Category Archives: Lent

Sixth Sunday of Lent

Anyone who lives long enough questions. Why do the wicked prosper? Why do the young die? Why does potential wither while evil thrives? The genius of today’s gospel is that Jesus doesn’t try to answer the questions. He enters into them.

 

Mark’s passion begins with the exquisite scene of Jesus’ anointing. The bean-counters hate it: how will they justify the expense or fit it on their spreadsheets? But Jesus answers: hold onto kindness and beauty, which help us through the worst.

 

As does a meal with friends. Jesus’ concern in his final hours isn’t with imminent, brutal suffering but with a final gesture of friendship. He reaches out to them–and to us–with the nurture of bread, the spirit of wine and the praise of song. During his whole ordeal, there is no word of recrimination, though it would be understandable. He responds to insulting betrayal by pouring out love.

 

To the logical, it makes no sense. But to the believer, the powerless triumph. Those who seem defeated ultimately win. The questions aren’t answered, but they are blessed by the presence of One who lives through them.

 

Fifth Sunday of Lent

 

What happens in today’s gospel is not unusual. It continues today. Two moms became friends and discovered that their oldest sons both skied. The next, natural step was taking the boys skiing together. The two became friends, and one’s name was—truly—Andrew. He began to meet the other boy’s friends, and became part of a group from another high school, not easy in adolescent society.

 

During college, the boys skied, kayaked and mountain biked together. Later, they attended each other’s weddings. When Andrew died suddenly of a staph infection, the friends flew from around the country for his funeral. Each then planted a pine seedling and a packet of wildflowers, signs of hope to honor him.

 

They probably didn’t say it as they scattered seed, but once again, a grain fell to the ground and died, bearing much fruit. The boys couldn’t ski without remembering Andrew; they consciously tried to bring his fierce delight to all their days.

 

The ripple effect worked for Jesus; Greeks drawn to him approached him through his friends. He saw his coming passion through the metaphor of seed. How could the company of friends, now including us, NOT try to act like him?

 

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Nicodemus gets a bad rap. He’s criticized for coming to Jesus “by night.” But consider the references to him after today’s gospel. Courageously, he defends Jesus against his angry peers, asking whether their law judges a man who has not had a fair hearing (John 7:50-51). After the crucifixion, he helps embalm and bury Jesus’ body (19:39).

He is an honest seeker, who won’t settle for tried-and-true beliefs. His colleagues quickly dismiss anyone with a different angle. Nicodemus, however, explores the new teaching carefully. He questions honestly, and Jesus doesn’t reject him. Instead, Jesus welcomes their discussion and reveals himself magnificently.

Jesus even seems to tease Nicodemus as a teacher who doesn’t “get it” (v. 10). Nicodemus must be overwhelmed: he doesn’t respond.

Or maybe he answers through his life. After an avalanche of ideas, he sifts through them and applies them to daily events. Apparently Jesus’ teaching withstands that reality check; Nicodemus becomes an admirable follower.

Do we act like him, or do we wallow in unexamined prejudices and stale beliefs? Are we open to the Spirit’s unsettling winds?

Third Sunday of Lent: Fair Warning

Those who like their Jesus sweet and pious better skip today’s gospel. Those who want to explore his complex depths should read on.

The scene in the temple can’t be camouflaged by platitudes: it is violent and chaotic. What prompted Jesus to act so dramatically? We have a clue in the way “my Father’s house” is used throughout John’s gospel. “In my Father’s house are many rooms” we read in 14:2. That sounds spacious, but there is no room for greed, betrayal or sacrilege. The money changers and merchants have desecrated what is most precious to God; they must be expelled quickly and efficiently.

 

In Jesus’ ensuing discussion with the Jews, their pride is attacked. Any of us who spent forty-six years on a project might react the same way.

As is often the case, they remain on a literal level, seeing the temple as a building. Jesus, however, sees it as an image of the self: beloved of God and incorruptible, transcending the most glorious edifice. As he protected sacred ground, so he fights to preserve God’s children from any who oppress, exploit or harm them. Do we respect each other or ourselves as much as he does?

Second Sunday of Lent: Prayer in Another Key

“Try it in G,” the musician suggests and we hear the same song in a different key. So Jesus models a transition from his glorious mountaintop experience to the verses that follow today’s gospel about a boy foaming at the mouth, grinding his teeth and rigid. Descending, Jesus scolds a “faithless generation,” who cannot cure him, then rebukes the demon, curing what today we might term epilepsy.

“Will the real Jesus please stand up?” We’re inclined to believe in the one whose face dazzles and whose clothes shine, affirmed by the Father’s voice. Clearly Peter is stunned into babbling an elaborate plan for building tents, so Jesus can converse with the prophets in peace.

Yet it is no less Jesus who repeats, “how much longer must I put up with you?” in exasperation with the disciples’ lack of faith and inability to cure the boy. He heals him “instantly,” so his power is still intact; his compassion still overflows.

We also go through various transformations in our days. We might be praying, then cooking, gardening, paying bills, caring for children or the elderly, chatting, reading, singing, shopping, working on the computer, filling the car with gas or doing the laundry. It’s the same self, in different keys. But because of Jesus’ transfiguration, we do all these things as divine children of the Great King. It’s all prayer in different ways. The disciples who saw Jesus in dazzling light also see themselves anew.  The radiance might not be obvious, but it is there nonetheless, hiding beneath the surface.

First Sunday of Lent: Comfort in the Desert

One phrase from Sunday’s gospel is often overlooked: “and angels waited on him.” After a dreadful ordeal, when Jesus is hungry and probably exhausted, the presence of the divine is somehow still with him. It is possible that angels attend all our lonely desert places. Where we sense the least comfort, there it abounds. Perhaps it’s a relationship, health or job issue, looming decision. How might God be present in difficult circumstances?

Good Friday Liturgy

Excerpted from THE BEST OF BEING CATHOLIC

Many wise traditions know the importance of naming one’s loss or sorrow, since suppressing it only makes it worse. Indeed, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests cradling our broken hearts as tenderly as we would a sick and crying child. In a particularly Catholic way, abstraction such as “suffering” is translated to tangible, visible word and gesture in the liturgy. Furthermore, it links our individual stories and struggles concretely, not just verbally, to the over-arching Story of Christ’s redemptive suffering.

My rule of thumb for Good Friday liturgy is “when we do something only once a year, pay attention.” So I focus on three parts of the service that move me especially.

The Presider’s Prostration
Catholic liturgy at its best speaks through symbol or gesture, not needing many words to convey meaning. For instance, submersion in the waters of Baptism, lighting the Easter candle, or offering a cup of wine all speak eloquently without verbiage.

The Good Friday service begins with a silent procession (robust singing would be completely out of place), and the presider prostrating himself before the altar. We see this action only once a year: what does it say?

Different people probably have different interpretations at different times of their lives. To me, it said starkly, “We killed God.” Not to become morbid, but to some extent, we are all guilty. We have killed that divine spark in each other, through a callous word, a harsh condemnation, a heavy hand.

The presider speaks for all of us as he lies face down on the floor. “This, my friends, is what we’ve done to the finest human/divine being who ever lived.” Words can’t touch the tragedy: symbolically, we all lie flat on our faces.

Veneration of the Cross

People seemed drawn to the crucifix: to touch it lightly, cling to a hand, or kiss the feet. What is the compelling power of this instrument of death, used by Romans over 2000 years ago? As our pastor pointed out, it’s not the cross; it’s the corpus. To simply revere the cross would be like honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. by hanging up a gun.

Father Richard Rohr describes the corpus in Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent, “Jesus’ body is a standing icon of what humanity is doing and what God suffers ‘with,’ ‘in,’ and ‘through’ us. It is an icon of utter divine solidarity with our pain and our problems.”

Each person who approached it that evening bore some kind of sorrow. And they were only a few, representing millions more outside our church. Scratch the surface of any group; you’ll find the tragedies. In a family, a staff, or a work site, the stories of suffering run deep. Add in the veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, the physical and mental aftermaths of war and the ripple effect on their families—an immense tide of suffering crashed at the foot of the crucifix.

Those who venerated the cross came close to the crucified Jesus to find meaning in their own burdens. Connecting their pain to his meant that they didn’t suffer alone. Wave after wave of people in vast variety approached: the lovely couple whose daughter died last year in a freak accident, the vulnerable elderly who could barely bend to touch it, a woman battling cancer, the wife of an Iraq veteran addicted to painkillers, an obese woman whose childhood hungers still drove her to eat, jeopardizing her health. The children were especially touching, quietly extending their thin arms, and perhaps whispering, “I’m sorry, Jesus, that you had to die like this.” Knowing his magnificent courtesy, Jesus would somehow touch those who touched his cross.