SUNDAY 18 APRIL 2021: THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER.

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The Resurrected Christ Appearing to His Disciples, Signorelli c.1514, Institute of Arts, Detroit, USA.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus said] “Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”   Luke 24:39-41.

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Well it can never be said that the Lord was not practical. With his followers just about speechless with joy/wonder/incredulity/fascination/bewilderment, he asked for something to eat! Not that he needed it, on the other side of death, but just to prove he was real! The gospel begins with “The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” Those two were the ones making a break for it, running away to Emmaus for fear of capture and death as followers of Jesus. Clearly their encounter with the risen Lord had transformed them, and here they were, meeting the Lord for the second time. And as Jesus had done for them, he did again with the others, revealing the prophecies concerning the Messiah in Scripture down through the centuries, and how they all applied to him. Then all of them understood that he was indeed the total fulfillment of the words of the prophets, including the resurrection. Remember that all of them must have experienced a sense of despair before the Lord’s appearance. After all, they had dropped everything to follow him, only to see him crucified on Calvary. Indeed, two of them had even fled in terror. So there was extreme delight in seeing him, but, as we shall see, they were still terrified of the authorities, those who had caused the Lord’s terrible death.

And there is a strong theme in this Sunday’s readings, one of sin. The first reading says “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.” The second reading says in part, “Jesus Christ [is] the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world”. And then, in the gospel, Jesus revealed all that had been prophesied about him in Scripture, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name…” 

Expiation means the removal of guilt, so that Jesus took our guilt on himself, freely and totally, so that we may be free of guilt by confessing everything to him and following his command to love God, our neighbor and ourself. There is no room for guilt in love. It is, in a sense, a cancer which can grow and consume us, unlike love, which liberates us when it is nurtured. Remember the lesson of last Sunday, with its message of Divine Mercy. That means we must be as merciful to ourselves as the Lord is! We must, in a sense, stand back, look upon our actions, see that we probably could have done better, have compassion on ourselves, and with the liberation that that brings, resolve to improve. That is even more important if we have to deal with far heavier sources of guilt, such as hurting others, and indeed hurting ourselves. Remember the Lord endured his Passion so that we could be free. To refuse freedom for ourselves, to wallow in the guilt, oppression and chains which are the result of evil actions, is to deny all that the Lord achieved for us. It is to reject his suffering for us, refusing to accept Jesus’ supreme gift of all, forgiveness, and a welcome back to the embrace of pure freedom and love, indeed life everlasting. He freely took all our sin, guilt and crushing remorse upon himself, in a sense, becoming sin himself, so that we could all be free. In conquering that absolute pit of evil and death, symbolized by his suffering on the cross, he released us, and grants us freedom to be who we truly are, God’s children. We are all called to be Christ to the world, using our God-given gifts to serve others freely, just as freely as he served us. We serve him in doing that to others, and to ourselves. 

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Freedom for Free, CoffeeForTheSoul.net

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

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Sunday 11 April 2021: SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER: SUNDAY OF DIVINE MERCY.

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The Shrine of Divine Mercy, “Jesus I Trust You” & Tomb of St. Maria Faustina, Łagiewniki, Poland.

To read today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”  John 20:27-28.

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It was on this remarkable occasion that Jesus was uniquely addressed as “My Lord and my God”, and this by someone who had questioned everything that had happened since the crucifixion of the Lord. For Thomas, this was nothing less than a paradigm shift, a moment when everything changed; total doubt was replaced with total belief. In a way, of course, he had no choice. Confronted by the very man he had denied existed, and it is hard not to have some sympathy with that position, there stood Jesus, very much alive, and still bearing the very marks by which he had died! Jesus’ reaction was not to scoff or ridicule Thomas’ doubt but to change the event into a teachable moment: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed”, namely all of us! And so, in some way, we have come upon the Lord’s mercy, a quality of the Lord strongly commemorated today.

My preferred definition of mercy is compassion on someone who does not deserve it, and it could be said that this scene is an example of it. Thomas was quite definite in his disbelief, stating “I will not believe” until he had personally put his finger into the nailmarks! When the Lord appeared before him, and invited him to do exactly that, Thomas was, not surprisingly, overwhelmed. Jesus did not scoff at him, make rough jokes about his attitude or behave in any other way, save mercifully. There is something deeply gentle about mercy. It is the opposite of pain; it is an acceptance of the person who has committed the unacceptable, thereby bringing peace not discord. It is, as they say, acceptance of the person, not the behavior. For some on the receiving end, this might alter their lives altogether, as it did with Thomas. It seems even the American Psychological Association, after conducting a monthlong study, came to support this ideal. “Acts of kindness” were deliberately shown to workers who were not deserving of such, and there was a “snowball effect” in that many of those on the receiving end began to be part of “virtuous circles” in their work environment. Another way to look at challenging situations where offensive or challenging behavior by certain people is seen as, perhaps, the best they can do or be. It might not be my best, but maybe it is theirs. Consequently a bit of compassion might go a long way, even though it is a massive challenge to the one being merciful. But who said mercy was easy?

St. Maria Faustina, the inspiration behind Divine Mercy Sunday, a nun of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, stated that in a private conversation with Jesus, the Lord said “My mercy is greater than your sins, and those of the entire world”. In fact, she stated that Jesus said that mercy was the greatest attribute of God! That caused a bit of a crisis, until it was discovered that the same claim had been made by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Well, a case can be made that mercy springs directly from love, and God is the God of Love, and hence mercy is the direct consequence. It means no one is beyond the mercy of God. It was in one of those revelatory conversations with Jesus that St. Maria Faustina heard that Divine Mercy should be celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. Easter rejoices in the triumph of life over death, of grace over sin.

On this first Sunday after Easter it is as if the Lord is calling us to initiate this reality into action. Mercy is therefore a major step that we can all take in looking for opportunities we may have in putting the strength of mercy into use. We can look into our relationships seeking those who might benefit from the quality of mercy: those we have avoided; those we have little time for; those who have nothing good to say. You know what I mean. The next time we encounter them, we are Christ to the world, facing Thomas who has denied us. What would Jesus do?? The image of the Divine Mercy reveals two outpourings, red and bluish white, representing blood and water. You will recall that is what happened when Jesus on the cross was pierced by a lance. For us, our sin was washed away with water and the life blood of the Savior offers us eternal life and happiness.

PORTIA

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
the thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
the attribute to awe and majesty
wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
but mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
when mercy seasons justice.
                The Merchant of Venice, Act 4 Scene 1, Shakespeare.

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The Original Painting of the Divine Mercy, Kazimierowski 1934, Shrine of Divine Mercy, Vilnius, Lithuania.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

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APRIL 1st, 2nd and 3rd, 2021: THE SACRED TRIDUUM

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The Paschal Triduum, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, Jacksonville, Florida, USA.

To read the Scripture passages for the Sacred Triduum, click:

Holy, Maundy, Thursday;   Good Friday;   Holy Saturday/Easter Sunday.

[Jesus said,] “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”  Mark 4:36.

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The word “Triduum” simply means three days, inspired by Latin. It is a special title for the crucial three days of the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, without which there would be no Christian church, no Christian belief, and we would inhabit a world of almost certainly much greater barbarism and cruelty than we already have. The first of the three days is Holy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper. Jesus knew he was close to humiliation, injustice and death, but wanted to remain with us always, something he promised as his last words in the gospel of Matthew. He was to do this through the Eucharist, a Greek word which means thanksgiving, or gratitude. At each Mass, each of which is a re-enactment of the Last Supper, we say thank you to the Lord for remaining with us through thick and thin, giving us the strength and courage to obey God’s will in all situations. This is exactly what Jesus did when faced with disaster, obeying God’s will to remain true to his identity, as Son of God, and his vocation, to be the long-promised Messiah, Christ, meaning God’s Anointed One. He could have escaped the Passion by denying that. He did not, thereby obeying God’s will, thereby suffering the consequences. But because of that, by God’s will he conquered even death itself, rising to life once more on the third day. And he invites each of us to be as true to God’s will as it applies to each of us, and thereby earn life everlasting. That’s how important these three days are. 

 

MAUNDY THURSDAY

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The Last Supper, Tintoretto 1593, Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, Italy.

This was a dinner to celebrate the Passover of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt to the freedom, ultimately, in the Promised Land. God demanded that this celebration be kept every year in memory of the event, which is done to this day by our Jewish brothers and sisters. We Christians commemorate it at each Mass too, but with a crucial difference. Jesus combined this Passover celebration with the Covenant made at Mount Sinai where the Hebrews agreed to obey God’s Law, the 10 Commandments, and thereby God promised to be their God. Hence Jesus took the unleavened bread of the Passover meal, blessed it and proclaimed it to be his body. Then he took the cup of wine of the Passover meal, and declared it was his blood. At the original covenant ceremony at Mount Sinai, the sealing of the link between God and the people was via the blood of sacrificed animals poured on an altar, representing God, and then over the people (Exodus 24:1-8). The blood, being a symbol of life, hence linked the life of God with the life of the people themselves. Hence Jesus’ words at the Last Supper “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many”  (Mark 14:24) meant there was a new Covenant in Jesus’ blood. And then consuming the consecrated bread and wine meant Jesus’ very body and blood actually enter us and become part of us and we enter the life of Christ himself. Then, in John’s gospel he gave us the Golden Rule of love “This then is what I command you: love one another” (John 15:17). Then as if to demonstrate what that meant, Jesus washed the feet of his followers as an example, saying “I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you” (John 13:15). Hence he gave them a mandate, which is to say an order, to carry out that course of action, the source of the name “Maundy Thursday”, maundy being a corruption of the word mandate. We are all to love and serve each other no matter what.

GOOD FRIDAY 

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The Crucified Christ, Velázquez 1632, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.

Today the dread events of the Lord’s last, agonizing hours in this world are remembered. The Innocent One is unjustly condemned, spat on, whipped, mocked, stripped and made to carry the instrument of his torture to a public place where he was physically nailed to the cross, raised up for public display and left to die. And he had done nothing wrong. Today is the only day in the year when no Mass is celebrated. The tabernacle door is open, with nothing within. Communion is given from the reserved sacrament of yesterday, and a meditation is held on the suffering of Jesus all those years ago. It is a cold, desperate and sorrowful communal remembrance of the last hours of the Savior of the world. Yet even then he forgave those who had done that to him, heard the plea of the criminal crucified along with him and promised him Paradise, and asked his disciple John, the only disciple to stand by him, to take his anguished mother into his care. And even though there was not one single element of a loving God present, he still committed his spirit into the hands of his Father, stating it is finished, meaning the task God gave him, as the Messiah, was completed, thereby demonstrating even then his total dedication to his Father, even though, by this world’s standards, Jesus was an utter failure.

EASTER: THE RESURRECTION

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The Empty Tomb, Finding God in Everyday Life.

Not one word exists in all four gospels as to the event in the tomb within which the dead body of the Lord had been laid. According to which gospel you are reading, this is the closest to an explanation: Matthew has an angel come down from heaven and enter the empty tomb; in Mark the tomb has no body, but has an angel sitting inside; in Luke there is an empty tomb, with two angels appearing outside the tomb; John has an empty tomb as seen by Peter and John who then leave, then Mary Magdalene looks in and sees two angels there, then turns around to see the risen Jesus, whom she mistakes for the gardener. The angels mentioned in Matthew, Mark and Luke all say Jesus “has been raised” which is the only explanation offered as to what had happened in the tomb. Scholars tell us that this is the end of the earliest gospel, Mark, as it represents the conclusion of the Messiah’s mission on earth. Later, old traditions of appearances of the risen Lord were added. But it is logical to see this as the conclusion of Jesus’ work on earth. His message is that if you are true to God through life, no matter what sufferings or contempt we might suffer, God will be with us and true to us throughout, and will lead us to an eternal life of peace and joy beyond this world of suffering and pain. 

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The Resurrection Stone within the Aedicule, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

Happy Easter to you!

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SUNDAY 28 MARCH 2021: PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION

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Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem, Felix Tafsart 1896, location unknown. 

To access today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!  Mark 11:9-10.

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Thus begins the fateful last week of the Lord’s life here with us on earth. Firstly, Jesus had a triumphal entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem, lauded as the new David, the one who would restore Palestine to the new kingdom of David. The Hebrews had waited for this for over 500 years (since the Babylonians had conquered them in 597BC and destroyed the first Temple, followed by a string of other occupiers). At last they believed they were able to proclaim freedom, hence their wild enthusiasm and jubilant cries. Yet within only a few days they would be calling for his blood, and witnessing his barbaric death as a criminal physically nailed to a wooden cross and left to die. This can only be understood by looking at the events which began with what we now call Palm Sunday. What on earth precipitated this cataclysmic descent from glory to degradation? Strangely, Jesus himself was the only one to understand this, to prepare himself for it as best he could, and walk the inevitable steps to disaster. The week began with the popular Jewish idea of the liberating Messiah being welcomed into the holy city, as prophesied by the prophet Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem. See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). As the week progressed, this image of the Messiah  switched slowly to God’s understanding of the Messiah, radically different from the popular expectation that the new David would expel the Romans, the latest in a long line of occupiers in the Holy Land, and then restore independence and right government. So, in the days following Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, they waited hour by hour for the call to arms. It never came. There is even a scene in the “Jesus of Nazareth” movie, not found in the gospels, with Barabbas approaching Jesus in the Temple (Find it at 4:08:03). There he tells Jesus that all is ready for the anti-Roman insurrection, and all they need is for Jesus to give the call. Jesus, on the contrary, tells him to forgive them all, not fight them all. Jesus says that those who take up the sword will perish by the sword (which is in the gospel, Matthew 26:52, when Jesus rebuked Peter for cutting off the high priest’s servant’s ear). Barabbas, of course, is astounded, and leaves him. That was not what he wanted to hear! But this is the explanation of why, in a matter of days, the worshipping crowd welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem was transformed into a mob screaming for his blood, so bitter was the disappointment. Jesus indeed was the Messiah, long promised, but he was God’s Messiah, not that mythic figure constructed in the popular mind. And that was Jesus’ undoing. To have called everyone to arms would have negated his entire mission and message. Jesus was the Messiah of love and peace, the exact opposite of what everyone was waiting for. Look at today’s second reading, the most beautiful and profound description of the Lord in all Scripture. Yes he had the power to do what they wanted, but that was not God’s will. Jesus came to serve, not to conquer. 

Passion week is captured in this hymn, My Song is Love Unknown, written by a Puritan minister in England in 1664:

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!”
is all their breath,
And for His death
they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries!
Yet they at these
Themselves displease,
and ’gainst Him rise.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He
to suffering goes,
That He His foes
from thence might free.

In life no house, no home,
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb,
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav’n was his home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein he lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
in Whose sweet praise
I all my days
could gladly spend.

Set to music by John Ireland.

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Christ Teaches, Catacomb of St. Domitilla, 2nd Century, Rome, Italy.

Reflections on the Holy Triduum Mass Readings will be posted on Tuesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

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SUNDAY 21 MARCH 2021: THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT.

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The Gentiles Ask to See Jesus, Tissot c.1890, Brooklyn Museum, New York City, USA.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus said] Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.    John, 12:25.

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This is, at the very least, a curious gospel. Firstly, the gospel begins with “Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover feast….” which sets the scene a little. It means it is near the time of Jesus’ Passion. Passover was and is a major Jewish holy celebration, commemorating the passage of the Jews out of their slavery in Egypt to their freedom in the Promised Land. But the word “Greeks” which you see in today’s gospel, is code for pagans; these people were not Jewish. Perhaps they were in the process of converting, or were tourists. It is not clear. But it seems  they had heard of Jesus and wanted to find out all about him. Except we do not know if they did! They are not mentioned again in the gospel, so it is anybody’s guess what happened to them. Jesus, on the other hand, took this enquiry to launch into a major statement about what was about to happen, and what it must mean to those he would leave behind. Hence the quotation above, a challenging statement indeed. It is compounded by the famous statement “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat…” also in today’s gospel. So we have words like “dies” and “hates” and “loses” in the gospel today, all of which have a negative connotation, not usually associated with the Lord of Life and Peace. Except, of course, his Passion was near, when all those words will be fully witnessed. He will die, surrounded by hatred as he had apparently lost everyone and everything he came to save. Not only that, but there is heavenly confirmation with the voice of God announcing that God will be glorified in complete contrast to what was to happen.

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God the Father with Right Hand Raised in Blessing, dai Libri, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA.

Then there is the word “covenant”, highlighted strongly in the first reading from the Book of the Prophet  Jeremiah. The prophet says there will be a new covenant, in contrast to the one made at Mount Sinai. This is the only time in the Old Testament that the words “new covenant” are mentioned. From the Christian point of view, of course, this new covenant is about to be made at the Last Supper and confirmed by the Lord’s passion and death, immortalized by the Resurrection. And this new covenant will be written, not on stone tablets, but in the heart. And recall that the word covenant means, at root, a “coming together” of two parties in mutual agreement. There is no coercing or oppression here of any kind; each partner agrees in complete freedom to what is being considered. All this is recalled at each Mass: “…the blood of the new and eternal covenant…” to which each of us freely and willingly agrees. And then, in the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we see the whole meaning of the Lord’s agony. He stood by his message in complete obedience to God’s will for him, suffered the devastating consequences, and as it says, “was made perfect, [and] he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” So today’s readings encapsulate the whole Easter event for Christians. Here was a man who received his mission from the hand of God, lived it out as fully as he was able, stood by it despite every temptation to deny it, and was put to death as a consequence. And we, his followers, have his message carved in our hearts. That means our belief, our life, is formed not from external compliance and force, but from love, obedience freely given, knowledge of God, all voluntary. That is the source of pure Christian joy and strength. It is the true covenant each of us makes with God, freely and happily no matter what might happen externally. And that, I think, is the message of this Fifth Sunday of Lent: Is that the true reality of my – your – faith? Are there any impediments to that free submission to God’s will within any of us, which should be the source of our contentment and strength? If so, they are the selfish elements we might love in this life but which we must hate in order to prepare for the eternal life offered by God. And Lent is the time for each of us to take that seriously and take any action needed, and do it now.

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The “Suscipe”, the Radical Prayer of St. Ignatius.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

© SundayMassReadings.com

SUNDAY 14 MARCH 2021: THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT – LAETARE SUNDAY.

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Lina’s Bible Study, Nicodemus.

Click here to access today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus said to Nicodemus] For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  John 3:16.

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Have you ever wondered about those people who are not Catholic, or Christian, and wondered what happens to them when God calls them from this life? It wasn’t too long ago that there was a general belief that if you weren’t Catholic, good luck! When I was a child, I got the strong impression from my Catholic elementary school teachers that my beloved Anglican (that is, Episcopalian) mother was not destined for heaven but rather….. There was a massive exclusivity about the Church back then. At the very beginning of ecumenism, which did not originate in the Roman Church, when the Catholic Church was invited to participate, Pope Pius XI in 1928 responded: Let, therefore, the separated children draw nigh to the Apostolic See [the Papacy], set up in the City which Peter and Paul, the Princes of the Apostles, consecrated by their blood; to that See, We repeat, which is “the root and womb whence the Church of God springs,”[27] not with the intention and the hope that “the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth”[28] will cast aside the integrity of the faith and tolerate their errors, but, on the contrary, that they themselves submit to its teaching and government. Would that it were Our happy lot to do that which so many of Our predecessors could not, to embrace with fatherly affection those children, whose unhappy separation from Us We now bewail (Mortalium Animos). Not exactly what those early ecumenical Christians were expecting! What would the good Pope Pius XI make of this:

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Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Pope Benedict XVI in Assisi in 2011.

… all coming together to pray for peace in the world, along with other representatives of non-Christian faiths and of no faith at all! It can be safely said that each one of those present believed that their interpretation of God, or Gods, was the closest to the truth, yet they were prepared to come together in a common, true and just cause. Today’s first reading hails the Persian king Darius as “inspired” by God, but he, of course was not Jewish, but he permitted the Jewish prisoners in Babylon to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the holy Temple.  I believe that to be the key to understanding today’s readings. Jesus tells Nicodemus today that God so loved the world that God’s Son was sent into it. In that world today, Christianity is the largest religious group (a little more than 30% of the world’s population in 2010), and the Roman Church is the single biggest church in that group, about 50% of all Christians. But that leaves out the remaining 70% of the world’s population, where there is a whole range of non-Christian belief from the strictest possible, to pure atheism. Sure there must be many who are searching for a belief system with which they are comfortable, but it must be that the vast majority are all sure of their beliefs, and are unlikely to change that.

But Jesus says that God wants all of us to enjoy eternal life, but he then says that whoever does not believe [in the Son of God] has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And so there is a challenge here; are we to say that all those who have a clear conscience that what they believe is true and just, are condemned? Pope Pius XI was pellucidly clear on that point, and it seems to echo today’s gospel. There is a line in today’s second reading, For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God… St. Paul is talking of faith in Jesus, of course, but is there a little hope here for those who have not even had the opportunity to meet Christ in Scripture, or in other Christians or in any other way? Does the God of love condemn such people to eternal damnation? Karl Rahner, a Jesuit theologian of the last century, wrestled with just such a challenge. For example, he asks: a person lives in the grace of God and attains salvation outside of explicitly constituted Christianity. Let us say, a Buddhist monk who, because he follows his conscience, attains salvation and lives in the grace of God… What is a Christian to make of such an example of faith? Rahner’s answer is, of him I must say that he is an anonymous Christian. An anonymous Christian…. Now there’s a concept to wrestle with. It suggests that God is indeed at work in the whole world, guiding and suggesting, inspiring and even cajoling. And if you accept Jesus is the very identity of God in the world, then non-Christians, according to Rahner, are inspired by God’s Spirit on the basic teachings of the Lord, above all to love God, one’s neighbor and oneself. Now if that is true, then it is a cause for joy and celebration, and today is traditionally called Laetare Sunday, “Rejoice” Sunday, a half way point in Lent, with the softened purple of the priest’s rose vestments sometimes seen, and today’s readings, read in the way suggested here, are indeed a cause of real joy, rejoicing in the Spirit of God at work in the whole work, bringing all who accept and follow her to God and life eternal. 

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Pope Francis in Joyful Rose Vestments.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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Roger

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SUNDAY 7 MARCH 2021: THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT.

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Expulsion of the Money Lenders from the Temple, Giotto 1305, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings.

[Jesus] made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables….  John 2:15.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

There is a famous story about St. Teresa of Avila gorging herself on a favorite delicacy, partridge. The other sisters were somewhat perturbed by this display of vigorous appetite, and said so. Teresa replied without hesitation, “When I fast, I fast; when I eat partridge, I eat partridge.” Everything in its proper place, one might conclude, and then turn to today’s gospel and apply the same axiom with its stunning vision of the Lord completely losing it, literally whipping those merchants of profit out of the most sacred space in the world. It is so unusual that there are hundreds of pictures of this scene painted by artists over the centuries. It is also found in all four gospels, and not many events in the life of Jesus can claim that. Clearly it made a huge impact on the memories of those who witnessed it, which, to say the least, is not surprising. The experts say there is little doubt that this actually did take place. Jesus, however, was a man of peace and forgiveness! But clearly even he had his limits. What on earth prompted this display of anger? Looking into my own history, I was reminded of an incident some 25 years ago when I was a teacher at a Catholic girl’s school in Brooklyn, New York. The TV news announced that over $1,000,000 has been embezzled from the Brooklyn diocesan pension fund, the very fund that would supply my pension on retirement. When the culprit, an employee of the diocese, was taken to court and pleaded guilty, the bishop requested that no prison sentence be given, which could have been 15 years! Well, that was an angry moment, and I wondered why our bishop had not used the whip! Clearly Jesus saw much more evil on that day in the Temple than the bishop did 2000 years later. Admittedly there were some extenuating circumstances in the Brooklyn case (including the insurance coverage of the loss, and the employee’s promise to restore as much as possible), but quite clearly there must have been none in the Temple incident. That must explain Jesus’ rage and anger. I presume he just saw greed, chicanery and profiteering in the holiest place in the world, enough to turn this supreme man of peace into an avenging angel. But let us always remember that this same man forgave those who tortured and killed him later on. The offence in the Temple he saw as against the Father; his death was entirely personal; the two events were different and called for different responses. 

So, this being Lent, what vision do today’s readings suggest as a Lenten reflection? Take a look at the context which includes today’s gospel. The first reading concerns the critical moment in Hebrew history when God offered to be their God, and the Hebrews to be his people. The seal of this bargain? That they obey the Law that God gave them: The Ten Commandments, essentially the basis of western civilization. Then the second reading. That concerns our own, Christian, relationship with God, and we offer a crucified man, unjustly killed for refusing to deny who and what he was. As the reading says, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. So it’s a bit if a scriptural thicket we are in to make sense of it all. One plan suggests itself, appropriate for Lent. There are moments in life when we are all reduced to fury and resentment of one kind or another. They are not pleasant moments, but they are times where our decisions might well last for years, either good or bad.  The idea here would be to avoid an “if only…” moment. The distinction made above of the two responses of Jesus, in the Temple or on the cross, should be our guide. The fury we might be reduced to on seeing an example of pure prejudice towards an innocent person is one case; that would be a “Temple” moment, where action is called for. On the other hand, if we are the target of, say, prejudice or wrong in any way, that’s where have to be really careful. For example, this picture from 1957 outside Little Rock Central High School, the first day Black students were allowed to attend:

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Through a Lens Darkly, Vanity Fair, September 2007.

The contrast between the Black girl and the woman behind her could hardly be greater or clearer. That is a moment for justifiable fury and anger in us against such prejudice, calling for action to challenge and prevent such abuse. Hazel Bryan is the abusive student behind Elizabeth Eckford. On the 40th anniversary of this turning point, Hazel met Elizabeth and apologized for that terrible moment, after 40 years of being identified as a person of hate assailing a person of grace. So that is the Lenten moment for us to contemplate. Which of those two models do we – I – tend to be? Now that’s lenten exercise for each and every one of us. But today perhaps whips or anything like it, should be left at home no matter how angry we might be….

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The Daily Mail, 19 January 2015, Rapprochement?

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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Roger

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SUNDAY 28 FEBRUARY 2021: SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT: THE TRANSFIGURATION.

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Transfiguration of Jesus, Bloch 1872, Frederiksborg Castle, Hillerød, Denmark.

To read today’s Sunday Mass Readings, click here.

Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”   Mark 9:7.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

First a word about the first reading, almost as famous (infamous?) as today’s gospel. It is the sacrifice of Abraham, when God asked the old man Abraham (roughly 100 years old), to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to God to show how much he believed in the still small voice he had obeyed for some time. And he did! 

“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, 
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust 
on a height that I will point out to you.”

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The Sacrifice of Abraham, attrib. Caravaggio 1598, Piasecka-Johnson Collection, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.

As you can see, an angel intervened at the last moment to save the young man, with God now knowing that Abraham would deny him nothing. Today, that whole scene seems unbelievable, preposterous, stupendously evil. Well, not back then… This event took place in the land of Canaan, perhaps 4000 years ago. At that time, perhaps five people had knowledge of the God we all believe in: Abraham, his wife Sarah, the young Isaac, and Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, Abraham’s son through what we would call surrogacy today. All around them were pagan gods and goddesses by the dozen, and some of them were very scary indeed. Perhaps the reigning horror was Moloch, or Baal. Not having the slightest idea of the real God, people had to construct their own idea of the supernatural, and, not surprisingly, it was based on their own experience. If you wanted something, you had to pay for it, hence it was a kind of bargaining model that you would have with a merchant. So, if you wanted good weather to ensure a good harvest, there was a cost. There being no way to pay gods with money or wealth of any sort, other payment had to be figured out, the ultimate “price” being the sacrifice of children. You would bargain with the gods with life itself. It was logical from their point of view, but certainly not ours, but that was because God intervened, and I believe it was the reason God entered into our history. This abominable practice was simply so horrific it had to be stopped, but stopped in a way that the people of that time would understand. So poor Abraham made no protest about the demand placed on him – it was what was expected; it was normal! God had promised him descendants as many as the stars of the heavens, but he had exactly one son by his wife, and God demanded him as payment for his promise. Placing complete trust in God, Abraham obeyed not knowing how on earth the promise could be fulfilled, but the rest, as they say, is history. The angel, God’s messenger, intervened, Isaac was saved, and salvation history entered a brand new direction, away from the prevailing traditions of that day. James Michener has a vivid passage in what that must have been like in his novel The Source. In the chapter entitled Of Death and Life, he describes the priests having divined that an invasion was imminent from the north, decreed “a burning of first sons” to prevent it, and he proceeds to imagine what the effects of that on a family with a first born son must have been (pp.109-113, The Source, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York, 2002). 

So what on earth has this to do with today’s Mass readings? Well, it took a quite some time to eliminate all child sacrifice even from God’s Chosen People as it was a deeply engrained Canaanite practice. So there was almost certainly a memory of all this even at the time of Jesus. God obviously wanted Jesus to be clearly recognized as the Son of God, as God’s voice declared this at his baptism, and at today’s commemoration of the Transfiguration, plus the demons recognized him as God’s Son (seen two Sundays ago in the gospel), and at the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel told Mary that Jesus would be Son of God. St. Peter himself recognized Jesus as Son of God in Matthew 16:17, and onwards through the New Testament and, tellingly, at the crucifixion: “…if you are God’s Son, come on down from that cross” (Matthew 27:40). But this time, the Son died. There was no angelic intervention, only an agonized wait for death to triumph. 

So Jesus’ followers had to be certain that this man was, indeed, Son of God, and the Transfiguration played a large part in convincing them. They saw with their own eyes Jesus talking to the two towering figures of the Scripture, Moses and Elijah, one representing the Law of God, and the other the Prophecies of God. And so, as today’s second reading tells us, if God did not spare his only Son to prove his love for all of us, what could be possibly denied us as we seek life eternal? God’s love for us is utterly unlimited, unconditional, as has been proven; this Lent perhaps it is now a good moment to examine our own lives to see if we have returned that love in the same, limitless, way.

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God’s Love, Andrew Wommack Ministries, March 2019.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

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Roger

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SUNDAY 21 FEBRUARY 2021: THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT.

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Follow Me, Satan, Ilya Repin 1895, Russian State Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia.

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The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.   Mark 1:12.

Words and phrases highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.

The word Lent is used in English only for this holy season, but its origin has nothing to do with church seasons. It comes from the Old English word lencten, which means spring, or lengthening of the days. The present day word for spring in German is Lenz, very similar, but the season of Lent in German is Fastenzeit, presumably a time for fasting. Strange our word for this holy season would be pagan in origin. True, in the northern hemisphere it happens in spring, but that is the only connection with what Lent is all about. Jesus had just been baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist. He was revealed as the Son of God, and the Messiah, neither of which did he know until that moment. He was a jobbing carpenter! Those two startling revelations required much reflection, or at least God’s Holy Spirit thought as much, so she drove Jesus into the desert to come to grips with what had happened (always remember that Spirit in Jesus’ Aramaic language has a feminine gender). What on earth would it mean to him to be God’s Son, the Anointed One (Messiah, Christ), as prophesied by Scripture? He was a carpenter! The 40 days must have begun in a cloud of bewilderment. So that should be the starting point for each one of us. I am a retired teacher, you might be an accountant, or bus driver, or cook, or doctor, or artist, or truck driver or anything else. Yet at our baptism, each one of us became an adopted Child, a Daughter, a Son, of God, and as we were also anointed at that time, we too became the Anointed, or Messiah, or Christ to the world. We too are therefore faced with the same question as Jesus, he once, for us, every year: What does it mean? He would have been very familiar with Scripture and what it had to say about the long-promised Messiah. Clearly, here was to be found his new pathway in life, away from the wood and nails (for a short time) and into teaching, helping, fulfilling God’s Word. His job was to fulfill Scripture concerning the Messiah. Our job is to fulfill our potential as Children of God, each with distinct gifts, talents, which lead us into a clear area of life where we can be Christ to the world.

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Rainbow over Manhattan, April 13, 2020, Secret NYC, New York, USA.

But are we fulfilling that vocation? And there lies the work for the next 40 days, just as it was for the Lord. And we should not feel so challenged that we do nothing about it. Our first reading today has God promising Noah, and us, that we will never be so challenged that we will be overwhelmed, destroyed even, if we but trust in the Lord. The rainbow was God’s seal on that promise, so we can face Lent with clear eyes and quiet confidence that we will not be alone. But set out on the journey we must, and the goal is found in the second reading today: a clear conscience. It calls for a reconfiguration, a reboot if you like, of our lives to ensure we are headed in the right direction, doing the things which mark us as God’s children, making amends if need be, adapting behaviors possibly, helping others more, supporting those who need it, checking our tongues sometimes, eliminating certain habits maybe, and so on and on for the period of Lent. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow might not be gold, but something much more precious, an inner life, a spirit, clean and refreshed, a clear conscience, to greet the Risen Lord who invites us to share real life with him. 

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Entering the Gates of Heaven, LetterPile.

Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.

Please forward this webpage to those you think would appreciate it. Thank you.

Roger

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