set our own desires aside to provide for those who are most in need, we respond in love by self-denial and self-emptying.

Through His passion and crucifixion, He taught us that in all circumstances and at all times, good or bad, we are created and called to respond completely with love.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year B)

In today’s Gospel we see three possible reactions to the voice of God actually speaking to a gathering of people for a festival in Jerusalem; Jesus gives the crowd an analogy of self-emptying – he uses the metaphor of a grain of wheat, saying a single grain is only a grain; but if it falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit.  He is saying that to live only for one’s self is a very narrow and limited existence.  To surrender one’s life in the service of others for God, on the other hand, provides a much wider, deeper, and fuller expression of our true potential as sons and daughters of God.

Then comes the moment when Jesus says to God, “Father, glorify your name.’

And there is a reply; the Gospel says a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

This is where, once again, we have a response to the voice of God; St. John’s gospel says everyone in the crowd heard it; some said, ‘it’s just thunder’.  Others said, “it was an angel speaking to him.”  In that first response, we see an attempt by some to ignore the significance of this event – that God is present, speaking to Jesus, who has called God, ‘Father’; that Jesus speaks from a direct and very intimate relationship with God.

If it’s only thunder, I don’t have to give it any attention.  It’s just meaningless noise.

In the second response, we see a ‘limiting’ of the voice; it’s an angel speaking to Jesus – that means the message is limited only to Jesus, so the rest of the bystanders, while being impressed, don’t have to concern themselves with any special demand that is being placed on them.  If the angel is speaking only to Jesus, nothing is asked of me.

But there is a third response; and that third response only comes when people recognize Jesus as God; and in that third response, there is a realization that when Jesus speaks, it is God speaking; and Jesus says, ‘anyone who would be my servant must follow me’; this follows almost immediately after his analogy of the grain of wheat; the metaphor for self-emptying; this prophetic remark that indicates that Jesus is going to empty himself for God and for others to the point of dying on the cross to bring all people back to God; to ‘draw all people to’ Himself.

We get to choose which of the three responses we make to God’s voice; to ignore – to limit – or to follow and serve;

As Christians, part of that service is to live in solidarity with all people, particularly the vulnerable, the marginalized, the poor; putting concern for them ahead of material gain for ourselves.  It’s not about simply giving a bit as a kind of Lenten ‘extra’; it’s about considering how to assist the poor in improving their lives; it’s about equally distributing the bountiful resources of this planet that we all share; it’s about not taking advantage of those who are not equipped to support or defend themselves.

This is Solidarity Sunday, a day that as Catholics, we observe a sense of Solidarity with the poor and marginalized of our world, particularly those in developing and underdeveloped countries, through campaigns like Share Lent. 

We have to recognize that it is not just up to governments to take care of the marginalized; often it is the ‘grass roots’, the people, who must take matters like these into their own hands.   As Christians, as followers and servants of Christ, we are to follow where He leads.  There are many Catholic charities that support the efforts of our brothers and sisters in developing countries towards a better life; there are many religious orders involved in missionary work that definitely need our support; there are opportunities in our immediate areas to provide for the poor; but all of these require financial resources, and they depend on the generosity and kindness of Catholics to provide support so that they can reach out and help those who need it most.

We’re not asked to bankrupt ourselves, or impoverish our families; we are asked to honestly consider how much we are reasonably able to give now and in the future. It involves our treasure, our time, our talents; but it must come from the heart.

It is up to each of us to decide how we will support this work in furthering the Kingdom; to decide how we will listen to the voice of God speaking through the poor of our world; to decide whether we will ignore his voice; whether we will limit his voice; or whether we will follow and serve where His voice calls us through Jesus; being that single grain that bears much fruit.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year B)

A number of years ago, I was reading an article about a survey in which people were invited to name their worst fear, and the result was actually, at least to me, rather surprising.  I had expected the ‘worst fear’ to be death, or contracting some terrible disease, or losing one’s livelihood.

It turns out, the number one fear of those surveyed, was ‘being found out’; having some deep, dark secret exposed; being discovered to be less than the cultivated personal image we project to those around us.

These results from the start of this 21st century, perhaps should give us real pause for thought.  Rather than being fearful of not living an authentic, true life, our culture places greater value, and therefore fear on having our ‘less than stellar’ selves being seen for who they are, in the cold light of day.  Perhaps this is a legitimate fear nowadays, as we see the ‘cancel culture’ where people’s hidden past deeds result in them being completely ostracized socially, or banished from the public sphere; a culture in which there is no redemption, no possibility of rehabilitation or forgiveness.

Today’s Gospel passage from St. John recounts a meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisee from Jerusalem.  This meeting takes place at night, because although Nicodemus is genuinely interested in what Jesus has to say and teach, he is afraid of being ‘seen’ with Jesus.  This doesn’t make Nicodemus a villain or a bad guy; it means he’s human; he’s weak.  His position and his reputation at this particular point in time are of great value to him obviously, and his ‘associating’ with Jesus could put all of this in jeopardy.  Remember, this meeting occurs after Jesus has ‘cleansed the Temple’ as we heard last week.

Despite that fear, though, Nicodemus knows there is something about Jesus that he is drawn to.  It’s not simply His words; if that were the case, Nicodemus could simply ask discreetly among Jesus’ followers to relate what they’ve heard Jesus say.  Nicodemus could stand at a distance behind the crowds to hear Jesus publicly teaching, without being accused of ‘cozying up’ to Jesus by other members of the Jerusalem religious leaders.  Nicodemus wants to get ‘up close and personal’ with Jesus.  He wants to understand more clearly what Jesus is truly teaching.  He is attracted to that ‘light’ that Jesus personifies.

Initially their discussion is about ‘spirit’ and ‘flesh’ and being ‘born again’.  In this later half though, Jesus is very blunt and direct concerning Himself, His purpose or mission, and who is counted among those who will be saved.   Here is Jesus ‘job description’ if you will that He presents to Nicodemus:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.  Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”  These are comforting words – certainly nothing to be fearful of or face with trepidation. 

However, Jesus then follows up with some expectations; “The one who believes in Him is not condemned but the one who does not believe is condemned already.”

Ouch!

He continues,” this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil, for all who do evil hate the light and do not come into the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.”

Fear of being found out; perhaps that ‘recent discovery’ in that 21st century survey, isn’t anything new after all. 

Of course, Jesus is not one to speak harsh words, and not offer us some shot at ‘redemption’.  He follows this up with, “those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”  Jesus tells Nicodemus (in a not so subtle way) that we cannot be His followers simply by stealth, so that no one notices what we believe and who we follow.  We are to live authentically as His disciples, speaking the truth, and following His commandments.  We are to be people of justice, compassion, and charity.  We are to be instruments of forgiveness, mercy and redemption.  We are to be messengers of light.

And we are to do this openly as a witness to the One in whom we profess to believe, to draw others into His light by the way we speak and act.  We are to live lives that can withstand scrutiny; and if we have stumbled, we get up, we seek forgiveness, and we move forward, into the light, to the one who is always ready to reconcile us to Himself. 

Why would we be afraid of losing out some social ‘standing’ and a smaller circle of acquaintances, if it means we are gaining a share in eternal companionship with God? 

We shouldn’t be afraid of ‘being found out’ if it means we are found out to be His true and authentic disciples. 

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!