Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lenten Reflection: Fifth Sunday of Lent

Year A Scrutinies
(Ez 37:12-14; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45)

The Greatest Miracle in the World

What is the greatest miracle in the world? Is it the Wedding at Cana? The miracle of the fish? The healing of the many people who are sick and diseased? Is it the feeding of the five-thousand or the walking on the water? Or is it as today’s Gospel says; the miraculous resurrection of Lazarus? I would think that one could make a case that of all the extraordinary, astounding and astonishing miracles that Jesus has performed, none has been greater than this most awesome expression of God’s life giving power.

Now in light of this realization that Christ has performed the greatest miracle in the world what does it mean, then, when he says to his disciples (as he says to us today) in John’s Gospel, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:12-14).

Greater works than these … greater works than these? We are told we will do greater works that those of the Our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ!? I say that with an exclamation point and a question mark as well, for frankly, I find it quite intimidating that the Truth tells us that we will do greater works than those that the disciples had witnessed at that we hear proclaimed year after year.

What could be greater than raising someone from the dead? I believe the answer is raising those from the living dead; our brothers and sisters who share this holy existence of life among us on this earth. Many of us have experienced the life of mediocrity. We have in many different ways settled for an altered way of life because of lost dreams. We have surrendered our self-esteem to negative persuasions, and have settled for just getting by. We may have lost our desire to cooperate with God’s Divine plan for our lives; we may have fallen into the nightmare of compromise filled with regret, dejection, and hopelessness. We may have fallen upon a path of disdain for any respect for human life, a track with alcohol and drug addictions, or even a journey in which some of us shared in the despair, bleakness, and fear of a life that was filled with “unanswered prayers and nights of tears.”

But there is hope! There is joy! There is Jesus and his promise to us all: “You will do greater deeds than these.” We, my brothers and sisters, can and must be ready to follow in the Lord’s footsteps and raise those in need from the living dead.

How are we to do this? Look at the example of our patron St. Francis of Assisi: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, make strangers welcome, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, clothe the naked.

What is the greatest miracle in the world? The wine, the fish, the loaves? … It is the gift of life! God is challenging us today to resurrect those from the living dead; those who look upon themselves with disgrace and terror; those who live in fear and failure and thrash hopelessly and helplessly in their own image of worthlessness and mockery.

My brothers and sisters, we must raise our hands in prayer and in honor to the Almighty and ask for the promise that Jesus foretold: to share in his ministry; to perform the greater miracle; to raise those from the living dead. As we seek and find those in need we will then cry out in a loud voice “Lazarus, come out!”

– Br. Matthew Hillman, T.O.R.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Lenten Reflection: Fourth Sunday of Lent

Cycle B
(2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21)

Lent is the Church’s annual call to conversion. It echoes God’s call for a change of heart; from spiritual death or sickness to become whole and healthy again. Penance is not a way to make ourselves feel bad but a chance to know real spiritual peace and joy again. But this Sunday was a break in the old rather severe Lent and is called Laetare from the first antiphon: “Rejoice.” It celebrates the chance to choose life and wholeness, to be open to receive that undeserved, generous love we cannot earn but only accept as God’s gift to us.

Today in this passage from St. John’s Gospel we overhear part of a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee called Nicodemus. This man was attracted by the words and deeds of Jesus, but he was still unsure and, in the face of the opposition of some of his confreres, was still fearful about following Him. So he comes under cover of the darkness to find out more about this Rabbi. Jesus talks with him and we listen in.

Now, John’s Gospel is noted for highlighting the Signs - especially the seven miracles - which help one to have faith in Jesus. Today Jesus refers to the sign of the serpent uplifted on a pole. He was recalling a strange event during the Exodus. The Israelites had been bitten by desert serpents and some had died. Moses was told by God to mount a bronze serpent on a pole and all who looked upon it with faith would recover. (You probably have seen something similar to that serpent on the pole in your Doctor’s office. It is still a sign of healing ...... points us to the MD...the healer!) So when Christ is lifted up, Nicodemus will recognize the He is The Healer.

St. John is also well known for highlighting the signs of Light and Darkness. Whenever he uses Light it is always pointing to life, faith, and the saving wisdom Jesus is offering.(Nicodemus has come out of the darkness to Christ the Light) Jesus explains that He has come because God the Father loves this human world of His Creation and wants to give it Eternal Life. Jesus is the Light come into the world so that we might see ourselves, others and the world as it is....a world where darkness was the condition everyone used to cover up their sins and evil deeds,. In the darkness no one can recognize the good man from the criminal. One of the practical safety and anti-crime precautions is an abundance of bright lights in an area.

Today’s Liturgy reminds us that the Coming, the Presence of Jesus is The Great Gift of God to us. And once He has come into the world there are only two choices: either to believe in Him and move into God’s Light or refuse to believe and turn from the light into moral darkness where evil thoughts and actions are not so glaringly apparent. It is even possible to move so far away into the darkness of selfishness that the refusal of God’s offer of Light and Healing becomes permanent. And that is what is meant be eternal condemnation or hell; eternally fixed in one’s choice to refuse to love or to accept love.

Today’s Liturgy also reminds us that to do Penance; to learn to open, our secret, locked in hearts - to show the wounds to God and to welcome the Light and Warmth of His love. During these days of Lent we have the opportunity to take time out to consider the Good News, to recall what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to be prepared for a time of Surprising Grace. Here are some helpful hints to point you in the right direction in the remaining days of Lent:

Look about you every morning. God has given you this day and He wills to be with you as you go through it. It will not be important how much you will do for Him, but how much you are willing to let Him do for and through you. The thing that carried many people through the terrible experience of the concentration camps was Someone was concerned and was waiting! On a difficult day realizing that God is with you and loves you can be like the Light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Place a crucifix or picture of Christ in your home. Not hidden away in the bedroom but “lifted Up” in a place of honor to remind you and those who enter your home how much you are loved by God, your Savior and Healer.

Take advantage of appearing before God’s Mercy Seat in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, not as an Easter DUTY but to receive a gift from God, to hear Him say through His priest: “I know your sins and failures, but even so you are My beloved and Chosen Child.”

This Laetare Sunday resolve to do such things and you will discover Lent is a time of joy and light. It will remind you of Who God is, who we are and what we believe. It can be a time of grace when your heart is changed and you become whole and spiritually healthy for God’s Love is a recognized, vital part of your life.

– Fr. Seraphin Conley, T.O.R.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lenten Reflection: Third Sunday of Lent

Cycle B
(Ex 20:1-17 or Ex 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25)

Growing up you could always tell when you entered a Catholic home because either at the entrance hall or in a place of honor in the parlor there would be a crucifix or a religious picture. There are all kinds of artistic depictions of Christ: good, bad, or indifferent. There are the “traditional” ones: the Good Shepherd, the Healer, the Teacher, surrounded by children, the Crucified, the Sacred Heart, etc. And some modern versions like the young, smiling, sun tanned Jesus who looks like a New Smyrna surfer coming in on a perfect wave! At different times in our lives, depending on the circumstances, one or the other of these images might appeal to us, might comfort or encourage us. But always with the caution that this familiar “Jesus” – made in Our Image and Likeness – may be quite unreal, quite able to be manipulated to approve whatever we do or leave our attitudes unchanged. Today we have an image of Christ who refuses to conform to our imagination: eyes flashing, hot with anger, making a whip, tipping over the money changers tables, spilling the coins and scattering the animals. I’m willing to bet that not too many people have that picture on their bedroom wall! Jesus seems so out of control, so unpredictable. Whereas all other images show Him completely serene and in control, even on the Cross.

What is happening here? At first the idea of money changers and people buying and selling oxen, sheep and doves seems pretty crass. But back then in Jerusalem these people were important for the Temple rituals. In occupied Palestine, the Roman coins used in commerce had images of Caesar on them. So just as in a foreign airport you have to change your dollars so these Roman coins had to be changed for special Temple coins. Also, pilgrims coming from afar would want the priests to offer a sacrifice in the Temple so they would need to buy the ritual animals needed. So the vendors were tolerated and assigned a special area of the Temple. Seems reasonable enough but not to Jesus that day because he saw that making profit had overturned God’s values in His very Temple. He is angered that the vendors have moved from the outside to inside the Temple Court . And perhaps there were dishonest practices of cheating the pilgrims with inflated prices for poor quality animals. The victims were almost always the poor pilgrims from out of town with no other choice.
As we have noted in the past weeks, St, Mark always has the identity of Jesus gradually revealed through the miracles. The 3 Synoptic Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke) recount this event as the catalyst for the Jewish leaders rush to judgement and condemnation. But St. John reverses the process in his Gospel. He doesn’t gradually lead us to the identity of Jesus, he has already revealed the Identity of Christ in the magnificent

Prologue to his Gospel that we read on Christmas Day: “In the beginning was The Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” So John moves this event of the Temple Cleansing closer to the beginning of his Gospel. He is using this event of the Temple Cleansing to unfold our already known identity and mission of Jesus to set the stage and explain the rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” St. John is showing the that the long awaited Messias has arrived and He is burning with zeal for the Lord. When the Prophet Zacharias had commented on the coming of the Messias, he had written: “When that time comes there will no longer be any merchant in the Temple of the Lord Almighty” (Zech.14:21). There is a lesson about sincerity and reverence in our worship….but there is a much deeper meaning than cleaning up abuses in the Temple of some who had forgotten the reason for being there. The actions of Jesus are a proclamation that the promised New Era of the Messias has come. The Temple is no longer the Sign of God’s Presence. Now it is Jesus – Emmanuel/God with us – who is the New Temple the dwelling place of the Father. The new source of blessings. As Jesus answered those who asked what was the authority for His actions “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” They scoff and retort that it took 46 years to build it.

But John observes: “Actually, He was talking about the Temple of His Body.” The Body of Christ is the New Temple. After the Resurrection, a new, transfigured state helps it to be present at all times and in all places in the Eucharist. And our Eucharistic celebration renewing Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross will do what the Temple was meant to do: praise God in sincere, loving worship and be a place of encounter between God and man.

During these days of Lent, may this image of the Zealous Jesus move us to honesty as we examine our lives. May Jesus send us His Spirit to cleanse our hearts and minds of self interest, or sinfulness or manipulation of Christ’s teaching to explain away or ignore what makes us uncomfortable or challenges us. May our hearts be filled with a Zeal or Enthusiasm for God’s House and a real commitment to the deeper meaning of God’s Commandments—or 10 Words – which as we prayed in the responsorial psalm are the “words of eternal life.”

– Fr. Seraphin Conley, T.O.R.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lenten Reflection: Second Sunday of Lent

Cycle B
(Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Rom 8:31b-34; Mk 9:2-10)

One of the former presidents of CBS News—the parent company of WCCO—once made the astute observation: There are only two kinds of people in the world. Those who are there when I need them, and those who are not!

If we were to look at that quote in light of the first reading today, we’d have to conclude that Abraham was the first kind of person. When God called him, he answered. “Here I am.” When God asked him to leave his homeland and his kin at an old age and go into a unknown place... he answered, “Here I am.” And he went. And when God asked him to sacrifice the person he loved most in this world—his beloved son—Abraham was even willing to do that. His life is an astonishing chronicle of great faith and obedience. No matter what, he seemed to be ready for whatever God might ask of him. As we hear this reading and consider the person of Abraham, we need to ask ourselves if we have even a fraction of his trust and faith in God and whether we would be able to answer God with such obedience and spontaneity. How many of us are able to say to God, no matter what he asks, “Here I am.” These days I think that kind of devotion is rare, if it exists at all.

Lent is a beautiful time to reflect on that...what God may be asking of us and how willing we are to respond. We can all take time during this season and offer neighbor who is I the soup kitchen when volunteers are needy to feed the hungry I the spouse or child or friend you’ve taken for I a God whom you’ve neglected, a faith you’ve overlooked, or a prayer life that has become I am.

Lent offers us a chance to remember what matters, to strip away what’s unimportant, and to once again make ourselves present, especially to God, trusting that he will use us as he wants. That kind of faith made Abraham the father of a great nation. It led Jesus to a mountaintop, where—as the gospel tells us today—he was transfigured. That mysterious moment was Christ’s own statement to the world of who he was; another way of saying , “Here I am.” He will say it to us again when the host is elevated. We will look at it in adoration and, without speaking a word, Christ will say, “Here I am.” Here I am...offered, sacrificed, and broken...and as he gives himself to us, he challenges us to do the same. It’s an invitation to change our hearts and, in a sense, be transfigured.

On Ash Wednesday, St. Paul told us that now is the “acceptable time” to make that happen. So how will be respond to the invitation and challenge of Christ? Remember, there are only two kinds of people in the world. Those who are there when they are needed, and those who aren’t! Which will we be?

— Fr. Anthony M. Criscitelli, T.O.R.