The Lives We Live Now Are Not Our Own!

Pentecost Sunday (C)

You probably know that Pentecost Sunday comes fifty days after Easter; the word Pentecost means fiftieth. And you surely know that on Pentecost we celebrate the day that the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father down upon the Apostles to take over where the Risen Jesus left off. He became man, taught, suffered, died, arose from the dead, and then spent forty days giving the Apostles final instructions before he ascended into heaven on Ascension Thursday. After he ascended the Apostles and their followers were all alone, without inspiration, without wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and without fear of the Lord. These were the gifts of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles didn’t have—until they received them on Pentecost. Pentecost was the day of Confirmation for the Apostles, the day they confirmed their faith, confirmed their baptismal call to carry on for Christ until death. After Pentecost, they had the Spirit’s gifts and they were all totally changed—they could now stand up and boldly represent our Risen Lord before the world, proclaim the good news, and do it with wisdom, and understanding, and fortitude, and all of the other gifts they had received from the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

What you probably don’t know is that Pentecost was already a Jewish festival, and it never ceases to amaze me how brilliant God’s plan has been, first to reveal himself partially, dimly, to the Jews, and then fully to the Apostles and all of us Catholic Christians who have followed after them in faith over the past two thousand years.

As a Jewish festival, it was called the Feast of Weeks, in fact a “week of weeks,” seven times seven days after the Passover, when about twelve hundred and fifty years before Christ, the Jews were delivered from bondage in Egypt by God through Moses and the passing over them by the Angel of Death. The festival had begun as an agricultural feast celebrating the gathering of the barley harvest. It was one of three feasts called for by the Torah, or the Jewish Law, in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus. At some point in time, it took on the additional dimension of covenant renewal, because the Old Testament Book of Exodus said that the Jews arrived at Mt. Sinai fifty days after the Passover, and it was at Mt. Sinai that they received the Ten Commandments, the Law, and made that greatest of covenants with God: they would be his people and he would be their God—forever. In the Book of Exodus, we hear about wind and quaking and fire, as Moses brought down the Ten Commandments and the old, great covenant with God was established.

How masterful was God’s plan. Just as there was wind and quaking and fire, on the first Pentecost, fifty days after Passover, when God’s chosen people, the Jews, made their old and imperfect covenant with God, there was wind and quaking and tongues of fire, on the Christian Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection of the Son of God, as God sent down the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles.

The first reading today, from the Acts of the Apostles, tells us how much greater our Pentecost was, compared with the Pentecost of the Jews. Our Pentecost was intended to gather in all the nations of the world, not just the Jews. We hear about Parthians and Medes and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egyptians and Romans, Cretans and Arabs—representatives of every nation in the then-known world—all being called by God through the Apostles, and all miraculously hearing the Aramaic-speaking Apostles in their own languages. The mighty power of God was demonstrated that day—and his church on earth was founded. We count ourselves among its members; we are the beneficiaries of that first Pentecost. We have all been baptized and confirmed, and we too have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit—to be used, as best we can, to carry on, like the Apostles, the work of Christ in the world—to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and show others the way to eternal life and resurrection on the Last Day.

We all have been given personal abilities, charisms, gifts, to be used as we can to carry on this great work of Christ in the world. The second reading, from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, reminds us that all of our gifts come from the Holy Spirit and must always be used for the upbuilding of the Body of Christ as a unified body, a unified church. We can tell if our gifts have been given to us by the Spirit if they do indeed help contribute to the unity of the Body of Christ. If they do, they are from God; if they don’t, they are not!

The gospel reading confirms what we already know about the Church: that it is headed by the successor of the Apostle who became the bishop of Rome, originally Peter, now Francis. Our own Cardinal Sean, is a successor of the other Apostles, who, along with the other bishops of the world, in union with Pope Francis, preach and teach in the name of the Risen Jesus himself, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the gospel, Jesus said to the Apostles, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

We know that the day of Pentecost two thousand years ago didn’t just call the Apostles to go forth with the Holy Spirit within them, and do Christ’s work in the world; it kicked off a process of calling all of the baptized and confirmed from then until now, to do the same. By our baptism and confirmation, we are all called by God to be, as St. Paul described it, ambassadors for Christ—living his life, so that everyone around us, everyone we come in contact with, will see God when they see us. That is why we must refrain from any and all sin, not only because sin will affect our own destiny, but because it may affect the destiny of all those God wants to reach out to, through us.

As I have quoted in the past, St. Paul said it best, when he said in his Letter to the Galatians: “I, and that means all of us, have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. Oh, I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” May that be our conviction, and may we live our lives with that in mind. Our lives are not our own. The Spirit of Christ is living in us, and we will have Jesus himself living in us when we receive the Eucharist in a few minutes. Let us always be Christ, as best we can, for the benefit of everyone around us, and indeed, if enough of us do that, for the benefit of the entire world.

Ascension: Crucial Part of God’s Plan

Ascension Thursday (C)

It is so easy to take certain crucial events in salvation history for granted. This evening we celebrate one of the most crucial and one of the most taken for granted: the Ascension of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, into heaven, forty days after his resurrection from the dead. I think most, if not all of us, don’t fully appreciate just how crucial, how momentous, the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, was—and is, for our success in living out the Christian life in this world, and in achieving our ultimate destiny—salvation in the next, and bodily resurrection at the end of the world.

I’ve often marveled at how masterful a stroke, a stroke of God’s genius, the ascension was. If Jesus stayed on earth after the Resurrection, several bad things would have happened. First, the world would have been forced to believe in him; it would have had no choice. There he would be, in the risen flesh. There would be no need for faith, no need for hope, and maybe no need for love—the kind of unselfish, compassionate love that faith and hope engender in the human heart. We would be “forced” to do good and avoid evil. The news media would be following the Risen Jesus all the time and we would know we have no choice but to do what he said all those centuries ago: “Love God with all of your heart, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Another thing that would have happened, I think, is that he would have had to be in only one place; we might imagine that he would take up residence in Jerusalem or Rome, like the pope, who is Christ’s vicar or representative. How many of us would have had access to him over our lifetimes? Might we have been able to see him, probably only within a crowd of thousands, once? Twice? How often could we be with him, one-on-one? Never, most likely. The numbers of human beings on this planet are too great! How often can we be with him now? Whenever we want, in the Tabernacle. Every day in the reception of his body and blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. The Father’s masterful plan was to prepare for the Risen Jesus’ Ascension by keeping the Last Supper always present through the centuries, Jesus saying “Do this in remembrance of me.” Our Risen Lord could ascend because he left himself behind and available to everyone in the Eucharist. He could ascend because his work on earth was done.

In the sixteenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples that he had to ascend to the Father; if he didn’t the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit would not come, and the Father’s grand plan would not transition into its final phase, beginning with Pentecost, when the Risen and ascended Jesus sent the Holy Spirit down upon earth—to the Apostles, then to all those they baptized, and then to all those their successors and presbyters and deacons baptized down through the centuries—down to us! We have been given the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, that third PERSON of God—given to “little old you and little old me.” Unless the Risen Jesus ascended into heaven, the Spirit wouldn’t have come. And we would not have been given the Spirit—and the Divine Life that comes with him—Divine Life that is the only reason and the only way we could have become God’s children, Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and heirs to life everlasting and resurrection on the Last Day.

How masterful has God’s plan been? It has resulted in us having everything: happiness and peace of mind in this world, including the strength and guidance of the Spirit, in Revelation–Scripture and the Tradition given to us through the Magisterial teaching of the Church, and the nourishment we need to reach our eternal destination successfully—in the Eucharist.

We are Christ’s body on earth now—as God planned it, with the Spirit of the Risen Lord as its head. Rather than be forced to do good things, we are invited, in faith and with hope and with love, to be productive members of His body: his eyes and his ears and his mouth and his hands and his feet. Each of us being called to play a unique role in the carrying out of God’s work in the world, each of us to the extent that we have the abilities and the time to contribute to that work. Many of you do a lot; all of us need to do something, even if it is only to pray for the rest of us, and THAT is a very valuable and noble undertaking—to pray for all those who can contribute to God’s work in the world, if you can’t contribute yourself, due to age or infirmity. Let us acknowledge God’s masterful planning; let us thank him for blessing us with all of its benefits; and let us pledge that we will seize all the opportunities that He puts in front of us, to contribute to God’s mission in the world. We will be richly rewarded for it in both this world and in the next.

Today’s Mystagogia: The ABCs of Divine Mercy

Divine Mercy Sunday (C)

In the early church baptisms were conferred only once a year—at the Easter Vigil! We have baptisms once a month; many parishes have them every week. You can imagine how many baptisms there were in the early centuries of the church, when they were carried out only once a year! And they weren’t baptizing infants; they were baptizing adults—adults who went through a rigorous CCD program, you might say, that lasted two or three years! We have what is called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA, a process of bringing unbaptized or baptized Protestants into the Catholic church, and we too baptize them once a year—at the Easter Vigil. If you have been to our Easter Vigil over the past few years, you won’t recall any baptisms or confirmations because we just haven’t happened to have any candidates. There is one Protestant gentleman just joining our RCIA process now, so we hope to have him confirmed at next year’s Easter Vigil.

In the early church, and even today at Easter Vigils where we have grown-ups baptized and/or confirmed into the Catholic Church, the newly baptized/confirmed Catholic was given a white robe, or alb, like what father and I wear during Mass, to wear all week until the end of the Second Sunday of Easter, which is what today is. For eight days the newly baptized and confirmed Catholic, called a neophyte, would wear it around proclaiming their commitment to the Catholic Christian faith—for all to see! They would give it back on this Second Sunday of Easter. Each day of that first week of being now Catholic, the neophytes would gather together to reflect on just what happened to them at their baptism and confirmation. What had they become? What were they called by God to do, now that they were incorporated into the Body of Christ? The Greek word for this reflection process is called “mystagogia.” Today in the RCIA process, we take not just a week, but the entire six weeks of the Easter season to help the newly baptized and/or confirmed gain an understanding of the answers to these basic and very important questions. What does God want of them, as they begin to live out their Catholic Christian lives as disciples or followers of Christ?

And so, since we have also renewed our baptismal promises, confirming our baptisms and confirmations on Easter, the Sundays of the Easter season are our “mystagogia,” What are we called to do by God as members of the Body of Christ? What is this week’s mystagogic message? It begins with a proclamation: It is real! It is true! The apostles not only heard about the Risen Lord; they saw him; they even touched him! Touch brought with it a sense of certitude. The Risen Jesus IS the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end of everything! He is the first and the last for everyone! He is the center of life, or let us say that he should be. Discouragement, even suffering for the sake of rightiousness may come, but we can always fall back on the fact that the Risen Lord is real! He is alive because he rose from the dead! The Second Reading, from the Book of Revelation, gives us comfort and confidence in this reality.

The mystagogic message continues: Christ is present in the Church; he is present to us! Look at what his Spirit did to the apostles. It changed them! The Lord had promised that they would do even greater things than he had done! Today, even Peter’s shadow seemed to work wonders healing people—because the Spirit of the Risen Jesus was present and active in the Church.

And finally, in the gospel, we hear the mystagogic message that Christ gave his apostles the power and authority to forgive sins, or not forgive them, if the sinner showed evidence that he wasn’t really sorry. This is the so-called proof-text for the sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance: Jesus said: “Whose sins you have forgiven are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” The lesson for the neophytes—and us–is that, if we fall into even serious sin, we don’t need to fret. We need to get to Confession as soon as possible. We cannot go to Communion if we have committed a serious sin. Even if we don’t commit any serious sins, we should go to Confession on a regular basis anyway—say once a month. It is a great way to overcome one’s faults and less serious, but still, bad habits. The sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance is called “second baptism,” although we know it really isn’t that because one can only be baptized once. But the effect of removing sin is the same as baptism.

Reconciliation or Penance is called the sacrament of mercy—because it the sure way to avail oneself of God’s limitless mercy—God’s Divine Mercy! Which is a good segway. Today, the Second Sunday of Easter, is also called Divine Mercy Sunday. It was named that by Pope John Paul II at the canonization of St. Sr. Maria Faustina, a Polish num who lived from 1905 to 1938 and wrote a diary of her visions of Jesus commissioning her to spread the Good News of God’s generous, super-abundant mercy for all of mankind. St. Faustina wrote in her diary, that our Lord wants to establish this special day as the one during which he pours out a flood of mercy on souls. Jesus said to her in this vision: “My daughter, tell the whole world about my inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of my tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the Fount of my Mercy.” “Tell them to trust in me.”

Let us all try ask God to have mercy on us and on everyone we love, and on any and all of the people we don’t love, or don’t know, and for his help in being merciful toward others who have offended us. Whenever we say the Our Father, as we will later in the Mass, let us really mean it when we say: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” What we are really saying is “Forgive us our trespasses, but only to the extent that we forgive those who trespass against us.” The bottom line, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, is that we should remember the message of Divine Mercy by the ABCs: Ask for the Lord’s mercy. Be merciful toward others, and Completely trust in Jesus, for he is the Fount of Divine Mercy.

Wash the Feet of Others!

Holy Thursday (C)

This evening we celebrate the beginning of the most glorious and momentous four day period in the history of the world (except perhaps for the incarnation of the Son of God, Christ Jesus, as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem): Holy Thursday, when Jesus celebrated his last Passover meal with his apostles; Good Friday, when he was crucified, died, and was buried; Holy Saturday, when he lay dead in the tomb; and Easter Sunday, when he rose gloriously from the dead. As we live through these grand and glorious days again, as we do every Holy Week, I think it is worth reflecting on what those who don’t go to Mass every week likely don’t even know, much less appreciate: that these Holy Week events that happened two thousand years ago, are compressed and made present, in a transcendent and glorious way, at every Mass that we gather to celebrate. And so, this evening, even though we focus on the first of these grand and glorious days, Holy Thursday, the entire Pascal Mystery of Holy Week, will be played out during the Liturgy of the Eucharist that will follow this homily in a few minutes. But focusing on the Last Supper this evening, we can see that the Scripture Readings span the depth and breadth of what this evening’s celebration means.

The First Reading, from the Old Testament Book of Exodus, speaks about the first Hebrew Passover meal. This meal was, and still is, a commemoration of one of the greatest events in the history of the Israelites as God’s people, namely, their liberation from slavery in Egypt, twelve hundred years before Christ. Jews have been celebrating this Passover by the angel of death in Egypt, every year since. They give God thanks and they give God credit for what happened later in the desert, when Moses established the Old Covenant between the Israelites and God: they would obey his Law, summarized by the Ten Commandments, and He would bless them as his special, holy people. The Passover meal itself, for Jews, is a re-enactment of that hasty meal the Israelite people had to eat before their flight across the Red Sea from Egypt. A flight from slavery to freedom. The meal is full of symbols – the lamb offered to God and eaten, the blood of the lamb painted on the door posts, the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, eating the meal standing and dressed ready for a long journey. It is a sacred remembering of God’s great act to liberate them from slavery and the beginning of their long trek to the Promised Land.

At the time of Christ, this Passover meal obviously was a very special occasion. It was no coincidence that it was precisely during the celebration of this private Passover meal with his disciples that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, and along with it, the Sacrament of the Ministerial Priesthood.

In the Second Reading, from his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul recalls what Jesus did during that Passover meal, that Last Supper. Jesus transformed it into the first Eucharistic celebration – “While they were eating Jesus took the Bread, said the blessing, broke it and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat, this is my Body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks and gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it all of you for this is the blood of the covenant which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.’ ” Jesus thereby instituted the Holy Eucharist as the sign and reality of God’s perpetual presence with His people as their living, heavenly food, in the form of bread and wine. This was followed by the institution of the Ministerial Priesthood with the command, “Do this in memory of me.”

The Church teaches us that here is the link between the Old Covenant of the Jews and the New Covenant in the Blood of Christ. There is no mention of a lamb at the Last Supper because Jesus himself is the Lamb, and he is not just an animal, he is not even just a man, but the eternal Son of God. Christ served as both the Host and the Victim of this sacrificial meal, and became, in the process, the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world. He is the sacrificial victim of the New Covenant whose blood will be shed on the following day, on the cross. In this meal, as we know, Jesus changes the unleavened bread into his Body, and the cup of wine into a cup of his Blood. This meal becomes now and forever the sacrament of a new liberation, not just from physical slavery, but from every kind of slavery, especially that of sin and eternal death, through the broken Body of Jesus and his poured out Blood on the cross. This becomes the basis for the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the sum and summit of our worship, and indeed the basis for how we must live Christ’s life, because of our connection to Jesus’ death (and resurrection) by baptism.

In the Gospel, we have the Evangelist John’s account of the Last Supper, and its choice is most significant. At first glance, it may seem rather a strange choice for this evening when the institution of the Eucharist isn’t mentioned at all. St. John in his Last Supper account makes no mention of the bread being Jesus’ Body and the wine being his Blood. Instead, we have the totally unexpected act of Jesus, ‘washing the feet of his disciples,’ a service assigned to household servants, and concluding the ceremony with a long teaching incorporating his ‘commandment of love’ – “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Washing the feet of his disciples is actually a prophetic action by Jesus, which we will re-enact and re-present in our liturgy this evening. It is a powerful sign of our readiness to be of ‘loving service’ to others. Before sitting down to the Paschal meal, getting down on his knees and washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus, Lord and Master, gave us all a lesson in humble service. While he washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus was only too aware of the bickering among his disciples as to who was the greatest, and who should rank higher than the other. The disciples have yet to learn that in the Kingdom, Christ’s kingdom, the leader is the one who serves. It is a message for all of us: priests, deacons, parents, teachers, employers, managers, chief executives…

At the end Jesus asks, “Do you realize what I have done for you? I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Commanding his disciples to do the same echoes the words at the Eucharist, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

So, the first thing Jesus wanted his apostles to remember him by was his service. Not a grudging, unwilling, compulsory service, but a service born out of unselfish love. No token demonstration for instructional purposes here. Being really at the beck and call of others, allowing oneself to be used and abused, as servants are. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The Gospel Reading, it turns out, is not out of place, as it may have appeared, is it? It is actually in perfect harmony with the other two Scripture Readings, for Eucharist and loving service to others go together. Just as we are nourished by the body and blood of Jesus, we are also called to nourish others materially and spiritually. Just as the body of Jesus is given up for us, we are also called to be given up for others. Our Christian living is a seamless garment between the Gospel and the Eucharist at Mass, and daily life and our interaction with others out there in the world. There is something lacking if we are devout in our regular attendance at Mass, but our lives are lived individualistically and selfishly. There is also something lacking if we are totally committed to caring for others but never gather in community to remember what God has done for us, give thanks, and break bread together.

Our Eucharist only becomes effective if we allow it to motivate us to minister to others after we leave the church. If the celebration of the Eucharist stops at the Church door, it is a sign and celebration of nothing. It is a kind of sacrilege to claim to recognize Christ in the bread and wine and not recognize him in those around us who are in need. The Eucharist in all of us is essentially the sign of a living, loving, mutually serving community of brothers and sisters in Christ. A living, loving community celebrates and strengthens what it is through the Eucharist. It is this spirit of love and service of our brothers and sisters that is the principal characteristic of the Christian disciple, and we need to remember that, every time we take the Eucharist with us into the world outside these walls.

We recognize that the events of Holy Thursday night occurred once in time, two thousand years ago. But they became eternal, by the words and deeds of Jesus at that Last Supper. The words and deeds at the Last Supper now echo throughout all of time. What Jesus did on that night applies to everyone, before and after; and of course, they apply to all of us here this evening. Jesus washed the feet of his apostles because he loved them and wanted to give them the best example he could. He loved each of us then, too, and so the example then was for us too, now. The question we need to ask ourselves is: just as Jesus actually washed the feet of his apostles, are we going to, figuratively, wash the feet of the people around us, especially those who really need it? If the answer is, yes, let us ask the Spirit of our Risen Lord to inspire us to know to whom and how we are to do it?

The Paradox of Palms and Passion

Palm/Passion Sunday (C)

Today’s liturgy is a paradox. We call today Palm Sunday, recalling the day of triumph and celebration, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, with the people throwing palm branches on the ground before him, as they chanted “Hosanna,” and “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the lord.” And yet the main reading is the Passion account from Luke’s gospel, the Passion describing all the events that led up to Jesus’ terrible suffering and death on the Cross. What we won’t get to reflect on, of course, until next Sunday is “the rest of the story,” which is Jesus’ resurrection. This is actually a good thing—because most people, perhaps myself included, think of the suffering and death of Jesus as something Jesus had to “get through” or “suffer through” in order to be glorified only on Easter Sunday, when he rose from the dead. Commentaries tell us, however, that we need to recognize what St. John, at least, proclaimed, namely, that Jesus wasn’t only glorified in his resurrection, he was glorified in his terrible suffering and death! A very hard lesson for us to comprehend. A paradox. Jesus’ made several paradoxical statements during his public ministry: The last shall be first. He who humbles himself shall be exalted. Unless the seed falls to the ground and dies, it shall not live. If anyone would follow me, he must take up his cross. This week we are supposed to celebrate and renew and live this great mystery of the Lord’s glorification in his suffering and death!

The First Reading, from the Old Testament Book of the prophet Isaiah, shows the paradox of the “Suffering Servant.” The Suffering Servant Songs in Isaiah describe a kind of “everyman” figure who suffers, and who, by his suffering, heals everyone! The early Church used these songs or poems as an argument against those who believed only in a triumphant Messiah. The Church sees Jesus as the Suffering Servant who healed us all by his suffering, and that was actually a glorious thing—wonderful in its effect on all of us—our sins are overcome; our death is overcome; by our baptism into Christ’s death, as St. Paul puts it, we have been given Divine Life and are heirs to heaven and resurrection on the Last Day.

Today’s second reading from St. Paul is one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture. It is said to have been an ancient hymn before Paul incorporated it into his Letter to the Philippians. It expresses the paradox of our faith beautifully. Jesus was, by nature, God from all eternity; but he didn’t cling to it. He emptied himself, for our sakes, and made himself nothing! Not only did he humble himself by becoming a human being, he humbled himself much further, obediently accepting death on a cross—the worst kind of degradation of a man possible. It is hard to imagine that God would allow himself to be brought so low—and yet, he did—for us! And yet, the paradox is that by being brought to the level of the lowest of the low, his Father recognized how glorious this was, and exalted his Son in his resurrection.

It is easy to see glory in resurrection. It is difficult, if not impossible, without God’s grace, to see glory in suffering and death, especially our own! And yet that is what today’s liturgy is challenging us to do. Embrace the paradox of glory in suffering. Let us die to self, so that we may experience life in Christ Jesus. While we don’t want to suffer, we must see that there is something greater than to be free of suffering. We must stand up for what is right and true. We must be persons of integrity and virtue. In every thought, word, and deed, our motive must always be love and service of God, and love and service of others, living out the two great commandments of Jesus: loving God with all our heart, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And if we are truly faithful, we shall probably suffer—at the hands of so many around us who don’t have this faith.

But not to worry! The Lord will give us strength—through the Holy Spirit, and through the Eucharist we are about to receive. If he said we must lose our life in order to find it, he will be right there with us to make sure we do. He will, indeed, give us the strength to carry our own individual crosses. Let us, then joyfully follow Christ Jesus even to the cross—confident that we will share his crown of glory!

From the Old to the New

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Last Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, marked the end of the special season that begins each Church year: Advent, where we focus on the Second Coming of the lord, as we remember His First Coming at Christmas, Christmas week itself, and the great celebration of Mary the Mother of Jesus, and therefore, the Mother of God, and Epiphany, where we recall Christ’s presentation to the entire world, you might say, in the form of the arrival of the three Wise Men or kings. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord provides a capstone for all these great celebrations of Christ’s Divinity embedded in his humanity, by celebrating the point, later in Christ’s life, when he is grown up, when the Father proclaims to the whole world how “well-pleased” He is in His Son, Jesus Christ—for taking on the mission of preaching and teaching and healing that leads him inexorably to his sacrificial death on the Cross—a death that would save all who follow in his footsteps, that would save all of us!

We have entered now the season of the Church—called Ordinary Time, the time when we sit back and reflect more deeply on just who we are as God’s people, who we are as God’s Church. The vestments are green, the color of life and hope! We are alive in Christ, through our baptism, and we have hope: that we will be able to stay alive in Christ, by following Christ’s example, and reach the finish line of our lives, ready to take that life in Christ into eternity!

Just who are we as God’s people? Scripture has many different metaphors to describe the relationship between God and his people. Covenant is one. Although we are unequal parties to the contract we have with God, it is a perpetual contract, sealed in the blood of animals, in the Old Covenant between God and the Jews, and in the blood of Christ, in the New Covenant between God and us.

Another metaphor is the shepherd and his sheep. Another is the vine and the branches. And another is a vineyard and those who are called to work in it. A favorite of St. Paul is the image that we are the Body of Christ and he is the head. In today’s readings, the metaphor is marriage. The first time this image was used was probably by the Old Testament prophet Hosea, who married a woman who was unfaithful to him. He prophesied that God had married Israel, and Israel proved to be an unfaithful spouse. Yet God still loved her, as Hosea still loved his unfaithful wife.

The story of the wedding feast at Cana is well known to all of us, isn’t it? Cana is about five miles from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. I’ve been there! Many couples go there, even today, to get married. Tradition says that the apostle Bartholomew came from Cana. Simon the Zealot may also have come from there. So it is quite natural that Jesus and his followers come to a wedding feast one day in Cana.

Maybe it was because of the many followers of Jesus that the wine runs short. Mary comes to Jesus and says, “They have no wine.” Jesus asks how this should concern him; his hour has not yet come. Mary as much as ignores his reluctance and tells the waiters to do whatever Jesus tells them. Jesus has them fill purification jars, huge jars with a capacity of about 15-25 gallons. The water miraculously becomes wine—not just wine, but fine wine, much better than what was being served earlier at the wedding!

But remember, we are in John’s gospel with this story, where there are usually two levels of meaning: the obvious events taking place, and a deeper meaning behind the events, that tells us a whole lot about God in Christ Jesus. There are three clues to the deeper meaning. First, Jesus calls Mary “woman.” Scripture scholars tell us that for John, Jesus uses the word “woman,” not to insult her, heaven forbid, but to relate her to the “woman” in the Old Testament Book of Genesis. Remember when the serpent tricked Eve into eating the apple in the Garden of Eden and she convinced Adam to do the same? And God says to the serpent, “Because you have caused this, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.”

Second, the water jars; they were for purification, for washing! You don’t drink out of your bathtub or your sink! The jars represent the Jewish approach to purification for sin: wash with water in a prayer ritual. How effective, really, is that? Third, the amount in each jar: 15-25 gallons! And there were six of them! 150 gallons of new wine! Enough to get all of Galilee drunk! Wine represents gladness, joy, grace! In God’s new covenant in Christ, God’s mercy or forgiveness is superabundant! Overflowing, much more than anyone will ever need—because God’s love is superabundant, overflowing, much more than anyone will ever need.

So the deeper meaning of these events at Cana is that Jesus is teaching something glorious about God and he is beginning to manifest that glory in himself, through the first of his “signs,” doing something no mere human being could ever do. He is showing a foretaste of the completion of his mission when there will be complete joy as the world is saved through the rest of his work on earth. Jesus replaces the old water of Jewish ritual purification with the new wine of Christ, who lavishes salvation on all peoples.

At the beginning of this new calendar year, in this month of January which began with resolutions to ring out the old and ring in the new, let us replace the old in our lives with the new. As we heard in the Second Reading, from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, God has given us distinct and unique spiritual gifts. He expects us to use those gifts in his service, replacing the old and worn-out with a new and lively spirit.

Let us replace any indifference we may feel with genuine concern for others, and with conscientious service. Do we really care about our neighbor? Do we really bother to study our faith on a continuing basis, so that it keeps getting broader and deeper? Do we really care about growing to become the person God wants us to be?

Let us replace any smugness and condescension we may feel with genuine humility and love: love of God and love of neighbor. We have the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ Jesus; we are called to pass it on to all those around us—especially our family members, co-workers, and friends.

Let us work to replace our faults and failings, one at a time, with their opposites: virtues, cultivated by prayer and discernment of God’s plan for us. Let us be more penitent for our own sins and more forgiving of those who sin against us, as we pray at every Mass in the Our Father.

Let us replace our acceptance of the attitudes of the world with the attitude of Christ. Let us not fall into the misconception of the world that we should not impose our values on others, as if others had their own God, or no God! Let us embrace the fact that God asks us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and that God’s revelation can only reach others outside our faith through us—as we evangelize in Christ’s name. The ways of even the modern world are really old; we must help replace them with the newness Christ came to bring!

At Cana, the chief steward said, “You have saved the best for last.” Today the world sorely needs the best, and it doesn’t have it without the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. Let us live fully this newness of life in Christ. Let us manifest His glory in all we say and do. God wants all the world to see it, and he is depending on each and every one of us, as his people, as his Church, to help the world do so.

From Sin and Death to Eternal Life

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

How blessed we are to be Catholic Christians! The last time I preached was two weeks ago, and it was Father’s Day. It struck me then how blessed we are to know, through Christ, that almighty God is our dearly beloved and loving Father, our Daddy, not a transcendent master who demands that we do his bidding, whether it be to do good or evil. I had read that that is who God is for the Muslims. Not only are we blessed to know that we have a loving Father in heaven, but we are blessed because he acts like a loving Father toward us, raising us to the level of the divine, through the waters of baptism, and giving us everything: the divine life of the Holy Spirit, his Son’s body and blood in the Eucharist, and all the graces we need to achieve the destiny that he has called us to: eternal life and resurrection of the body on the Last Day.


So many Catholics don’t realize just how wonderful our God has been to us, and continues to be to us. They question God when they suffer, when tragedy strikes in their lives, when their prayers for a miracle seem to go unanswered, and when anything bad happens to them. They question God’s love and ask “why do bad things happen to good people?” Today’s Scripture readings are intended to “review the bidding” you might say and offer us the mindset that God wants us to have, in case we are tempted even once in a blue moon to think that God isn’t blessing us all the time, isn’t loving us all the time, the way we think he should.


Even before the time of the First Reading from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom, in fact in the very first book of the Old Testament, the Book of Genesis, we heard that God created the universe and everything in it, declaring all of it good. Man he created and saw that it was good; he was good; she was good. He did not create anything evil, and, as it says in the First Reading, God did not create, or even cause, death. It was humans who created, you might say, death, because humans introduced sin, and it was sin that resulted in death—and we are the beneficiaries. In the First Reading, we hear that “God formed man to be imperishable; the image of God’s own nature he made him.” Humanity upset God’s plan. God is life, and to turn away from God is to deny life and to choose death.


We call our inheritance of this “death sentence” the result of the Original Sin of our first parents. We don’t really understand it, but we do know that we all die, sooner or later. In the gospel, we heard the story of Jesus raising someone from the dead, in this case the daughter of a synagogue official, Jairus. On the one hand, we appreciate that this shows that Jesus does indeed have the power of God to raise the dead to life, but on the other hand, we realize that this is not something we can expect the Risen Jesus to do for us, when someone we love dies, perhaps even when we near death ourselves. In fact, there are only three instances in the Gospels when Jesus raised someone from the dead: Jairus’s daughter in today’s gospel, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus, Jesus’s close friend. In the gospel, Jesus miraculously healed the woman with a hemorrhage. He healed many, but he didn’t heal everyone. These miracles were signs, they were proofs of Jesus’ restorative, healing power; they were never meant to make us think that he would raise people up wholesale, that he would heal everyone wholesale—that is, until the end of the world. From his seat at the right hand of the Father, the Risen Jesus didn’t raise Peter, or Paul, or any of the other Apostles when they died—and they all, except John, died horribly! He didn’t raise any of the early martyrs of Rome, whose feast day we celebrated yesterday. He didn’t raise any of the great Church fathers, or any of the great saints who lived heroic lives, and died, many of them, after suffering greatly. Why not?


Not only did our Risen Lord not raise anyone of these from the dead, he didn’t stop their suffering, nor should we expect him to stop our suffering, much less we are, than any of the great, and even not-so-great saints. Why not? Does it mean that God doesn’t really love us or care about us? Of course not, but there will be many people who will turn away from God because their prayers for relief, prayers for healing, prayers for physical help have, in their minds, gone unanswered.


When I hear from, or hear about, or read about, bitter people saying: “Why did God let that happen to me? I didn’t deserve that.” I think of our Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross, watching her sinless Son suffer and die on the Cross. Why did God let that happen to her? She didn’t deserve that, did she? One could ask even more appropriately: “Why did God the Father let that happen to Jesus, His Son?” Jesus didn’t deserve it, most especially. But it is in understanding this last, most crucial question, and the answer to it, that we are closest to the best answer we have been given by God. Jesus’ suffering and death, was the free offering of both the Father and Son—for us–to save all of us from sin–and the death that comes from sin. It was a free offering of both the Father and the Son. It wasn’t something unfortunate, something that we might think God should have stopped. It was the glorification of Jesus, the Son, by God the Father—on behalf of all of us.


After the Resurrection, Jesus gave the Apostles the way for all of us to imitate his unselfish sacrificial love, and thereby participate in that offering to the Father—first through baptism into Jesus’ death, and then thereafter through participation in the Eucharist, where we are joined with the Son in making present, for us, the sacrificial offering of the Son to the Father. Those of us who have been baptized, have been freed from the ultimate penalty of sin and death—we are destined not to die, not to really die, but rather after our human death, to live with God forever, along with all those others who have kept the Spirit within them since baptism, or gotten it back through the sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance. And as we pledge our continued commitment to this New and Eternal Covenant with the Father at every Eucharist in which we participate, we know, because of the promise of Almighty God, himself, that like Jesus, one day we will be raised from our human death, to live in the body forever, never to suffer, never to die again.


If that sounds too theological, too heavy to really appreciate, let me boil it down to a simple summary. God loves us deeply—God our dear Father, Jesus our dear brother, and the Holy Spirit, who manifests love itself between the Father and the Son. We don’t want to suffer and die; neither does God want us to suffer and die. But we know that even God has known suffering—the Father willingly giving up his Son, the Son willingly giving himself up to suffering and death—for us, and the Holy Spirit participating in it all in love for both the Father and the Son. So if God himself has suffered, how can we complain about the fact that we suffer too? We must always try to see our suffering and our death as opportunities to imitate Jesus’ suffering and death, even to participate in it. After all, if we don’t suffer and die, with and in Jesus, how can we have any hope of being raised like Him? Jesus’ suffering and death was noble and meritorious. We should consider ours to be the same.

Leave the Results Up to God!

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Today is the eleventh Sunday in Ordinary time. Now doesn’t that sound noteworthy? NOT!! It is not Easter or Pentecost or Trinity Sunday or the Solemnity of Corpus Christi—the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a Sunday in Ordinary Time, and so it could seem like an unimportant Sunday, with an unimportant message in the Scripture readings. And yet that would be wrong! The Sundays in Ordinary time are very important to our understanding of God’s plan as it has unfolded since Pentecost, through the Apostles and their successors and all the Christians whom they served, from two thousand years ago—until today. The Risen Lord said, when he ascended, that he would be with us always—until the end of the world. Ordinary time is the time during the rest of the Church year, when we hear, bit by bit, so much of what Jesus taught, so much about what God wants us to know and put into action, too much for us to hear and appreciate only on the great Feasts and Solemnities of the Church year—like Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Living the Christian life well is very difficult and challenging, as you well know. We need to live it well, not only on the great feast days, but every day of the year! The Sundays of Ordinary time are many, like the 365 days of our yearly lives are many, each presenting us with work to do for the Lord, issues to deal with, and temptations to overcome, especially the temptation to forget about God—the temptation to be selfish and self-centered.


All those ordinary, but difficult days might make us lean toward discouragement. And so today, the readings, I think, are given to us to encourage us to renew our courage, our persistence, our faith, and our hope that the Lord will continue to be with us, every ordinary day, for the rest of our lives. And of course, he will, but we need to reflect on it and convince ourselves of it.


Commentaries tell us that today’s gospel account was likely written during a time of discouragement in the early church. The apostles had been sent out into the world to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. But the world didn’t instantly embrace this good news, it didn’t instantly embrace the faith. St. Paul’s letters are filled with times things didn’t go well for him personally. Sometimes he was beaten, betrayed, shipwrecked, and jailed. Paul would establish a Christian community, probably small initially, and find out a year later that it had gotten off the track. That was why Paul wrote most of his letters—to get one community or another back on track! Using the image in the gospel, Paul planted the seeds of faith in these communities, but he and others after him, had to keep watering and feeding and weeding them, none ever being around to see if these communities would ever really flourish, which, of course, they eventually did.


As we look at our world and even at ourselves today, we can easily get discouraged. Where have people’s morals been going, in this country and around the world? Half of the marriages are ending in divorce, even among Catholics, if couples are getting married at all! Pre-marital sexual activity is the rule , rather than the exception. Drugs seem to be everywhere. Mass attendance among Catholics is way down. I dare say that most people don’t give God a thought, except perhaps at funerals!


The message for today is to take heart—God has a plan, and he is determined to carry it out. All we need to do is, as St. Paul put it, fight the good fight and keep the faith. God keeps planting seeds through us, and without us, for that matter, and these seeds will sprout someday, as those sown during the time of St. Paul eventually did, growing into a world-wide church, one billion strong! Who knew? It is the same today. We can get discouraged with our world and perhaps even with ourselves. But God is with us, 24-7, but most especially at Mass, in the Scripture readings, and in the most holy Eucharist. That is one reality that continues week after week, even day after day: the Mass, and it should encourage us. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, re-confirms the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood at every Mass. We are saved, the world is saved, by our attachment to the Risen Jesus through baptism, and the Risen Jesus’ covenant with his Father—our Father, a covenant that is continually reaffirmed, reconfirmed at every Mass. And when we go forth into the world, after Mass, we are asked by God to plant little seeds of good example among the people with whom we come in contact: our family members, our neighbors, our fellow-workers, even the strangers we meet. The Holy Spirit will do the watering—and the seeds will grow, and grow, and grow. As the Lord God said in the First Reading from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Ezekiel: “As I, the Lord, have spoken, so will I do!” As St. Paul said, in the Second Reading, from his Second Letter to the Corinthians, “we need to walk by faith, not by sight.” We will likely not see how successful our attempts to plant God’s seeds will be. But God is assuring us today that he will make the seeds grow and flourish—sooner or later!


And so, let us not be discouraged with the way things are today, all around us. Let us take the words of the Lord to heart and put them into practice. Let us walk by faith; let us plant seeds of good example; and leave the results up to God.

As a post-script to this homily on the readings, it is appropriate to acknowledge that today is also Father’s Day. While we are supposed to confine our homilies to the content of the Scripture readings, I think it is not inappropriate, since I mentioned him in the homily, to acknowledge just what kind of Father we have in heaven. The Christian understanding of God our Father is so different than that of the other main religions of the world. The Jews, having only the Old Testament portion of revelation, have considered God their sovereign king, which he is. The notion of covenant in the Old Testament was always an agreement between unequals, which is also true for us. We are in no way equal to God. However, the Jews saw then and we presume see today that God is our king, our ruler, and we are his vassals or his citizens.


The Muslims have a very different concept of God. They believe that in no way is God a Father—that is blasphemy; fatherhood is a human characteristic, not divine. They believe that God (Allah) is the master of the world and of the entire human race, and human beings are his slaves. God is the author of both good and evil and humans must do his bidding, even when it entails committing evil (like flying airliners into buildings). What a terrible understanding of God.


It was only through the teachings, and his lived-out prayer life with His Abba (Daddy), that we have this wonderful and true understanding of God our Father, as our loving, doting, forgiving, compassionate daddy—giving us everything, everything we need to accomplish the mission he has given us: to love him with all of our heart and all of our mind and all of our strength—and our neighbor as ourselves, which will ultimately pattern us after Him and his Son, and bring us joyfully home to Him one day in heaven.


Thank God that we are Catholic Christians. We know what the model Father is like, our heavenly Father. We know that we fathers are all called to be like Him: loving, compassionate, forgiving, etc. toward our children and the rest of God’s children. And so we can rejoice on this Father’s Day that we have the best of fathers, and his encouragement to us human fathers to be just like him. Thanks be to God!

The Glory of Self-Giving to God

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

Last Sunday we heard the Passion of Our Lord according to St, Mark. In our 3-year lectionary cycle, it is the year of Mark. And so last year on Palm Sunday we heard the Passion of Our Lord according to Matthew. The year before we heard the Passion of Our Lord according to St. Luke. But every year on Good Friday we hear the Passion of Our Lord according to St. John. John’s gospel was composed last, around 90 or 95 a.d., maybe 25 years after Mark’s, 15 years after Matthew’s, and maybe 10 years after Luke’s. John had the most time to reflect on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His gospel account of the Passion is very different from the other accounts. The facts and the details are very similar to the so-called synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The message of those passion accounts is the agony of Christ’s suffering and death, agony that he willingly accepted on behalf of all of us. The message of John‘s account is the entrance of our Lord Jesus into his glory. His suffering is still there, but it is secondary.

In John’s Passion account, Jesus is victorious every step of the way to his throne of a cross. What a different perspective: the Cross is Jesus’ throne! In John’s account, Jesus is in charge. The other characters are the ones who are on trial. They are weak; they are fearful. Jesus is always the victor. Some examples. When the soldiers come to arrest Jesus, he asks them whom are they looking for, and when they reply, “Jesus, the Nazorean,” Jesus says, “I AM.” This is the same thing that God says to Moses, when he announces his divinity. Jesus is saying what only God himself had ever said. The soldiers fall back. When one of Jesus’ followers lops off the ear of a slave of the high priest, Jesus tells them not to fight for him; he freely chooses to drink the cup the Father has given him.

When Jesus is accused before the high priest, he says that he has always spoken openly; he challenges THEM to produce the evidence of his so-called crimes. Before Pilate, Jesus proclaims that he is king. He says that he could have legions of angels to assist him if he willed it.

In John, Jesus wears a seamless garment, the same as the Jewish high priest. The other gospels say that Jesus “expired.” John says, “He handed over his spirit.” Jesus says, just before that, “It is finished.” In other words, the work the Father gave him to accomplish has been completed. He still is in charge and declares that it is now time for him to hand over his spirit to his Father in death.

Old Testament Scripture passages are being fulfilled in Jesus’ Passion right and left in John’s gospel! “Not a bone shall be broken,” identifying Jesus with the Passover lamb of the great covenant of God with the Jews; Jesus was establishing the New Covenant in his blood. A soldier thrusts a lance into his side and another Old Testament passage is quoted: “They will look upon him whom they have pierced,” from a Suffering Servant song of the prophet Isaiah.

Jesus is clearly in charge. As it says in the beginning of the passion, Jesus “knew everything that was going to happen to him.” For John, the Father’s plan was all important, as was the Son’s role in carrying it out. And it is glorious to see how the Father’s plan is executed perfectly by the Son. John would probably have goose bumps telling his followers how glorious the entire Paschal mystery played out according to plan—God always in charge, Father, Son, AND Holy Spirit! We can commiserate with John on that, because this perfectly executed plan was not for himself, but for all for us—and we have indeed been the beneficiaries! If Christ hadn’t carried out the plan, could we say that we had ANY hope of salvation? We can rightly feel a sense of joy that Christ suffered and died for us.

But it is still Good Friday. We cannot be completely joyful when we contemplate the price that Jesus paid for our redemption. While the gospel is presented in a positive way, it is still the day on which our dear Lord died! The Paschal Mystery consists not only of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday, but also of the preceding suffering and death on Good Friday.

And so, Jesus suffers and dies, in John’s view, in order to enter into his glory. All this should be a sign to us that, if we attach ourselves to Jesus, which we do by baptism and by keeping the Holy Spirit we received in baptism within us by living the way Jesus did, as best we can, we will enter into the same glory Jesus entered into, suffering to one degree or another along the way. Our trials, our tribulations, our sufferings in body and/or spirit can actually bring us consolation, if we realize that such suffering leads to glorification —in and through Christ.

The First Reading is the fourth Suffering Servant Song of Isaiah, composed more than five hundred years before Christ. How eerily it describes precisely what happened to Jesus in his suffering. It is actually consistent with John’s perspective: it is filled with the hope of victory, from the very first line: “See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.” On the cross! “He shall be light in the fullness of days. He shall take away the sins of many and win pardon for their offenses.” It does give us chills that this prophecy was uttered five hundred years before Christ did exactly that.

The Second Reading proclaims our confidence in Christ, our high priest, who has passed through the heavens, but saved us by being obedient to the Father, becoming a man, and suffering, and dying on a Cross.

So much of what we hear during the Passion seems like opposites: suffering and healing; death and resurrection; agony and glory. And yet they are not really opposites. Self-giving is the greatest expression of love and the highest form of freedom—freedom to give everything, even one’s self! The glory of the resurrection only crowns the glory that Jesus already got by his obedience to his Father’s will. And so, the “hour” of Jesus’ glorification that we hear about in John, is one great event that includes suffering, death, and resurrection.

We are called to have the same mind as Christ Jesus. Our glory does not come from trophies or honors, fame or fortune. Our glory begins when we also do the will of our Father in heaven, even when it is very difficult, even when we have to suffer in the process, the way Jesus did—although he suffered in the extreme! Our glory continues as we follow Jesus’ lead throughout our lives and at the end of it, hand over our spirit to our Father willingly, at the point of death. Our glory, then, will be complete, when our Father raises us up the way he raised up his Son Jesus on Easter morn.

Life involves effort; life involves suffering. But it is effort and suffering for Christ that are absolutely worth it, because God will glory in it while it is happening, and reward us with eternal glory, when it is over.

The Paradox of Palms and Passion

Palm/Passion Sunday (B)

Today’s liturgy is a paradox. We call today Palm Sunday, recalling the day of triumph and celebration, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, with the people throwing palm branches on the ground before him, as they chanted “Hosanna,” and “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the lord.” And yet the main reading is the Passion account from Mark’s gospel, the Passion describing all the events that led up to, and included Jesus’ terrible suffering and death on the Cross. What we won’t get to reflect on, of course, until next Sunday is “the rest of the story,” which is Jesus’ resurrection. This is actually a good thing—because most people, perhaps myself included, think of the suffering and death of Jesus as something Jesus had to “get through” or “suffer through” in order to be glorified only on Easter Sunday, when he rose from the dead. Commentaries tell us, however, that we need to recognize what St. John, at least, proclaimed, namely, that Jesus wasn’t only glorified in his resurrection, he was glorified in his terrible suffering and death! A very hard lesson for us to comprehend. A paradox. Jesus’ made several paradoxical statements during his public ministry: The last shall be first. He who humbles himself shall be exalted. Unless the seed falls to the ground and dies, it shall not live. If anyone would follow me, he must take up his cross. This week we are supposed to celebrate and renew and live this great mystery of the Lord’s glorification in his suffering and death!

The First Reading, from the Old Testament Book of the prophet Isaiah, shows the paradox of the “Suffering Servant.” The Suffering Servant Songs in Isaiah describe a kind of “everyman” figure who suffers, and who, by his suffering, heals everyone! The early Church used these songs or poems as an argument against those who believed only in a triumphant Messiah. The Church sees Jesus as the Suffering Servant who healed us all by his suffering, and that was actually a glorious thing—wonderful in its effect on all of us—our sins are overcome; our death is overcome. By our baptism into Christ’s death, as St. Paul puts it, we have been given Divine Life and are heirs to heaven and resurrection on the Last Day.

Today’s second reading from St. Paul is one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture. It is said to have been an ancient hymn before Paul incorporated it into his Letter to the Philippians. It expresses the paradox of our faith beautifully. Jesus was, by nature, God from all eternity; but he didn’t cling to it. He emptied himself, for our sakes, and made himself nothing! Not only did he humble himself to become a human being, he humbled himself much farther, obediently accepting death on a cross—the worse kind of degradation of a man possible. It is hard to imagine that God would allow himself to be brought so low—and yet, he did—for us! And yet, the paradox is that by being brought to the level of the lowest of the low, his Father recognized how glorious this was, and exalted his Son in his resurrection.

It is easy to see glory in resurrection. It is difficult, if not impossible, without God’s grace, to see glory in suffering and death, especially our own! And yet that is what today’s liturgy is challenging us to do. Embrace the paradox of glory in suffering. Let us die to self, so that we may experience life in Christ Jesus. While we don’t want to suffer, we must see that there is something greater than to be free of suffering. We must stand up for what is right and true. We must be persons of integrity and virtue. In every thought, word, and deed, our motive must always be love and service of God, and love and service of others, living out the two great commandments of Jesus: loving God with all our heart, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And if we are truly faithful, we shall probably suffer—at the hands of so many around us who don’t have this faith.

But not to worry! The Lord will give us strength—through the Holy Spirit, and through the Eucharist we are about to receive. If he said we must lose our life in order to find it, he will be right there with us to make sure we do. He will, indeed, give us the strength to carry our own individual crosses. Let us, then joyfully follow Christ Jesus even to the cross—confident that we will share his crown of glory!