Lent – Palm Sunday (Year B)

With Palm Sunday, as we enter into Holy Week; we are presented with two Gospel stories during our liturgy;  the first recounts Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the crowds riding on a crest of excitement and popularity, hailing His  presence among them;  the second  draws us to contemplate and commemorate Jesus’ Passion and death.  In these two episodes recorded for us, we can see two postures in a relationship with Jesus, and consider our own movement towards or away from that relationship.  Do we unite ourselves to Him in the glorious and exciting moments of life as the crowds did, only to turn from Him and into ourselves in moments of struggle and difficulty?

Palm Sunday is an opportunity for each of us to recognize the depth of love that God has for us – that He holds nothing back in bringing us back to Himself; that He enters into our humanity in the person of Jesus, and completely empties Himself in love – surrendering His own life on the cross – so that we can have eternal life with Him. He offers Himself not when the crowd is shouting for His exultation, but when they are howling for His blood.  When the people turn from Him, Jesus turns toward the Father for them.  He entered into our humanity with all its trials and sorrows, so that we could enter into His Divine life with its triumphs and joy; but we need to understand that we can’t have one without the other; and that is the ‘good news’ in what seems a tragic story; that just as we unite with Him in His self-emptying, so we unite with Him in His glory.

olmweb

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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Lent – 5th Sunday (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 response; the Gospel says a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

This is where we hear different responses 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;

The Church, instituted by Jesus himself, provides ways in which we show in a concrete way, that choice to follow and serve- in our participation in the life and mission of that same Church. They are ways we grow in a life bound together by liturgy, sacrament, and practical action. These are called the ‘precepts of the Church’, and there are five of them.

They are: to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation; to go to confession at least once a year; to receive Holy Communion at least during the Easter season; to observe days of fast and abstinence as set out by the Church; and to help provide for the needs of the Church.

I’d like to focus if I may on that last precept; This is Solidarity or Share Lent 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. The need is great, and even in difficult economic times, we are asked to support the work of the church, in what we call the Third World, particularly on this day through campaigns like Share Lent. Some might suggest our taxes are enough to go towards helping the poor of this world; we forget that the poor make up the majority of the world’s population.

As citizens we might pressure and demand our political leaders spend our tax dollars as we would want; but we have to recognize that as Christians; as followers of Christ, 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, and as servants of Christ, follow where He leads.

It is for this reason, that we are asked to consider giving as generously as we are able to support the work of the Church- the fifth precept – particularly on this Solidarity Sunday, and throughout the year; we are not asked to bankrupt ourselves, or impoverish our families; we are asked to honestly consider how much we have given in the past, and how much we are reasonably able to give now and in the future.

It is up to each of us to decide how we will support the work of the church; 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.

famine

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Lent – 3rd Sunday (Year B)

We are faced in this Sunday’s Gospel reading from St. John with a very angry Jesus. This is not an image of Jesus that we are often comfortable with, and one that, quite frankly, many Christians would simply wish to ignore.

In this passage which recounts Jesus ‘driving’ the merchants and money changers from the Temple, we see a part of Jesus’ ministry in action which does not immediately call to mind ‘love’ or ‘peace’ or ‘charity’.

We see anger; but it is not a simple, self-centered anger. This is not someone who is angry because he didn’t get his way, or didn’t get a promotion, or lost a contest. This is not someone who is involved in a political statement becoming angry because others aren’t listening to him.

This is an outrage at the ‘taking’ over of the sacred and the holy by self interest and corruption. This is what is called ‘righteous anger’ and it is displayed in the person of Jesus. ‘Righteous’ anger is not the same thing as a blind rage, or a hurtful, destructive pettiness. ‘Righteous’ anger is that response to injustice and evil in the world. ‘Righteous’ anger is not judgmental, saying this person or that person is good or bad; ‘righteous anger’ responds to actions that go against the laws of God, against God’s will, against God Himself.

For example, we have heard recently of some terrible acts committed in various parts of the world by those who have power, exercising it brutally over people who have little or no power; whether it be in the Middle East or in Africa or Asia; we hear of terrible crimes committed by individuals against the frail or weakest little members of our society; and our response, quite justifiably, is anger.

We feel anger at the inhumane ways in which some people are treated; we feel anger at the way the strong oppress the weak; and as Catholics, we feel anger when our Church’s teachings are twisted and manipulated – when the Body of Christ is attacked, persecuted and tormented.

That type of anger can actually be quite constructive though; it brings about justice; it can serve charity or love; ultimately it can bring about change. And that change can be a hopeful thing.

St. Augustine wrote in the 4th century, “Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are Anger and Courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be.”

When the Temple at Jerusalem was established, it was meant to be a place of worship- a place where the glory of God could dwell among His people, in the Holy of Holies. In this second Temple, rebuilt by Herod, Jesus would have, as a boy, travelled on pilgrimage to offer sacrifice and to pray, as did all devout Jews. There was even a large portion of this second temple for all people of the world to pray to the one True God – Gentiles as well as Jews- and this area was called the Court of the Gentiles.

Scholars tell us though, that over a period of time, those people whose business was vital to the working of the Temple – those who exchanged coins and sold animals to be used in the rites of sacrifice – moved their stalls and places of business from outside the entrances of the Temple, and gradually began to move inside the Temple complex itself, inside at the entrances. As a result, those coming into the temple would have to ‘get past’ these merchants, and money-changers. It was almost as if you could not enter the Temple simply to pray and revel in the presence of God’s glory unless you paid a monetary price to do so. Scholars also suggest that some of these ‘merchants’ were less than honest or fair in their exchange rates or business dealings.

One could easily get the impression that it would ‘cost’ something in terms of material wealth to come closer to God! And what would this have meant to the poor, to those who did not have sufficient means to buy animals or exchange coins? How could one encounter this and not see some injustice in this practice? How could one in good conscience study the Psalm which says, ‘The Lord hears the cry of the poor?’ and encounter this materialistic ‘hijacking’ of the Temple complex? How could this not give way to ‘righteous anger’?

And of course, this ‘righteous anger’ is quite evident in Jesus’ response to this commercial activity; he overturns tables, and drives the merchants out, telling them they have made His Father’s house into a ‘den of thieves’. Jesus ‘righteous anger’ is the means by which He drives out that which corrupts and twists the open hospitality of the Father’s glory to all people – that warps the notion that salvation is a gift from God, freely offered to all people by God – paid for by God Himself in the person of Jesus.

Perhaps we can see this story played out in our own lives; either in response to an unjust situation that we have witnessed in our own communities, schools or workplaces.

Perhaps we can see this story in an even more personal and intimate way; we are, after all Temples of the Holy Spirit; our hearts were made for God’s love, a place for the love and glory of God to dwell in – are there things that we have allowed to creep into our own Temples that have distracted or obstructed us from seeking and finding God in our own inner sanctuary – in our own hearts?

This particular season, the season of Lent, is an ideal time when we practice prayer and fasting to ‘drive out’ those ‘money-changers and merchants’ in our own lives; those things that have moved into a position of prominence, coming before God and our Faith. This is an ideal season to offer up a prayer to Jesus to instill in each of us His sense of ‘righteous anger’ that will motivate us to ‘drive out’ those things that twist and warp the love of God in our own little Temples of the heart.

How wonderful it would be to make a house for God in our own hearts; how wonderful it would be to hear Jesus speaking the words, that each of us has made that house in our hearts, a house of prayer; a place where God dwells with us.

cleansing the temple

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Second week of Lent

In his book ,”Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week’, Pope Emeritus Benedict comments on Judas’ descent into despair after his betrayal of Jesus; Judas spiralled downward because, although he had remorse for what he had done, he could not bring himself to accept that Jesus could forgive him.

Jesus reminds all those who would follow Him, that forgiveness is one of the hallmarks of His true disciples. (recall how, when asked how many times one must forgive another, it was ‘not seven times, I tell you, but 77 times 7’).  There is a very real consequence in the interior life, for the Christian who will not forgive; they deny healing graces to themselves and to others.

While we often focus during Lent on our own need for forgiveness and repentance, when we withhold that same forgiveness from others who repent we are not only ignoring, but actually acting contrary to the Gospel.  Lent provides us with the opportunity to not only seek grace and mercy, but to be instruments of grace and mercy as well.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!