Saturday, March 30, 2013

Brave Women

This is the entrance to a chapel, almost a little church, inside the large Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  Inside this chapel is the cave in which the body of Jesus was laid.  Only six of us at a time could crowd into the cave.  The entrance was low, so we had to stoop to enter.  I am a little claustrophobic so it was a bit much for me. 
If someone had told me that the dead body that had been laid there the evening before last was missing, I would have done what Luke describes Peter as doing (24:1-12.)  He stooped down and looked inside, saw only the linen burial cloths, and went home.
But not the women who had come first to the cave!  They are easily the heroes of Luke's story.  They came to anoint the body for burial.  When they came in the early dawn they went into the cave.  Luke names three of them and says that there were others, so it would have been crowded.  He goes on, "When they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were puzzling over this, suddenly two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.  The women were terrified....The men asked them, 'Why do you look for The Living One among the dead?  He is not here.  He has been raised!'"
Luke tells us that they went back and announced this to the other followers of Jesus.  So these women are the first to proclaim the resurrection.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday with Bach

Just when I think I will never again see a blue sky, some sun broke through for a while today, and gave us this beautiful sky with the snow covered lake and shore below.
I planned to spend 12-3 PM in some extended prayer time today.  I began with a long walk in sometimes sun.  When I returned home a gift had been delivered.  One of the CDs was Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, just what Good Friday ordered.  I had never listened to it.  I had always found the length too intimidating.  This English translation helped a lot.
I sat on the couch where I do my downstairs praying.  It put me in the right mood.  When the disciples slept in the Garden of Olives, I admit that I dozed off.  Fortunately I didn't sleep through Jesus' whole agony.  I was surprised that an old hymn I've know since I was a child takes its melody and some of its words from this Passion.  "O Sacred Head Surrounded" is the hymn and, since I knew the melody, each time the chorale sang it I joined in.
The very last words sung by the chorus to Jesus are,
"Death, that holds Thee in its keeping,
   When its bonds are loosed by Thee,
 Shall become a welcome portal,
 Leading man to life immortal,
   Where he shall Thy glory see.
              Savior blest,
   Slumber now and take Thy rest.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


I just read this morning that our new Holy Father told those present at his Mass Tuesday that he had decided to continue living in the Vatican guesthouse instead of moving into the papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace.  He wants to live more simply and also to live with other people.  He takes his meals in the common dining room with the Vatican employees and celebrates Mass with them in the mornings.  It will be the first time in 110 years that the bishop of Rome has not lived in the Palace.
Instead of celebrating this evening's Holy Thursday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, our Holy Father celebrated in a prison for young men.  After the Gospel he washed their feet.  When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires it was his custom to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass in prisons and hospitals and shelters for the poor and marginal.  In those places too he washed the people's feet, including those of AIDS victims.
With Jesus in John's Gospel (13:1-15) he can ask us, "Do you understand what I have done for you?  You call me "teacher" and "master"--- and you are right, for that is what I am.  So, if I your master and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done for you."
We ask ourselves who needs me to wash their feet and how do I do that?  For me, I think, it means giving my time to visit my cousin in a nursing home or to someone who just wants to talk.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Living One

"The Living One" is the way the two dazzling men at the tomb refer to the Risen Jesus in Luke's Gospel (24:1-11.)  They ask the women who have entered the tomb to prepare Jesus for burial, "Why do you look for the Living One among the dead?  He is not here.  He has been raised!"
Jesus is not just a savior we remember from the past.  He is even now The Living One.  The Resurrection isn't simply something that's over and done with.  Jesus lives still and loves intimately.  The Living One is someone with whom we can have a personal relationship in the present.
The Living One is the powerful source of our New Life, living on in you and me, loving us into newness, gradually transforming us into his image,  changing us from sinful, selfish individuals into a free and loving people.
The rich source of our Easter joy is not just that our savior was raised 2000 years ago, but that Jesus is living still and all of us together are living in him.  The Living One makes his home in us and is himself the home of every human being.
In his poem, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Gerard Manley Hopkins says,
"--for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
 Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his,
 To the Father through the features of men's faces."

Monday, March 25, 2013


Our road this morning before the plow came.  A beautiful morning to walk.  About a foot of light, fluffy snow.
I finished my reflection on Luke's Passion account with what follows the death of Jesus (23:46-56).  Luke describes his death in as peaceful acceptance of his Father's will.  The phrasing seems to emphasize Jesus' self-control.  He says his prayer; then he dies.
The very last sentence is "And on the Sabbath the women rested according to the commandment.  Given Luke's stressing peace, the word "rested" caught my attention.  The sentence is there to stress that people associated with Jesus were respectful of the Jewish law and to set up the resurrection sequence, but I thought "rest" added to the peacefulness of Luke's scene.
Something that I had never noted before is that he doesn't put the mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross.  Luke says simply, "All of his acquaintances stood a long way off."  So I checked Mark and Matthew.  While they do mention some of the women by name, they don't have Jesus' mother present either.  Only in John do we hear that his mother was "standing near the cross of Jesus."  I had just read a piece of fiction recently in which Mary is deeply regretful that she, along with the other followers of Jesus, was afraid to be seen at the crucifixion.  That's probably why this caught my attention.  Only Joseph of Arimathea is mentioned wrapping the body in a cloth and placing it in a tomb.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Our Peace in His Will

This is a grove of olive trees on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus went after the Last Supper to pray.  The disciples go with him and, in Luke, he simply tells all of them to pray that they won't be tested.  Jesus goes off  "a stone's throw" and kneels down to pray.  He begs God to take away the suffering that threatens, but adds, "Father, let your will, not mine, be done." 
Luke Timothy Johnson in his commentary on Luke, points out that the term agonia  comes from agon  which refers to the sort of struggle in which wrestlers engage.  He translates, "And entering the struggle, he continued to pray more eagerly."  Jesus surrenders his deep desire to live and plunges whole-heartedly into his passion.
Jesus shows us how to face suffering.  By lining his will up with his Father's will, he comes to a calm acceptance of all that follows.  A kind of peace suffuses his entire being.  Luke's passion account is colored by this peace.
I used to have a plaque on my living room wall with this quote from T.S Eliot's poem Ash Wednesday which, I think, may echo Dante:
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks
Our peace in His will.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

City of Peace

An old gate in a Jerusalem wall, the nearest to the Mount of Olives. 
My scripture reflection for today was on Jesus' royal entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-44.)  Not a conquering king.  Perhaps that's why Luke has no mention of branches or palms.   This Messiah brings peace to the City of Peace (which is what "Jerusalem" means.)  By now in Luke's Gospel Jesus has developed a large following. 
Though it is clear in all the Gospels that this crowd is full of joy, Luke is the only gospel writer who uses the word, "The whole group of disciples joyfully began to praise God at the top of their voices."
From the beginning of his Gospel Luke makes it clear that the coming of the Lord is the occasion for rejoicing.  The angel tells Mary to rejoice.  In announcing the birth of the Messiah-God, the angel tells the shepherds, "Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people."
If that connection seems like a stretch, Luke makes it very clear in what the crowd joyfully shouts at the Messiah's entrance into Jerusalem, "Blessed is he who is coming as King in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven! and glory in the highest heavens!"  Luke does not have Mark's and Matthew's Hosannas.  He wants to remind us of the angels' hymn to the shepherds, "Glory to God in the heavens and peace to God's people on earth."  The coming of the Messiah in Bethlehem and the coming of the Messiah in Jerusalem bring joy and peace.
It is at this point in Luke's Gospel that Jesus cries over Jerusalem, the City of Peace, "If only you had recognized this day the way to peace."  He cries as well over us and our world that thinks that war brings peace.  The love that the birth and death of the Messiah lets loose in our world is the source of true peace and joy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Skull

A hill outside of Jerusalem.  When we visited the Holy Land I was na├»ve enough to think that the hill where Jesus was crucified would look something like this.  I was disappointed to find that Golgotha, the place of the Skull, is now engulfed by the city of Jerusalem and by church buildings.  (The name Calvary comes from the Latin word for skull.  Golgotha is a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic word for skull.)
I used Luke's account of the Crucifixion for Scripture reflection today (23:33-46).  It has a much more peaceful air about it than the accounts in Mark and Matthew. Luke emphasizes God's faithful love for Jesus, the Innocent One who suffers for others and who to his dying breath extends the same faithful love to sinners.
Luke's telling of the event is more succinct.  He omits some of the more violent elements, just as during his Gospel he omits many negative things.  The most noticeable omission is the cry of Jesus "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" that is in Mark and Matthew.
In Luke the last words of Jesus are from Psalm 31, "Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit."  They express a calm acceptance of God's will and a firm confidence in the Father's constant love.
On Calvary Jesus continues the forgiving ways that Luke also stresses in other parts of his Gospel.  As they crucify him he prays, "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing."
When one of the criminals crucified beside him begs "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom," Jesus replies, "In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."  He not only comforts the other but expresses his confidence that he himself will be paradise, a garden glowing with the peace and harmony of Love that never runs out.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Two Worlds Fused

Before we get too far from St. Patrick's Day I want to look at the Irish sense that this world and the "other" world are intermingled.  In a talk on Celtic spirituality last week the speaker stressed the closeness of these two worlds.  He showed us a cairn, a short pile of one small stone on another, that he said the Irish used to mark the "thin places" where you could see or feel more strongly presences from the other world. (These cairns are like those used to mark a turn in a hiking trail.)
John O'Donohue in his book Anam Cara says, "The eternal is not elsewhere; it is not distant....The eternal world and the mortal world are not parallel, rather they are fused."  He uses a Gaelic phrase that means "woven into and through each other."  There is no closed or sealed frontier  between them.  They flow in and out of each other. 
Sometimes when we see a particularly beautiful sight, we have a sense that the Divine is showing through.  A foggy morning like the one in the picture makes me think that I am getting a glimpse of this other world.
"For the Celts," he says, "the eternal world was so  close to the natural world that death was not seen as a terribly destructive or threatening event."  When a person is close to death, the veil between this transient world and the eternal world is very thin.  They may see their friends and relatives who now live in the eternal world coming to meet them, to bring them home.  Death opens us to embrace the Divine that has always lived secretly within us.
Our dead, then, are not in some faraway place.  They are right here with us, even though most of the time we do not see or hear them.  Sometimes we do feel their presence as more than just a memory.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Father Francis

Rising sun slides through a foggy world.
Any Jesuit who names himself after St. Francis wins my heart.  The first thing that I think about when I think of St. Francis is his poverty.  In the square of Assisi he took off his wealthy clothes and walked away from his fine family and the comfortable life he had been living.
In Buenos Aires Cardinal Bergoglio lived in an apartment, did his own cooking, and used public transit -- not the usual life of a cardinal.  His modest use of material things challenges us to share generously what we have with others and to use stuff without becoming stuck to it.
Our Father Francis is showing us how to be a true disciple of Jesus by being poor.
After his election he ignored proper protocol and spent more time in prayer than he was supposed to.  By now we've seen him frequently at prayer. To be a disciple of Jesus means to learn from him.  We can do that only by spending time with Jesus in prayer. 
By his humility, poverty, and prayerfulness our holy Father Francis is showing us how to be disciples of Jesus.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ray of Light

Did you see the Holy Spirit sitting on the chimney of the Sistine Chapel?  That was certainly my first thought when a sea gull landed on the chimney and stayed for about 40 minutes.  Not a dove, but close enough.  I couldn't help but thinking that the Holy Spirit was trying to hurry the Cardinals below into choosing the right man.
Instead of guessing what Pope Francis might do in the days and months ahead, I am impressed by how already he is showing us how to be disciples of Jesus.
When he was finally on the balcony, I was moved to tears when he asked us to pray for him and then bowed profoundly as the huge crowd fell silent in prayer for this humble man.  His humility is the first thing that strikes me as I hear about any number of things that he has done, like paying his own hotel bill.
In his brief opening remarks he did not refer to himself as the pope.  Instead, he used bishop of Rome.  "You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome....I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome....And now let us begin this journey, the bishop and his people, this journey of the Church of Rome....Before the bishop blesses the people, I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me -- the prayer of the people for their bishop."  This is an accurate, more modest view of his office, as well as a sign of his personal humility.
Francis is showing us how to be a true disciple of Jesus by being humble.

Monday, March 11, 2013


This past weekend in the homily I focused on the father's unconditional acceptance of the prodigal son as a parable of God's unconditional, unearned love for all of us.  After Mass I was saying goodby to people outside church.  A young man rushing past me, said something like, "You mean I could live a wild life for 40 years and then ask God to forgive me and He would?"  It wasn't clear whether he was annoyed at me or the parable.  He didn't stop for a discussion.  As he hurried away from me, I said "That's what Jesus says."
I wondered if he realized how much he sounded like the self-righteous older brother in Jesus' story.  Then I started to wonder how many of us are like the self-righteous brother without realizing it.  Self-righteousness is a hard fault to be even aware of in ourselves.  It's easier to see in others.
In next Sunday's Gospel (John 8:1-11) Jesus finds a way to help the scribes and Pharisees become aware of their self-righteousness.  It's not surprising that it is they to whom Jesus addresses the parable of the prodigal son.  In John's passage they bring a woman caught in adultery.  They tell Jesus the Law says she is to be stoned to death and ask him what he thinks.  He says to them and to us, "Let whoever is without sin throw the first stone."
Self-righteous means thinking we make ourselves righteous.  The scribes and Pharisees thought that by obeying the Law, they made themselves good.  They failed to see that any goodness in us is due to God's work not our efforts.  Jesus makes them and us stop and think whether we are so good that we have a right to condemn the adulteress and the prodigal son.  Then, as we slink away aware of our self-righteousness,  Jesus shows the woman the same unearned forgiveness that the father showed his son.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Let Yourself Be Loved

Yesterday's snow, still clinging today to the branches, highlights our torn and bent and broken trees.  They help me think about the prodigal son.
The father's gracious love is so prominent for me in the story that I have to push myself to think about the son.  His leaving home is headstrong and hurtful.  Having made such a radical break with his father, he returns home only reluctantly.  He can't believe in his father's gracious love.
A teenager told me once that she wasn't afraid of God but she didn't trust him. While many of us have never completely turned away from God, almost all of us have at times held back from full surrender.  We cannot believe that God could love us no matter what we have done. 
Even though I  experienced constant love from my parents, I was in my mid-thirties before I believed that God would love me without my having to earn it.  People who have had distant or mean parents find it even harder to trust God's gracious love.  Too many of us, like the prodigal son, feel that we are not loveable. 
Today's calendar tells me, "Let yourself be loved."  Praying over this parable again and again may help us to trust God's all forgiving love and let God take us in his arms.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


In a fine movie of Dickens' Nicholas Nickelby the title character rescues a crippled boy named Smike who is being beaten in an orphanage.  They leave together. One night they take refuge in a hay loft.  Sitting before an open window with the star-filled sky behind them, Nicholas tells Smike that he will help him find his home, about which Smike has only a vague memory.  He says quietly to Nicholas, "You are my home."  Nicholas does take care of him until Smike dies.
The scene has stayed with me and surprisingly has enriched my understanding of my relationship with God.  God is our home. God has rescued us and holds us close.  God lives in us and we in God, truly our Home.
I think of this when I read the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) who has left home, wasted everything, and returns home.  Jesus says, "While he was still a long way off his father caught sight of him and was filled with compassion."  His father is his home.  That's where the son finds unearned love.  The father welcomes him home without setting any conditions.  God is gracious Love.
We sing a hymn with a refrain in which God assures us, "I will bring you home.  I love you and you are mine."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Never Enough

"I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE" is God's only answer to Moses who has asked for a name.  This response enriches our prayer life.  Sometimes we catch ourselves thinking that God is just like us, only bigger and more powerful.  Far from it!  The story of the Burning Bush does give us a glimpse of what God is like, but at the same time we're told that God is Mystery, Ultimate Reality that can never be completely captured by a name.
Our prayer is enriched because we can never get enough of God.  This is one instance where we can have our cake and eat it too.  No matter how well we get to know God, there is always more to know, more to love.  Just as I like a poem whose meaning I have to work out for myself, I am drawn to a God who does not make himself completely clear, who is always drawing us deeper and deeper into a more and more intimate relationship. 
The Divine Fire intrigues and attracts us; we remove our shoes and approach in awe.  We long to lose ourselves in these Flames of Love that consume without destroying.