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We often read the story of the raising of Lazarus at funerals. The reason for this is that Jesus’ words in this Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” contain the promise and hope of eternal life. These words remind us that this present life is not the end. Because of Jesus Christ, because of his life, death and resurrection, those who believe in and seek to follow him will come to share in the life he has won for us.
Where there are several things in this Gospel that are worth commenting on, from my perspective two things in particular deserve comment. The first, is Martha’s reaction to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would never have died.” I believe, these words are --- at least initially --- a very human reaction when something bad happens. We wonder where God was and why the bad thing happened. When we move beyond this initial reaction, though, we are able to reaffirm our belief that God is with us even, and perhaps especially, in the difficulties and trials we encounter in this life. The second thing in this Gospel that deserves comment is a clarification that the raising of Lazarus from the dead is a resuscitation, not a resurrection. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ we are given the promise of a new and eternal life, not just a return to this life.
In our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. In the section we read this Sunday God assured the people that, despite the destruction of the Temple, God had not abandoned God’s covenant with them and ultimately would restore them: “Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!”
Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In the passage we read this Sunday, Paul reminds us that “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Why does belief in eternal life come so easily for some people and not at all for others?
2. How would you explain eternal life to someone who didn’t believe in it?
3. How do you know when the “Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead” dwells in you?
This morning I had my monthly interview with Sean Herriott from the Morning Show on Revelant Radio. Today we discussed the date of Easter. It was a timely discussion as several people have asked me why Easter is so late this year. Some even suggested that it might be better to have a fixed date for Easter, similar to Christmas.
As to the latter, Easter by definition has to fall on a Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. Therefore, it cannot be celebrated on a fixed date. Still, this very question was discussed at the Second Vatican Council. The resulting document suggests that the Catholic Church would be open to a fixed date for Easter as long as all Christians would agree on that date.
Until then, Easter will remain a moveable feast. And because Easter moves all feasts and seasons that are related to Easter move relative to the date of Easter. Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent and Pentecost which marks the last day of the Easter season are obviously dependent upon the date of Easter. However, Holy Trinity which falls on the Sunday after Pentecost and Corpus Christi which falls on the Sunday after Holy Trinity are dependent on the date of Easter as well. Even the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart which is celebrated on the Friday following Corpus Christi and the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary which is celebrated the day after the Sacred Heart of Jesus are dependent upon the date of Easter.
It took a while to decide on the all-important date for Easter. Early bishops celebrated Easter on different dates based on different theologies. Some opted for the celebration of Easter on the 14th day or the day of the full moon of the month Nissan in the Jewish lunar calendar as they believed it to be the day on which Jesus was crucified. Others desired to celebrate Easter on the following Sunday, the day of the Lord. Still others desired to disconnect the celebration of Easter from the Jewish calendar all together.
It was not until the first Council of Nicea (325) that the current formula for calculating the day of Easter was established. Since then Easter has been celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox. The Council of Nicea also established that the date of the spring equinox was March 21though meteorologically it often falls on March 20. Using this method, the earliest possible date for Easter can be March 22 which happened last in 1818 and will not happen again till 2285. The latest possible date for Easter is April 25 which happened last in1943 and will not happen again until 2038.
And to complicate matters just one bit more, let me tell you about Orthodox Easter. The Orthodox churches follow the same computation system established by the first Council of Nicea. However, because they still use the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar we end up celebrating Easter on different dates. March 21 on the Julian calendar corresponds to April 3 on the Gregorian calendar. Thus Orthodox Easter falls between April 4 and May 8. Sometimes, Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter fall on the same date as is the case this year. The protestant churches follow the same calculation system as the Catholic Church.
P.S. if you are wondering about the differences between the Julian and Gregorian Calendar, watch for another blog entry on this topic.
There is an old axiom in our church that you shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. While these words are often used when activities and plans were not as successful as one had hoped, I think they can also be applied to our lives as Christians. All too often I think we use perfection as our model for the Christian life, and when we fail to live up to that standard we feel bad about ourselves and may give up trying to do better and be better.
I don’t believe that is a good way to operate. What I would suggest instead is that we use “growth,” not “perfection,” as the model for our lives as Christians. By this I mean that we need to ask ourselves on a regular basis: “Am I growing in my spiritual life? Am I a better person today than I was a year ago, or five years ago or ten years ago?” I think these are the key questions for anyone who takes their spiritual life seriously. If we can see growth occurring in our spiritual lives, we know we are on the right track.
Now this does not mean that our spiritual lives are always on the ascendancy. Rather I would guess that for most of us our spiritual lives look a little bit like the stock market. There are ups and downs, but there is also a “trend line” that marks continual improvement. It is easy to become somewhat discouraged when we are experiencing a down period in our spiritual lives. This feeling is worsened, I believe, when we use “perfection” as the model for the Christian life. When we use “growth” as the model, though, while occasionally we can still become discouraged, we also know that as there have been, so there will continue to be peaks in our spiritual life—times when our prayer is good and we feel close to God.
It would be great if there were never any lulls or lows in our spiritual life. Over the years, though, in talking with a variety of people, I have come to realize that the lulls and lows are part of everyone’s spiritual life. (There may be some exceptions to this, but I suspect there aren’t many. Even the great saints had some low spots on their spiritual journey.) If we can accept the lulls and lows as simply part of the spiritual journey, I believe we will be less apt to give up trying to do better and be better, and more apt to hang in there and keep trying.
Continuing to grow in our spiritual lives isn’t always easy and at times can be frustrating. The challenge is to take the long view and see where growth has taken place and continues to take place in our spiritual lives. Certainly there may be ups and downs, but I’m willing to bet that for all of us there is a “trend line” that reminds us that the effort is well worth it.
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Why do bad things happen to good people? The Christian answer to this question is: we don’t know. For the people of Jesus’ time, however, there was a direct correlation between sin and bad things happening. If something bad happened to you, it was a result of your sin, or the sin of your parents or ancestors. We see this clearly in the actions of the Pharisees in our Gospel today. We are told that after Jesus had cured a blind man he was brought to the Pharisees, who asked him: “What do you have to say about him, (Jesus) since he opened your eyes? He said, ‘He is a prophet.’ They answered and said to him, ‘You were born totally in sin, and you are trying to teach us?’ Then they threw him out.”
Clearly the Pharisees reaction to the cure of the blind man was not what we would have expected. They were not amazed or even curious about his cure. Instead they criticized Jesus for not keeping the Sabbath and simply dismissed what the man, who had been cured of his blindness, had to say. The actions and attitude of the Pharisees should cause us to wonder who was really blind in this Gospel.
In our first reading this Sunday, from the first Book of Samuel, the Lord sent Samuel to anoint the new King of Israel from among the sons of Jesse. The Lord rejects seven of Jesse’s sons, telling Samuel: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.” Finally Dave was brought to Samuel, and the Lord said to Samuel: “There --- anoint him, for this is the one.”
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians. In the section we read this Sunday, Paul exhorts us to “Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. When I was learning to drive, my instructor drilled into us the idea that before changing lanes, you always needed to check your blind spot. It is easy to check your blind spot when driving. You just look over your shoulder. How do you check for spiritual blind spots?
2. In our first reading Jesse was judging by “appearances.” The Lord, however, was able to see into the heart. When have you misjudged someone by their appearance?
3. What does it mean to you to live as a child of the light?
As I was pondering our Lenten call to greater generosity I was reminded of a Russian folktale about charity and the lack thereof. The main character in the story is an aging woman who lived on the edge of a small village. She had neither family nor friends and was not very kind. As a matter of fact, children and adults alike were afraid of her. Not surprisingly, she died alone and that is how she would have wanted it.
After her death she found herself in hell. Thinking that she deserved better she complained and insisted that she should be accorded a place in heaven. St. Peter was consulted, but he was unable to find any reason in the Book of Life that would allow the woman into heaven. Because she would not stop complaining St. Peter eventually asked God about the situation. God told Peter to review her case in greater detail and pour over her entire life.
Thankfully, St. Peter was able to find something that remotely resembled a good deed. One day, a beggar had come to her home asking for food. She was working in her garden at the time and just pulled out some rotten onions intending to toss them. Annoyed by the beggars request she threw the bad onions at him so as to chase him away. The beggar, gratefully accepted the onions and ate them. God and St. Peter decided that though she might not have intended to do so, in effect, she had fed the hungry.
Because of this one deed, God asked St. Peter to pull the woman out of hell using the onions she had thrown at the beggar. Holding onto the onion the woman was pulled out of hell, slowly but surely. When the other people in hell realized what was happening they held on to the woman so they too might be pulled out of hell. And so it seemed that by virtue of the one unintended good deed everyone would be saved from hell as slowly but surely the woman and everyone who was holding on to her were pulled out of hell.
Soon the woman noted that other people were profiting from her good deed. Fearing that the onion would break under the weight she started to kick and scream causing everyone else to fall down. It looked as if she and she alone was going to be saved. However, not the weight but her uncharitable kicking caused the onion to break. As she caught a glimpse of heaven she fell back into hell where she remains to this day.
Something to ponder...
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Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is very familiar. Jesus is passing through Samaria and stops at Jacob’s well. A woman came to draw water and Jesus asked her: “Give me a drink.” She is surprised by his request both because she was a woman and a Samaritan. As they continue their conversation Jesus told her that she should be asking him to give her “living water.” She responded by asking Jesus “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus then asked her to call her husband and come back. She told him she had no husband. And Jesus amazed her by telling her she had had five husbands and was currently living with a man who wasn’t her husband. She responded by telling Jesus: “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” Eventually Jesus told the woman that he was the Messiah. She in turn went back to town and told everyone about Jesus. As a result we are told that “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him……….and they invited him to stay with them.” After this, many came to believe in him and they said to the woman: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
In this story, while the Samaritan woman initially brought others to Jesus, they came to believe in him by spending time with him and listening to him. In a similar way, while others initially told us about Jesus, at some point we had to make our own decision to follow him.
Our first reading this weekend, from the Book of Exodus, is the story of Israelites grumbling in the desert because they are thirsty. In response to their grumbling, the Lord had Moses strike a rock with is staff and water flowed from it. We are told that “The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord in our midst or not?’”
Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In the section we read this weekend we are reminded that “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Who first told you about Jesus Christ?
2. When did you make the decision to believe in and follow Jesus?
3. When have you wondered if God was in our midst or not?
The American writer, Flannery O’Connor, once said: “Every morning between 9 and 12 I go to my room and sit before a piece of paper. Many times I just sit for three hours with no ideas coming to me. But I know one thing: If an idea does come between 9 and 12, I am there ready for it.“ I think those words are a great description of prayer — or at least my prayer. I say this, because I have come to believe that one of the things that can help our prayer the most is setting aside a regular time and place for prayer so as to make ourselves available to God.
Many years ago when I was first ordained, I would pray Morning Prayer before Mass, but then would set aside time additional time for prayer in the late afternoon. This routine had served me well in the seminary when my schedule was very predictable. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that life in the parish doesn’t always follow a routine. After a few years I realized that my afternoon prayer time had become rushed and hurried, and on some days was given over to what I thought were more pressing matters.
When I talked about this with my spiritual director, he suggested I try to spend more time in prayer in the morning. I pleaded that I wasn’t a morning person, but he pressed the issue and suggested I at least try it. And so at his strong urging, I began to set my alarm clock a half hour earlier. I eventually began to set it for forty-five minutes earlier, and the past few years I’ve taken to getting up an hour earlier. I spend this “extra” time in prayer.
Now in mentioning the above, I need to be clear. I am still not a morning person. I hate it when my alarm goes off in the morning. And while I am embarrassed to admit it, there are times when I shave a few minutes off the hour because I have pushed the snooze button one too many times. And to be completely honest, I have to admit that occasionally during that hour I will doze off. There are other times, though, when I feel God’s presence and experience God’s grace. These times are not under my control. They simply occur. I have come to believe, though, that at least part of the reason they occur at all is that I have made myself available to God.
Flannery O’Connor became a great writer because she regularly made time available for ideas to come to her. I believe if we regularly make time available for prayer, we will know God’s presence and experience God’s grace. Certainly this is not going to happen each and every time we go to prayer, but the chances are greatly increased that it will occur, if we regularly make ourselves to God.
The challenge for all of us is to regularly set aside a time for prayer, so those times can occur. If we can make ourselves available to God in prayer on a regular basis, I am convinced that God will indeed come and make God’s dwelling with us — maybe not every time we pray, but certainly often enough that we’ll keep coming back for more.
A Spiritual Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
As humans, we have a deeply rooted need to see, touch, and experience places of personal, historic or religious importance. Football fans for instance, think nothing of crossing the country to visit the football stadium at Notre Dame and to touch the statue of Knute Rockney. Many Catholics have a pilgrimage to Rome, Lourdes or the Holy Land on their bucket list. Jews, Christians and Muslims alike visit Jerusalem, an important location on the spiritual map of all three major monotheistic religions.
Driven by the desire to walk where Jesus walked and to pray in the places where he suffered, died and rose from the dead early Christians from around the Mediterranean traveled to the Holy Land. One of the most famous among these early pilgrims was St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine. She provided the resources for the construction of churches over the Holy Sites and brought many holy relics back that are still venerated in Rome today. It is believed that they include parts of the Holy Cross, the crown of thorns and the stairs Jesus used on his way to Pilate to name just a few.
During the Middle Ages, the number of pilgrims to the Holy Land increased substantially. Christians not only desired to visit the Holy Sites they were also determined to keep them out of the hands of non-Christians. Regardless of their intent, those who returned to their homelands brought back compelling stories and vivid descriptions of those Holy Sites.
These captivating stories told in times of pestilence, famine and war resulted in a growing emphasis on the salvific passion of the Lord. Shrines were built to commemorated and honor Jesus’ suffering and death. Sometimes these shrines comprised a series of chapels reminiscent of the different Holy Sites in Jerusalem. There, people identified with Jesus’ pain and found solace in his suffering which brought salvation. It should be noted that the Franciscan Friars who promoted pious practices were instrumental in the quick spread of the devotion to the Lord’s Passion.
Though the underlying intent was similar the way this devotion was celebrated differed from region to region. Thus the Stations of the Cross developed with variations in the number of stations ranging from 7 to 30. The fourteen Stations of the Cross we know today were codified by Pope Clement XII in 1731.
These traditional Stations are still most popular yet others exist as well. Most notable are the Stations introduced by Pope John Paul II on Good Friday, 1991in the Coliseum in Rome. This version differs both in content and in number from the traditional 14 Stations. In terms of content, Pope John Paul’s stations are entirely based on the Scriptures. Such stations as “Jesus meets Veronica” or Jesus’ three falls which have no Biblical reference have been replaced. By ensuring their Biblical foundation the late pope’s intended to make the Stations accessible to all Christians. In terms of number, Pope John Paul II added one more Station: the Resurrection. His reasoning was that without the Resurrection, the passion and death of Jesus make absolutely no sense.
Unlike Saint Helena, most of us will not have the opportunity to ever visit the Holy Sites in Jerusalem. The Stations of the Cross provide us with a great alternative. As we physically walk from station to station meditating on the meaning of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection we are able to make a spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Sites in Jerusalem.
As we continue our Lenten journey toward Easter, please join us on the Fridays of Lent for the celebration of the Eucharist at 5:30pm in the St. Joseph Chapel, followed by a soup supper in the Teresa of Calcutta Hall at 6:00pm and Stations of the Cross at 7:00pm in The Basilica.
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Each year on the Second Sunday of Lent we read one of the accounts of the Transfiguration of Christ. Since we are in year A of our three year cycle of readings, this year we read Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration.
While some of the particulars may vary in the different accounts of the Transfiguration, the major details are the same. 1. The Transfiguration took place 6 or 8 days after Jesus’ first prediction of his passion; 2. Jesus took Peter, James and John up a “high mountain;” 3. He was transfigured before their eyes; 4. Moses and Elijah (representing the law and the prophets) appeared with Jesus; 5. Peter wanted to stay; and finally 6. A voice from the cloud identified Jesus as “my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
We don’t know exactly what happened at the Transfiguration or how it happened. What we do know, though, is important. The Transfiguration was a glimpse of the glory of God revealed in and through Jesus Christ. It was a moment of grace that enabled the disciples to continue to persevere and to trust when they encountered difficulties and trials.
Our first reading this weekend is from the book of Genesis. It is God’s promise to Abraham our father in faith. “I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”
Our second reading this weekend is from the second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy. The opening sentence reminds us that we are to: “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
Questions for reflection/discussion:
1. I believe we all have “transfiguring” moments in our lives --- times of great grace, comfort and peace. These moments are fleeting, and while not as intense as the experience of the disciples at Jesus’ Transfiguration, they are no less real. When have you had a “transfiguring” moment in your life?
2. These “transfiguring" moments can help us “bear our share of hardship.” Has this been true for you?
3. God told Abraham He would bless him. When have you felt God’s blessings in your life?
Growing up I dreaded Lent. I did not particularly care to fast and abstain from things I enjoyed. What was the point? More emphasis on prayer seemed impossible. Almsgiving I did not quite get. Banning all decorations from church and covering statues with huge cloths seemed silly. And the Lenten sermons were downright scary. It all made for an unpleasant and gloomy experience. I had the sense that a dark cloud covered me for six weeks as I lived under the heavy burden of Lent, trying to do everything I was supposed to do.
It took me a while to understand what Lent was really about. My first mistake was that I thought Lent was all about me. I had to pray more. I had to give up things. I had to give alms. I failed to realize that Lent was not about me, but rather about the entire body of Christ. My second mistake was that I idolized the disciplines of Lent: praying, fasting, almsgiving while I failed to see that these were mere mechanisms toward the greater goal of bringing about a change of heart for the betterment of the Body of Christ.
Lent helps us to break out of the safety of our comfortable and self-centered world so we may encounter those around us. Our Lenten prayer then is not to be about ourselves. Rather, we pray for the well-being of others and we pray that we may be more generous toward others. Our Lenten fasting is not about depriving ourselves but rather about embracing a simpler lifestyle which in turn profits those who are in need. Our Lenten almsgiving is not about the satisfaction of giving from our excess but about freeing ourselves from worldly possessions which in turn allows others a greater share in the world’s riches.
Recently, Pope Francis asked a very poignant question: do we toss alms at a beggar, from afar or do we look him in the eyes as we place the money in his hands. This seemingly simple question touches on the essence of our Lenten journey. The moment we look a beggar in the eyes and touch her hand she becomes a person rather than a problem. It takes little effort to give alms. It is much more difficult to acknowledge the person asking for alms. Yet in that moment, in that encounter we cannot but be changed and become more like Christ.
Our Lenten experience will be fruitful only when we turn toward one another, look one another in the eyes, touch one another’s hands and recognize that all of us together make up the one Body of Christ. Once we truly embrace this, then we will be ready to fully celebrate the Easter mysteries.